When you need to be certain, it pays to pay an expert, writes Ruwani Perera.

Call me old-fashioned - as an unmarried woman I prefer to be addressed as "Miss". I'm also a big believer in writing letters and snail mail but, while I've finally succumbed to online shopping temptations, there's one part of the modern way of life I cannot subscribe to in this high-tech sophisticated age: booking airline travel for overseas destinations on the internet.

Don't get me wrong, I can be trusted not to stuff up a weekend getaway to Wellington, but when it comes to anything more complicated, you can't beat a trip to your local travel agent.

And I've gone through a few over the years.


Finding a travel agent is a lot like choosing a hairdresser - you find a great one who understands you and what you're after and then when you're ready to make your next annual excursion - what do you know - they've up and left.

The reasons over the years have varied - Susan has been promoted to our corporate travel department ... Dave has gone on his OE (surely that's a classic busman's holiday?) or no explanations have been given as to why they are no longer employed.

There are some agents you immediately gel with and others who leave you raising the odd eyebrow or two. For example, there's the agent who seems normal enough in the face-to-face chat then sends you an email with an alarming, "glam" shot in their email signature. Is this someone you want to trust with recommendations? Perhaps not.

Then there's the one who says they've never been to Thailand. Excuse me? You're an organiser of holidays who's never been to one of a Kiwi's top 10 tourist destinations.

Forgive me if I can't trust your opinion.

Then there are the ones who immediately understand your slightly high-maintenance needs. Confession: I've never stayed in a hostel or backpackers. My idea of a holiday is not to worry about bed bugs or sharing ablutions with complete strangers. That sounds more like my idea of pure hell, and having spent a few days in an Israeli detention centre (that's another travel story for a later date), I am well aware of the horrors of prison-like accom.

My vacations centre on finding the perfect hotel or resort. Architecture is just as important as location, a place where upon check-in the tension you had in your shoulders just melts away with the waft of something wonderful emanating from the floral display in the foyer. I'm reminded of a firm favourite Sydney hotel, The Darling, where the service and smells are unparalleled.

I've taken a punt on an agent's tip - Indigo Pearl Resort in Phuket (this agent had been to Thailand) came highly recommended - after all isn't that what their familiarisation trips (code name for freebie) are all about? To suss out a new property and on-sell to an unsuspecting traveller. And they didn't disappoint, picking an ideal spot right down to the fact the cast of Bridget Jones 2 stayed there - the neighbourhood bar plastered in photos of Renee Zellweger and Hugh Grant. But what I want the most from a trusted agent is booking those tricky connections. How do people do it? A good friend uses Webjet for all her air travel - completely au fait with organising a two-week trek across the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea using her online instincts. I'm just not that confident. The fact that there's no turning back once you make those all-important computer clicks troubles me.


Travel agents might seem a concept from a bygone era but to me they're a safety precaution against potential holiday disasters. They take the guesswork out of what could turn into a headache, and offer a personal touch.

Because like the sacrosanct client-hairdresser relationship, this is a very personal journey and getting to know you - getting to know all about you - can be a huge advantage.