I am old enough to remember travel before the internet: before Travelocity, before Airbnb. In college, the search for the cheapest airfare involved several phone calls, each to a different airline, and the fervent hope that by the time I got back to the one with the best fare I’d get the same quote. Mobil Travel Guides were popular, as were AAA TripTiks. For more complicated vacations—aka Walt Disney World—my kids and I piled into the office of our beloved local travel agent.
What a difference the Internet made. For better, as they say, and for worse.
Skads Travel is a third-generation family business right here in St. Louis Park, founded in 1955 and witness to many industry changes. Will Skadsberg and his wife, Kathy, have been at the helm since the 1970s. With their staff members, they log a combined 90 years of travel experience. Recently I had the opportunity to speak to Kathy Skadsberg about what travel agents can offer in the Internet age.
“It can take us 10 to 15 hours to plan a trip, and we know where to look and what we’re doing,” she says. In other words, travel agents save clients precious time and offer them expertise. What might not be as evident is that a travel agent can also save money. “A five-star accommodation will always be good. But if you’re on a budget, we know which two- and three-star lodging will serve you just as well.”
Another element of what a good travel agent can provide comes out when I ask for travel recommendations. “Well, now,” she says, “that depends.” Each consultant at Skads Travel has his or her own favorite destinations, “but we’re planning your trip, not ours.” Here are some of her best winter travel bets for 2016:
“It’s not for everyone,” says Skadsberg, and due to the cultural nature of most tours (i.e., lots of structure, museums, art and music), it may not, presently, be the best choice for children. For others, it’s a fine option. Cubans are very warm and hospitable, the landscape and cityscapes as if “frozen in time,” she adds. “But if you’re going to go, do it now.” An influx of American hotels will surely change the country’s unique character, and quickly.
One thing that has changed in the industry, says Skadsberg, is that many clients wish to be actively engaged in the destination, whereas before a common vacation objective was simply to relax. “People want to experience something new but they want it to be fun and easy,” she says. For this reason and others, “Costa Rica is an excellent winter travel choice for families.” Turtles, monkeys, zip lines, smaller beaches and safety are all big draws for families.
Otherwise, all-inclusive resorts in Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Mexico can be budget-friendly, particularly when there are teenagers to entertain and feed.
For those traveling without kids this winter, Skadsberg recommends Charleston and Santa Fe. “You’ll find good restaurants, history, boutiques and art.”
ESCAPE OR EMBRACE WINTER
Skadsberg says the Southern Hemisphere, where the seasons are reversed, can be a good winter travel choice. But you have to watch weather. Australia, New Zealand and Argentina are safe bets, but in Tahiti, for example, and some African locations, our winter may be their rainy season.
And don’t count out winter weather for winter travel, she says. “Consider Yellowstone National Park. It’s beautiful in the snow.”