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Travel agents share their best advice on common issues to help you avoid making the same mistakes.

“How to Travel Better” is a five-part series that examines unpleasant or inefficient travel experiences and how the industry can improve. Fill out this quick form if you’d like to contribute to our future reporting and share your experience as a source.

It’s when people kick the back of Frank Jung’s seat in Missouri. People who bare their feet during a flight, according to May Wong of California. For others, such as Regina Blye of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, who has a spinal cord injury and uses a wheelchair, the most inconvenient aspect of travelling could result in a serious injury that negatively impacts their health and well-being.

While visiting a new place (or returning to an old one) can be a wonderful experience, getting there is fraught with difficulties that are only exacerbated by red tape, outdated equipment, unhelpful platforms, or accessibility issues.

Readers wrote in to express their concerns about what bothered them the most about travelling. For the majority of passengers, their fellow passengers were an important part of their experience. “I get the ugliest, rudest, and most hateful stares like it’s my fault my connecting flight was late, and they boarded me last in the aisle wheelchair,” one reader, Nathan Germelman, said.

There are numerous areas in which the travel industry could improve, particularly for those with disabilities and special needs. The USA TODAY Travel team has been researching ways to improve the process for everyone involved for the past month.

To make the process a little easier, we asked travel agents about common issues travellers face while travelling. Here’s what they had to say.

Reservations are required because a theme park ticket is insufficient.

Nina Byrd, owner of SmartVaycay in Kissimmee, Florida, has helped hundreds of people plan vacations over the years. She’s an expert on the three Rs: rides, resorts, and restaurants, having visited theme parks more than 40 times herself.

Another R that she’s noticed among theme park visitors is reservations.

“The biggest thing that I run into is people freaking out on Facebook, ‘I just got here, and I can’t get in. ‘What should I do?’ “She stated.

During the pandemic, various theme parks across the country began requiring reservations in addition to admission tickets. Most parks have phased them out, but Disneyland and Walt Disney World still require them.

“A lot of people are still unaware of that,” Byrd said. “They buy their park tickets, show up, and are turned away because the park is full.”

Some guests may be fortunate enough to be able to make last-minute reservations or reservations for another park, but the problem and potential disappointment are easily avoided. Guests can make park reservations as soon as they purchase their tickets to Disney. Authorized Disney travel agents can make park or high-demand dining reservations for their clients for free.

“A lot of these restaurants are now booking out 60 days in advance,” Byrd explained. “Especially the more difficult ones, like Cinderella’s Royal Table, Be Our Guest, and Ohana… I mean, you can’t even get in without a reservation. It’s extremely difficult.”

Disney guests can make their own reservations through the resort’s website or mobile app. There are also apps that notify customers when tables become available, such as MouseWatcher and Mouse Dining.

“When you need a last-minute reservation, those are usually a lifesaver,” Byrd said. “However, you must pay for them.” She subscribes to several on behalf of her clients.

Reservations are also required at other theme parks, such as Universal Orlando, which has three of the top ten theme park restaurants ranked by 10Best readers.

The least expensive flight is not always the best option.
Lawal Travel Services owner Jenita Lawal specialises in luxury travel and creates personalised travel experiences for her clients, such as elopements in Jamaica and anniversary trips to Los Cabos, Mexico. She is an avid traveller who knows everything there is to know about booking flights.

She’s noticed that far too often, people only look for the cheapest flights, which is understandable if you’re looking to save money, but they “aren’t always the best deal or best experience,” she says.

“Think of it as an equation of time, value, experience, and money,” Lawal explained. “A 19-hour layover may not be worth $300 in savings. Is it really a good deal if you have to pay for your carry-on and are stuck in the middle of the plane near the bathroom on a three-hour flight?”

Her advice for staying on budget while avoiding a bad flight experience is to “follow the flight deal,” which is usually the “most volatile price component” of your trip anyway. She recommends using tools like Scott’s Cheap Flights or Google Flights to track your flights.

Another option is to use your credit card to earn airline miles. “Let your daily expenses earn you miles,” she advised.

You could also intentionally cut costs by packing lighter to save money on check-in luggage or selecting the airline’s basic class option. “Keep in mind that these fares have some restrictions, such as not being able to choose your seat.”

Finally, she suggested an alternative that works well for international trips to Europe: if you have the extra time, take a cheaper flight to another city or country, then travel to your final destination by train or small European airline – which tend to be less expensive. “I flew to Nuremberg, Germany, and stayed overnight before hopping on a train to Paris this past May,” she explained. “It was a new country for me, but it still saved me about $500.”

Failure to read cruise documentation
The fine print can be aggravating for travellers, especially if they do not read it. According to Stephanie Goldberg-Glazer, owner of the travel agency Live Well, Travel Often, “the biggest issue” she encounters is travellers failing to read the documentation provided by their travel adviser, cruise line, or other vendors.

Passengers on some closed-loop cruises, which begin and end in the same U.S. port, may not need to bring passports. “A lot of times, people will read, ‘Oh, you don’t need a passport if you’re a U.S. citizen,’ and then stop,” she explained. They will, however, require a birth certificate and a government-issued photo ID, which they may be unaware of.

Travelers may also overlook important information such as when to arrive at the port or any remaining COVID-19 requirements. “Cruise documentation… is 20 pages long, it’s really boring, and nobody reads it,” she said, but they should be aware of the highlights, such as the port of departure and which items are generally prohibited on board, such as irons.

When Goldberg-agency Glazer’s books international travel for new clients, she requests a copy of their passport. If they do not have one, the agency advises the client on what additional documentation is required.

She also advised travellers to ask a lot of questions during the booking process and to do some preliminary research, noting that there are several online forums where other cruisers share their experiences. “The truth is that a little bit of homework upfront can save you a lot of headaches later on and help you enjoy your trip significantly more,” she said.

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