Bookings With Travel Agencies

The past few weeks I have spent numerous hours researching a trip I am going to take this summer in a region that I didn’t know too much about. Central Asia, aka “The Stans”, is a tough region to get around because of the route, the language, the beaurocracy, diplomatic relations between those countries, governmental restrictions, the costs and most annoyingly-the sponsorships and visas. So in order to determine my route, get the visas where I need a sponsoring company and to make my life easier in general-I decided to call a Central Asian travel agency that was recommended by both another TCC member and Lonely Planet.

As many of you know my negative point of view when it comes to travel agents in general-they certainly do have their value in some instances especially when they are experts in a particular country or region. However, they also have their flaws and annoying things even when you need their help.

For instance, I used Mir Corporation out of Seattle who has offices all throughout Central Asia and people on the ground out there to help with tours. They were also very accomodating to my requests and all of my demands and questions and I am very happy with the end result with them and would use them again.

They designed a great route for me to see all five Stans plus Iran so I could have a comprehensive tour of the region. Everything was great until I saw the price they wanted to charge me. They wanted over $7000 for just the land portion, which didn’t include International airfare, visas or insurance. I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw that.

Needless to say, I broke the trip down into minutia and eliminated all the worthless tours which knocked a significant amount off the price. Who needs to get a tour of cities that you can see everything in about a few hours. Also, who needs all the history or every little detail when you will forget most of what you hear anyway and the guide book tells you all the same stuff. I hate tours and being on someone elses clock.

In addition, private drivers cost a lot of money. Although it may be more comfortable to ride around in Soviet era Mercedes, it isn’t worth a few hundred a day when you can either take busses, walk or certainly just hire a taxi for peanuts a day to see the same stuff.

Finally, I decided to get all of the visas that I could easily obtain here in New York by myself instead of using a visa agent in Washington. They tend to charge a large vig on top of the costs. For this region however, I do need to use them to get visas for Iran and Turkmenistan because of the sponsoring company deal which is super annoying.

After all these things were taken out of my tour I was left with a tour that was basically a shell-which is how I like it. I like to have a route set but with all the stuff in the middle for me to determine when I get there based on what I feel like doing. I hate having things set in stone when I travel which is why I never use agents.

The cost of my tour ended up being less than half of what the original cost was announced at and the only reason I am using them at all is for ease and because they have me handcuffed a little when it comes to the sponsorship thing. But I don’t even mind because it’s a necessary evil, they have been very nice and accomodating and I think I am getting a lot for the money and seeing all I want to see.

This experience was overall very positive, educational and I would recommend Mir Corporation to anyone traveling to this region. Just don’t get caught up in all the little side tours and trips they might try to get you to do. It’s not just them, it’s any touring agency. That’s their job and they do it well but if cutting wasted time and costs is important to you, then also don’t be afraid to demand what you want and say what you’re willing to pay. Just because you are unfamiliar with a region, don’t be bullied into something-certainly not paying more than is necessary.

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  1. I agree that travel agents are good for certain types of trips and they are excellent for people who are oblivious to the world or have no budget or independent spirit. I do not like to use them. I also have never been anywhere crazy like you so I guess I would probably use one too if I was going to the stans. I have only been to Europe and Australia, Good luck, that sounds like fun though.

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