It's always nice when we learn to do things for ourselves. For instance, I'm pleased that I can now patch a hole in a wall by myself. But there are limits. If I find a leaky pipe, I don't think I'm ready to fire up a propane tank and solder it.

Similarly, many of us are pleased to be able to look up airfares online and to book flights and even hotel rooms electronically, on our own. That trend has been profitable for travel websites like Expedia (NASDAQ:EXPE) and Priceline (NASDAQ:PCLN), and it has led many travel-related companies, like Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) and hotel operator Marriott (NYSE:MAR), to spare no expense in making information available to you directly.

Yet relying on your own knowledge might not always be the best move. Here are some points about using travel agents to consider:

  • A good travel agent really knows the world of travel, much better than we occasional voyagers do. A discussion with one can help you better shape a trip. She might even point out some additional sights to see, or some better places to stay. If you haven't taken a cruise before (and even if you have), it can be a little complicated and intimidating trying to determine what options to choose (room type, cruise company, itinerary, etc).
  • While you may be able to snag the best airfares online on your own, travel agents may be able to secure better deals for you with hotels and cruises, and sometimes even with airfare. Many hotels and cruise companies offer special deals to travel agents.
  • Travel agents can also keep an eye on fares, to see whether a fare you booked (say, on a cruise) has fallen. If it does, the agent may be able to get you a refund on the difference you paid.

Here's another bunch of advantages, from the folks at

A travel agent can help you decide on the right destination for your personality and needs, as well as have up to the minute information on travel deals and places to avoid. Her professional skills will guide through all the must-knows such as vaccinations and documentation to travel to your chosen locale ... An agent will also make all of your arrangements, so you can spend more time planning your big day and less time stressing about travel details. She will keep you informed on currency exchange rate information, airport transportation, and amazing activities and other services that you might want to participate in.  

How to find and work with travel agents
Note that, of course, not all agents are alike. Seek out one with considerable experience. Ask friends for recommendations -- eventually someone will offer a glowing recommendation of an agent. Remember that different agents will have different expertise. Some will know island vacations very well, while others might have great insights for business travelers or those aiming for Europe or Asia.

Aim to develop a nice relationship with your agent. Over time, a good agent will get to know you and your travel preferences and may be able to proactively recommend various trips and deals for you.

You'll find lots of advice on traveling efficiently, inexpensively, and with minimum hassles in our Travel Center. Why not take a short trip there? And be sure to drop in on our Best Travel Spots and Tips discussion board, to check out the information and opinions offered there.

Learn more in these articles:

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian has seen the glory of Ngorongoro Crater, but has yet to see Niagara Falls. She owns shares of Expedia. is a Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any one of our investing services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is  Fools writing for Fools .