Joco Diversions

Every family has a reluctant travel agent

When it’s time for the family to take off on vacation, Denise Snodell becomes the family travel agent.
When it’s time for the family to take off on vacation, Denise Snodell becomes the family travel agent. Bloomberg News

I miss the days of brick and mortar travel agencies. Like coffee shops, they were everywhere when I was an on-the-go young adult.

Remember that? You’d just open a glass door on almost any corner and find no-nonsense agents who would tap-tap-tap on clunky green screen computers, or make landline calls to airlines while you relaxed on the other side of their metal desks. As a customer, you’d daydream as your eyes fell upon the obligatory, slightly askew posters of the Eiffel Tower.

What a deal. Another person was handling your trip. Doing the legwork. Often you’d give them your preferences and they’d send you home while they puzzled together your journey. Then, hours later, you’d pick up your itinerary/tickets/reservations.

But here I am now with about nine tabs open on my computer. I’m trying to find a hotel in a populated area that has a curiously lousy inventory of rooms. Nothing looks appealing, yet everything’s expensive. I can’t seem to pull the trigger.

Somehow, and I really don’t know why, I’ve become my family’s travel agent. The pressure.

At least the airline reservations are in the bag. Even though I can navigate the Southwest website better than my own refrigerator, it was still a stressful process. Soon my family will learn I landed us some torturous pre-sunrise boarding times. Oopsies.

But this go-round it’s the hotel search that has given me the most turbulence. Part of my problem is I’m not yet hip or brave enough to journey to the world. A different website? No. Staying in a stranger’s house? No, no, no. I want a hotel lobby and little shampoo bottles and a closet with an ironing board I’ll never use. I want to gaze at desktop placards with familiar logos and words of fake cheerfulness. “Enjoy your coffee pod!”

The only problem is there are hidden clunkers out there. I know why the Trivago man looks beat up, ragged and unshaven. After hunting on so many hotel sites like he apparently does, I resemble him now. Only I have thicker chin stubble.

I’ve had good luck with these sites, except for the times I didn’t. I’ve learned even the most popular booking tools can be very, very generous with their star ratings. Like that one indie hotel that was so overrated in comparison to other places I had previously booked in the same city. Among other things, the windowsill was a serious mold research lab and I needed Chantix after walking through the busy “non-smoking” hallway. It seamlessly flowed to a smoking area. Our room was on the imaginary border.

After that stay I actually emailed to the website, complete with photos of the crumbling surroundings. To my pleasant surprise, the company refunded us. My main complaint was we paid for too many stars. Interesting sidebar — not long after our stay that very same property was hit by a small tornado. It was as if William Shatner himself colluded with mother nature to give the place a karate chop. Maybe the twister aired out the hallways? Give that hotel another star.

So now I’m a skeptic who sometimes dares to read customer reviews, which usually offer keen insight. And this worries me, because the one property I’m seriously considering for its perfect location is actually boasting “verified” commentary like:

“Common areas are very comfortable.”

“Business center well equipped.”

I don’t care about printer paper. Are the rooms clean, comfortable, quiet and safe?

I worry these oddly brief reviews are euphemisms for, “You might find a watermelon seed stuck to your TV channel guide and there’s no shower drain cover but you can play a fun game of ‘hot lava’ with the carpet stains.” This trifecta actually happened to us within five minutes of walking into another over-starred property not long ago.

Meanwhile, I’ll do my best to pick a hotel. If my peeps don’t like the results, they can hire a new travel agent.

Reach Denise Snodell at or on Twitter @DeniseSnodell