Travel Agents

See the world and make extra cash as a home-based travel agent

Written for MyCentralJersey.com and DailyRecord.com

You got laid off from your job.

Your car’s transmission went.

Your kid’s college tuition is due.

In times of economic hardship, the first thing to go is travel. However, if you’re struggling to make ends meet, there is one way to bring in extra cash and keep your travel bug satisfied — become a part-time home-based travel agent.

Frank Hryszkanich, founder of the Association of Home-Based Travel Agents and Travel, Ports and Voyages LLC, a home-based travel agency headquartered in East Brunswick, said home-based travel agents have the best of both worlds.

“When you’re a home-based agent, you can learn about better travel choices while making commission, plus you can save money for your own travel,” he said.

Disney Cruises recently visited the Association of Home-Based Travel Agents to give a seminar on what they can offer to clients. (Photo: Gannett NJ File Photo)

Disney Cruises recently visited the Association of Home-Based Travel Agents to give a seminar on what they can offer to clients. (Photo: Gannett NJ File Photo)

Hryszkanich said that becoming a home-based travel agent is also ideal for someone who is retiring or who wants to see the world.

“There are still a lot of magical places left in the world and this is a great way to see them via leisure travel and business travel,” he said.

Janet Cargulia, a home-based travel agent who works with Travel, Ports and Voyages LLC, said she enjoys her career because of the creativity, freedom and flexibility involved.

“You can do this job in your pajamas or you can meet with clients and have Italian wine dinners,” she said.

Many home-based travel agents are in the business for extra income, a hobby or to get competitive travel rates for friends and family. About 10 to 15 percent of home-based travel agents work in the field full time, while the majority are part time. Full-time employees make, on average, about $15,000 to $30,000 a year, depending on how much business they bring in, because it is commission-based. Agents in the Association of Home-Based Travel Agents range from 29 years old to 79.

SeaWorld recently visited the Association of Home-Based Travel Agents to give a seminar on what they can offer to clients. (Photo: Gannett NJ File Photo)

SeaWorld recently visited the Association of Home-Based Travel Agents to give a seminar on what they can offer to clients. (Photo: Gannett NJ File Photo)

Part-time workers’ weekly hours vary greatly. Hryszkanich said that his 215 agents, who are independent contractors, make from a few hundred dollars a year to one who makes $70,000 working full time.

At Hryszkanich’s home-based travel agency, agents take home 70 percent of their commission and the agency takes 30 percent. This rate can generally range from 30 percent to zero percent, depending on the agency and how much help they provide the agent.

There are no credentials required to become a home-based travel agent, but there also aren’t any real educational facilities for those looking for more instruction besides books and webinars. To get started, home-based travel agents usually join an agency and use their credentials, or they start their own, which Hryszkanich said is a lengthy process.

Cargulia has about 350 clients but started out much more modestly.

“I started out very small because I really wanted to know how to do this. It doesn’t happen overnight, so you shouldn’t get discouraged. It’s on-the-job training,” she said.

Depending on the attending suppliers, about 25 to 75 agents head to the monthly travel seminars per session. (Photo: Courtesy of Frank Hryszkanich)

Depending on the attending suppliers, about 25 to 75 agents head to the monthly travel seminars per session. (Photo: Courtesy of Frank Hryszkanich)

Seven years ago, Hryszkanich was a home-based travel agent working for an agency. His agency would bring travel suppliers, such as cruise lines and resorts, in to speak to the agents to educate them on their programs, but he said it was very difficult to ask questions as well as gain training.

“The agency was all about sell, sell, sell, and I wanted to do something totally different which would be more fun and social,” he said. “Plus I wanted to learn and have a good time.”

So Hryszkanich started his own agency.

“Many home-based travel agents don’t know their product, but I didn’t want my agents to just say, ‘I’m a travel agent’ and that’s it,” he said. “My goal is training, training and more training. I want you to sell these programs and be able to say, ‘Oh, this is fantastic’ and know what a bargain is when you see it.”

This also led Hryszkanich to start an association, which includes 300 to 350 agents, some who work for his agency and some who could be classified as competitors. There is no membership fee for new agents, just a $25 fee for which several employees train agents in a three-hour one-on-one.

About four to five suppliers visit the Association of Home-Based Travel Agents at their monthly seminars. (Photo: Courtesy of Frank Hryszkanich)

About four to five suppliers visit the Association of Home-Based Travel Agents at their monthly seminars. (Photo: Courtesy of Frank Hryszkanich)

Hryszkanich said that he started the association because he wanted to get something else from the suppliers because his agents were doing so much business with them.

“I retired at 55,” he said. “I’m here for socializing, not for the money. However, I also don’t work for thank yous anymore. Since we are selling a lot, we can get upgrades such as bottles of wine, discounts or other amenities.”

One of the biggest benefits in joining the association is the monthly travel seminars, which occur every second Tuesday of the month at the East Grand Buffet, 6 Edgeboro Road #15 in East Brunswick.

Generally, about four to five suppliers come and speak to 25 to 75 agents, each for about 30 minutes, while agents eat dinner for $13 a person. Agents are welcome to bring guests as long as they are over 18. Webinars are also available for those unable to attend.

“No one is selling to you — you are there to learn their product,” Hryszkanich said.

The association also offers several other special events, such as a bus trip to Philadelphia on May 16. (Photo: Gannett NJ File Photo)

The association also offers several other special events, such as a bus trip to Philadelphia on May 16. (Photo: Gannett NJ File Photo)

Some of the past speaking suppliers have been Royal Caribbean Cruises, Disney Cruises, United Vacations, AmaWaterways River Cruises, Blue Sky Tours, SeaWorld and Universal Studios.

“Suppliers are very anxious to come and speak to us because they can’t come to the home-based travel agents’ homes, but here is a venue for them to go to. By coming into a restaurant, they can meet a whole bunch of agents at once,” Hryszkanich said.

The association also offers several other special events, such as a bus trip to Philadelphia on May 16, which, for $50, will include dinner, a historic tour, a trip to the 9th Street Italian Market Festival and tours of Philadelphia’s Chinatown, Rocky Steps and Reading Terminal Market.

Although the Internet has changed the work of travel agents, Hryszkanich firmly believes that travel agents will always have a place in the travel industry.

“We like to say that the Internet is for looking and travel agents are for booking,” he said. “Are you going to put $15,000 on your credit card to go somewhere you’re not really sure about? It’s daunting with all of the travel sites out there. People are getting information online, but they want to go to a person for their questions.”

For more information on the Association of Home-Based Travel Agents or Travel, Ports and Voyages LLC, you can contact Frank Hryszkanich at 732-251-1775 or FrankH@TPVP.com.

Five Reasons to Cruise the Open Seas

Let’s get serious here… I have been on my fair share of trips (although I’m certainly nowhere near finished). I love running ragged across the world, carrying my $20 backpack filled with old t-shirts and a toothbrush, living by, quite honestly, the seams of my dress. However, every once in a while (i.e. when my parents pay for it) I enjoy a good ol’, carefree, luxurious, and easy, cruise.

When cruising, the only map you need is the (overly complicated) deck map. The only decision you need to make is which colorful drink will accompany your breakfast. The farthest you need to walk is up a flight of stairs.

Cruising isn’t for everyone, nor is it fitting for every trip. However, here are a few reasons why it’s worth the indulgence every once in a while.

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1. The only line you will stand in is one for the buffet. Cruises are a ready-made vacation. See it as a positive or negative, but the security on these babies is incredibly lax. You’re not going to be patted down by a man named Harmony and it is scarily easy to sneak liquor in. If you’re like my large Sicilian father or you have a hard time staying in a seat for eight hours, cruises are a great way to get the fun of a vacation without the beforehand hassle.

2. Drinking at breakfast isn’t only accepted, it’s expected. I’m not totally sure why only some cruises are classified as “booze cruises,” because really, all cruises are like this. Let’s be serious here, what else are you going to do for 5+ days on a ship. There are more bars than there are restaurants and grandparents, grandchildren, and everyone in between drink together in one happy (and sloppy) union. They are truly the great equalizer. Plus, the heavy cabin shades make it easy to sleep in the day after… and after.

3. You can make neighbor friends you can ditch at will. Cruises are great for making friends because everyone is drunk (see above) and you see everyone over and over again, making the ship kind of like one big family hangout. Since everyone is on vacation and obviously wearing their favorite outfits, they’re already in a great mood and everyone is easy to talk to. If you depart from a port close to where you live like most people do, you will also probably make friends with people who live close enough to that you can hang out with them again later. And if you don’t want to see them again… well you’ll be home in seven days anyhow.

4. There’s a lot of free stuff. Well I guess it’s not really free since you shelled out somewhere in between $500 to $1000 for this (or your parents did) but the nice part is that you don’t have to hand out a lot of money once you’re onboard (you’ll just pay the bill later, when you’re sober). No paying for meals, shows, towels, movies, tastings, room service, etc.

5. You don’t have to do anything yourself. If you’re an overachiever like me, you probably run around like a maniac all day organizing all the idiots you know who remarkably haven’t fallen out of an open window yet. It gets pretty tiring. However, cruising is a lot like being a kid again, only this time, your parents let you do whatever you want, because you’re a damn adult now. Cruises tell you where to go, what to eat, what time it is, and what you’re doing, so for the first time… there’s nothing to worry about. Now that’s a vacation if I ever knew one.

 

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This is how you get on the Titanic without the whole iceberg thing

How to See the World Before 65.

In my closet, you will not find a sparkly Juicy Couture handbag or chic dresses by Michael Kors. You won’t find leather Coach wallets or Gucci sunglasses. But instead, you might find some piles of maps, an old purple suitcase, and some postcards.

This is because I would much rather spend my hard-earned cash on trips to Rome, London, Paris, the Bahamas, or Oslo than on a pile of fabric from the Monmouth Mall.  Unfortunately, when traveling, I’m still on a student’s budget, also known as the budget of someone who asks for ten dollars of gas at the Exxon on Second Avenue. Even with an $8.25 hourly wage, however, it is still possible to see the world while you’re still young enough to enjoy it. That is, if you know when to save and when to scrape as you go about planning your next big excursion.

If you’re planning a big trip across the pond, a travel agent is a great tool and starting point that many wrongly see as a silly luxury. According to “When Using a Travel Agent Might Be a Good Idea” from preferredconsumer.com, “While they may use many of the same web sites as the ordinary consumer when planning a trip, they do have the added advantage of having access to the latest sale and promotional information.  Travel agents generally have a cache of upgrades and other perks at their disposal that they can offer to their clients. This is especially true if you are a repeat customer. And, many of these perks are not advertised or available to those booking their trip via the Internet.”

Budgettravel.com suggests making sure you book an agent that is certified by the American Association of Travel Agents and is one who works close to you so you can meet face-to-face rather than over the web. This is also helpful when the time comes for your next trip: you want your travel agent to be your friend and want to help you get the best deals down the line.

Also, you have to figure out what’s worth the extra buck when traveling and what you can save on. For example, you shouldn’t be taking taxis unless you absolutely have to. Always search out the bus and subway stops when you hit a new city. It cost $28 to get from New York Penn Station to LaGuardia Airport, when in comparison it would cost $2 by subway. And, if you can, walk to that museum a few blocks down instead of getting a ride at all. This is also a great way to experience the hidden gems of a city while saving money, too.

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Another thing that you can save on is city tours. How many times have you sat through a boring, unenthusiastic tour by a kid about your age? It’s much more fun (not to mention time-efficient) to give yourself your own tour. “Frommer’s New York City 2012” guidebook, consistently given five stars by Amazon.com users, cost about $15, while the price of an “All New York Tours” guided walking tour is about $100 per person. Who wants to be led around like a bunch of third-graders anyway?

Rick Steves, author of several European guide books, said on his website, “Before buying a book, study it. How old is the information? The cheapest books are often the oldest — which is no bargain. Who wrote it? What’s the author’s experience? For whom is it written? Does the book work for you or for the tourist industry? Does it specialize in hard opinions — or superlatives? Is it readable? It should have personality without chattiness and information without fluff.”

Everybody likes getting new stuff. Everyone likes funny t-shirts, cheap jewelry, and cheesy magnets… right? You’ll be doing your wallet, and your friends, a favor if you scrimp on the lame souvenirs and send out some handwritten postcards with what you’ve been up to instead, even if you’re only gone for a few days. Postcards are much more friendly and personal than yet another shot glass. Postcards will cost under $5 for quite a few, while souvenirs will cost more than $10 per item and they will take up space, and possibly break, in your bag when it’s time to journey back home. Donna Roth, frequent recipient of my own postcards, said, “Getting postcards makes me smile and laugh and they’re something nice to look back on as the years pass, while souvenirs tend to be kind of useless and just collect dust in our house.”

Sometimes when looking forward, going on trips and seeing what the world has to offer can seem like an impossible dream in the face of tuition, rent, and bills. However, if you do a little research before you embark with your travel agent and think outside the box in order to score some great deals, you’ll have much more to show for your summer than a pile of tank tops in the closet.