At Your Service–For a Fee

The Internet has fundamentally changed the way we travel. (The fact that it’s fundamentally changed, well, everything is best left for another, much brighter person to discuss at her leisure.) Instead of having to go through the gatekeeper of a travel agent to book a hotel room or a plane ticket, you can crowdsource the best destinations, put a price alert on the flight you want, and arrange it all in your pajamas without the awkwardness of having to talk to actual humans in the flesh.

Now a couple of sites are trying to provide a service that blends the personal attention of the old-school travel agent with the modern conveniences of the web.

When I first heard of Fortnighter, I thought it sounded fantastic, and I was surprised that no one had thought of it before. It’s essentially getting folks who’ve written for some of the best known and most respected travel publications in the world to design an itinerary specifically tailored to you: your likes, your budget, your timeframe. Looking at the sample on their website, it seemed like a cool resource, like getting a personalized Lonely Planet guide. But then I checked out the prices: from $135 to $320, depending on the length of the trip you want planned. I’m sure there are people out there with money to burn and no time or desire to dig in and research their own vacation, but I’m not one of them. It would, in the end, actually take away one of my favorite parts of a trip.

SnappyGo is a similar service except much cheaper. Their itineraries cost between $30 and $70, again, depending on the length of the trip. But you know that saying, you get what you pay for? Yeah. Even the samples on the site, which should be sparkling enticements for potential clients, are full of typos and vague advice that you could easily find in a typical guidebook (for example, “You can find some interesting spots near famous Fuji mountain, if you wish to see it,” without elaborating on what those interesting spots might be). Even though, according to the site, the “experts” providing this advice “possess the exact knowledge you seek.”

I’m sure there are experts out there with the knowledge I seek–and I’m also sure that I can find their advice for free, on the Thorntree forums at Lonely Planet or on Tripadvisor or just by asking around with friends and family. I like the idea behind these services, but I can’t justify the cost of one (because while it was changing everything else, the Internet also made me not want to pay for information ever) and I can’t stomach the low quality of the other (the Internet has not yet made me accept poorly done work–not quite). For now, I guess I’m left with the old-fashioned new-fashioned way of planning a trip.