The old city of Coimbra with river in foreground, on a beautiful summers day

With so many online tools and other travel planning resources freely available, you may ask yourself “Why would I use a travel expert to plan my vacation to Portugal?”.

There are many good reasons why paying a local Portugal travel specialist to troubleshoot, or even create and manage your ideal itinerary is invaluable, and far superior to anything that Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools can put together for you.

An expert helps remove the uncertainty 

Planning a scouting trip to Portugal
Planning a trip to Portugal

Travelling to Portugal can be an exciting and enriching experience but it can feel daunting, if not overwhelming, to plan every aspect of your trip on your own when you don’t know what things are really like on the ground. 

No matter how detail-oriented you are, you’re always left with a niggling doubt that you’ve overlooked something important. That’s where a local travel expert comes into play. 

They’ll know whether your intended route and timings are feasible or not, or if you’re setting yourself up for an unfulfilling and frustrating time.

This is what one recent client had to say about working with me:

“My husband and I were both on this call and we agreed it was very helpful. We asked a lot of questions which got answered and will now enable us to plan our trip using the information we received. There are a lot of websites out there but speaking directly with an expert who understands what you are looking for in your trip, how you like to travel, what is important to you etc. is invaluable both in what one learns and how much time one saves. Julie was very knowledgable and patient with us and her love of Portugal and traveling there is evident. Highly recommended.”

JM (Quick Query consultation, February 2024)

Local expert means personalised and tailored itineraries

Bussaco Palace and gardens near Luso in Portugal
Bussaco Palace near Luso in Portugal

After 16+ years of helping others plan their Portugal trips as a blogger, travel consultant and trip planner, I consider myself to be an expert in Portugal travel. At least with the kind of trips that I enjoy, i.e. a blend of important sights and hidden gems, culture, history, landscapes and good food and wine.

Throughout these years of travel and research, I have gained extensive knowledge of the country that enables me to provide valuable insights and recommendations that guide books and AI tools simply cannot offer. 

When I am working on an itinerary for my 1:1 Itinerary Design clients, I take into account all of the information they provide via a detailed enquiry form. This enables me to get a clear understanding of the client, their preferences, interests and travel style so that I can create a unique, personalised itinerary that caters specifically to their needs, based on my local knowledge. 

Whether you’re interested in historical sites, gastronomy, or exploring hidden gems, as an independent Portugal travel consultant, I can curate a unique experience that suits you perfectly.

Once you’re happy with the plan, my trusted local partner travel agent takes over and manages the trip from payment to completion for a seamless, stress-free experience. 

You get the best of both worlds with two sets of local experts making sure you have the best possible trip to Portugal.

Using a local travel agency = additional perks

Oscar Quevedo explains grape varietals
Oscar Quevedo explains grape varietals at his winery

Booking through my partner travel agent also means preferential treatment in many cases, thanks to the long-standing relationships that have been built up over the years with local wineries, hotels and guides. 

Ryan Opaz, the owner of the agency, is co-author of Foot Trodden. Portugal and the WInes That Time Forgot. His love affair with wine means that he personally knows many of the country’s best winemakers. 

Because of his connections, you may get to meet the owner of a winery instead of a staff member, or get a special bottle of port wine opened for you that would not happen on a standard tour that you book independently.

Assistance and support throughout your trip

Not only does Ryan’s team take care of the logistics and bookings, they keep in touch with our clients during their trip and provide 24/7 support in case anything goes wrong. AI can’t do that for you!

Even the most meticulously-planned trips can encounter unexpected complications. In such situations, the benefit of having a travel agent on hand is invaluable. I’ve seen my partners step in and deal smoothly and efficiently with the effects of delayed flights, illness, minor issues with hotel rooms, last minute changes during the trip and other travel hiccups that can affect your enjoyment of a trip. 

Knowing that they will handle logistical adjustments or make any necessary calls to sort things out means that you don’t have the stress, work and hassle of trying to do it yourself in a foreign country. 

Cancellations and insurance claims are easier 

Having a travel agent book your trip for you not only saves you time and energy, it makes life so much easier if you have to cancel or abandon your trip and claim on your travel insurance. 

I learned this the hard way when we had to abandon a trip to India for which I had booked all of the hotels, tours and transport myself online. 

Trying to claim back the costs of a trip was a bureaucratic nightmare. I had to contact each of the suppliers individually to get proof of cancellation before the insurance company would consider my claim. 

Booking your trip through a travel agency means that you only need to get one cancellation document to cover all the services they booked for you. 

Insider knowledge gives you confidence to book your own trip

Pinhão train station, Douro Valley
Pinhão train station, Douro Valley

Despite the many advantages of having a custom itinerary managed by a travel agent, not everyone has the budget for this service. Plus, for lots of people, doing the research is part of the fun of travel planning. 

However, when you’re unfamiliar with the local customs, transportation options, and hidden gems, constructing your own Portugal itinerary is fraught with risks and uncertainty. 

If you’re using AI tools to design an itinerary, I strongly recommend checking it with a local expert, like me. It’s highly likely that there are glaring errors that need to be resolved before you book anything. 

Even if you’re not using AI, and have pieced together a plan from guide books and recommendations from friends and family, it’s a good idea to talk it through with a Portugal travel consultant to make sure that it’s both logistically sound and meets your needs.

What I love about doing Quick Query travel consultations is being able to dig deep and ask questions to really understand the motivations behind the plans or ideas that my clients have come up with.

This enables me to confirm whether or not their existing plans/ideas make sense. If not, I can suggest suitable alternatives. 

These often include off-the-beaten-path locations to help people discover the authentic essence of Portugal rather than tick off a list of supposed “must sees” that may not actually match their interests or make sense logistically.

Why using AI to plan your Portugal trip is a mistake

Out of curiosity, I’ve tried using AI tools to create a Portugal itinerary and been frankly baffled at the results. I was told to visit a castle that I know for a fact doesn’t exist, which is what AI experts call ‘hallucinating’. 

Another attempt recommended a bizarre zig-zag route back and forth across Lisbon several times in one day, instead of presenting me with a logical and efficient itinerary for the day.

AI tools don’t know whether or not it’s worth you visiting the Algarve without a lot of questioning and challenging of answers on your part. And most importantly, you won’t know which points to dispute without the insider knowledge of a Portugal travel expert. 

You need to have confidence in your itinerary to avoid frustrating and stressful mistakes and inefficiencies.

Keeping it local

Lastly, a side benefit of using a Portugal-based travel expert is that you are supporting the local economy and travel industry. By working with a local travel specialist, you are contributing to the livelihood of local guides, hoteliers, and tour operators who rely on tourism for income. This helps to sustain and preserve the cultural heritage and natural beauty of Portugal for future generations to enjoy.

Over to you. Please share your thoughts in a comment.