Sean Fennessy

The gurus of making dreams come true—luxury travel advisors from the Virtuoso network—share inside tips on how to capture that vacation magic in a bottle

By Charu Suri

1. Plan Sentimental Surprises
Jay Johnson, Coastline Travel Advisors, Garden Grove, CA
If your vacation honors a special event, plan a few surprises to make the trip unforgettable. Bringing a group together to celebrate someone? See if your hotel will frame a sentimental photograph to place in everyone’s room upon arrival. Johnson says Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, and Thompson Hotels are great at pulling out all the stops.

2. Splurge on VIP Lounge Access
Jack Ezon, Ovation Vacations, New York, NY
Create magic before you reach your destination. Some airports offer VIP-style lounges for a price tag of around $3,500, says Ezon. In addition to peak service, these lounges may even offer assistance with immigration and security: a dream come true. Because VIP lounges can be privately or airport-owned, the best way to book is via a travel consultant.

3. Create Bonding Experiences
Keith Waldon, Departure Lounge, Austin, TX 
“It’s all about getting family to engage with the destination and each other,” Waldon says. Skew outings toward the adventurous (like kayaking up an exotic river) or novel (how about watching an ocean water polo match?). Shared experiences like these make for treasured memories. Want an even deeper connection? Look for a local project that focuses on community service, he says.

4. Hire Your Own Photographer
Josh Alexander, Protravel International, New York, NY  
Hire a pro with experience capturing moments both posed and spontaneous. “This is a far cry from smartphone and selfie photos,” says Alexander. Pick one leg of your journey for optimal photo ops, and book a few hours of shoot time. Try Flytographer, a company that pairs local photographers with travelers.

 National Geographic/Offset

5. Book Private Shore Excursions
Angela Pierson, Wallace Pierson Travel, Amelia Island, FL
This is by far the easiest way to turn a great cruise into a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, says Pierson. While your shipmates wait in groups to board buses, you stroll (or drive) off with a local guide. “Even a shopping excursion can be tailored according to preference,” she says. Check out Regent Seven Seas and Silversea: Both offer private cars and drivers.

6. Make Something to Bring Home
Anne Scully, McCabe World Travel, McLean, VA
Take the word “souvenir” to new heights by creating your own work with a local artisan. When in Venice, for example, craft masks with a certified Venetian Mask Maker. Getting this kind of behind-the-scenes, hands-on access will make enduring memories, Scully says. Get started by researching local crafts, and then tap your hotel concierge to investigate a visit.

Related: Your Browser’s Incognito Mode Can Help You Book a Cheap Vacation

7. Limit Those Landmarks
Erina Pindar, Smart Flyer, New York, NY
When in a culturally rich part of the world, it’s easy to get overly focused on hitting traditional sites like ruins and cathedrals. Don’t overdo: Plan on one to two landmarks a day, and use your remaining time to hunt for offbeat experiences. Staff at coffeehouses and bookstores are great sources for super-local events and tours. Never be afraid to ask. 

8. Embrace the Change of Plan
Beth Flowers, Brownell Travel, Birmingham, AL
Spontaneity can make a huge difference in your whole vacation, Flowers says. Be ready to make a snap decision to change it up, from checking out a secluded cove while on a hike to walking into a bistro while exploring a town. Adjust your itinerary later—you’ll be glad you did. Meanwhile, prime creative travel thinking by jotting down favorite past vacation moments.

Courtesy of Barbara Kraft/Four Seasons

9. Rethink How You Pick Your Hotel  
Bobby Zur, Travel Artistry, LLC, Franklin Lakes, NJ
The role a hotel can play in a dream vacation is enormous. So shop for your next stay with high-octane selectivity via this thought-starter: “Name five words that come to mind when you picture the perfect trip,” says Zur, and look for properties that speak to those words. If “amenities” is at the top of your list, you’re a perfect match for Rosewood Hotel Group and Four Seasons, he says.

10. Keep Jet Lag to a Minimum
Kristen Korey Pike, KK Travels Worldwide, Atlanta, GA
Outrunning jet lag with a good night’s sleep is the prelude to a great vacation, particularly to a far-flung destination. Business- and first-class tickets can be a worthwhile investment, says Pike. (Some seats might feel more comfortable than your own bedroom.) Make a preemptive strike on time-zone disclocation by setting your watch to local time the moment you board your flight, she says.

When to Swap DIY Trip Planning for a Travel Advisor
The Internet might have made us all believe we are our own best travel planners, but the choices can quickly become overwhelming. If you’re too busy, or are feeling swamped, it’s time to call in the pros. “Advisors make planning a trip fun and collaborative,” says Misty Ewing Belles, managing director of global PR for Virtuoso. What you gain with a travel advisor, Belles says, is research power, relationship power, and constant support if things on the ground change—which adds up to service before, during, and even after your vacation. Fees typically vary from $50 to several hundred dollars, and that’s sometimes applied against the overall cost of your trip.