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Read This Before Booking A Trip Through A Social Media Travel Agent

With so many online groups and agents making bank, be sure you're not signing up for the trip from hell.

Travel

Social media has become a haven to make money, and the travel game is no exception. More often than ever, I'm seeing more and more people who are acting as travel agents—planning and arranging group trips for strangers with absolutely no experience or knowledge about everything the job entails. The initial post or advertisement might look inviting---or you may even be loosely familiar with the organizers of the trip---but it's important to make sure that before you hand over your coins to someone with the expectation of flying to another part of the world, you're clear about what you're getting into.

I recently had someone close to me tell me about a Medellin, Colombia trip from hell with one of these "social media travel agents". They apparently threw local parties in her city and even organized a few domestic trips. So when they posted a flyer on Facebook to travel to the popular South American city, she was excited to go.

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The price for the room was $550 with a $100 deposit requested in July to travel Memorial Day weekend of the following year. She paid her deposit, but received no receipt or details about the trip upon payment. She says she figured she'd be patient since the last time she traveled with them, the details were released a few months prior to departure. January came around and she still had no info about living arrangements. She and other people in the group reached out to the organizers for months with no response.

Then things got down to the wire. Before she knew it, it was one month before it was time to leave and she still knew nothing about the hotel, excursions, or where the heck these people who'd taken her money had gone.

She says a week before the trip, they finally received Google spreadsheets detailing where they'd be staying but WITHOUT AN ADDRESS. They were left to figure that out on their own. Then, she arrived in Colombia where things got progressively worse. Four mansions were booked for 80 people—one of which was uninhabitable and bug infested. The rooms for the group were first come, first serve, and when she got to hers, it was about the size of a small walk-in closet ...WITH NO BATHROOM! All of the available beds ran out and one guy had to sleep on the couch in the living area.

She and the rest of the group finally heard from the organizers after being dodged for months. The correspondence wasn't to provide an explanation for the catastrophe. It was to let them know that they owed money for the airport shuttle. She was left with no choice but to pack up her stuff and check into the nearest affordable hotel.

The following day, she ran into one of the trip's organizers who completely gaslighted her and pretended to be unaware that there were any issues at all. She cut her losses and made the most of the rest of the trip, but needless to say, the experience was a wake-up call to be cautious when booking with a so-called "travel group or agency".

To help avoid situations like these, Joni Rials, founder of Seek and Sip Travel, has some tips on what to look out for and how to protect yourself:

Research the Agency Before Booking

"Nowadays, it's a little difficult to find out if an agency is reputable. You can check with the Better Business Bureau, but they are a privately owned business where consumers can report and post positive and negative business interactions," she says. "Many times, you just have to balance the positive with the negative interactions. I would suggest Google searching the agency you plan to book with to see if they have any pending lawsuits with the state. Also, reach out to people you may know, ask about their previous experiences and look online for reviews."

Get Travel Insurance and a Good Credit Card

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"When you purchase travel insurance, reach out and ask if that particular travel agency is on the 'do not book list'. All insurance companies have those lists. If you're a frequent traveler, consider purchasing a bi-annual policy. It gives you all of the same benefits that you'd get with a single policy except your limits are higher. Also, having a good travel credit card can be a lifesaver in instances like this. Many good travel cards cover expenses if you call and explain that you've arrived at your destination, didn't receive what you paid for, and were forced to make other arrangements. You can also call your bank and tell them the issue, file a claim, and receive your money back."

Look into Their Presence Online & Always Get Proof of Payment

"After you've paid for your trip, you should always receive a confirmation email from the agency that details the entire trip including the destination, the hotel with the address, the kind of room you paid for, the length of your stay, etc. If you never receive a receipt for what you paid for, consider it a red flag! Also, do not ever Cash App or Zelle anyone when paying for a trip. You basically just gave someone cash to run off with."

Image by Giphy

"Take a look at the company's social media profile and website before booking with them. Ask yourself how it makes you feel. What are the quality of their posts? Do they seem like a well-thought-out brand? Obviously, if they haven't put in the effort to update their posts or their website in six months to a year, this might be an indication that they also won't put much effort into making sure they plan quality trips for their clients."

If Things Go Bad, Know How to Build a Case

"Not only should you be aware of how your insurance and credit card work, but if you get into a situation where you end up booking with a shady agency, it is important to know how to build a case. When you're on a group trip and everyone is disgruntled, try and get statements from people. This way you have proof to corroborate your story and it doesn't turn into a 'my word vs. theirs' situation. Take plenty of photos of your living arrangements, chat up the front desk attendant or manager at your new hotel and see what they have to say about the seedy hotel you had to check out of. The more evidence you have, the stronger your claim.

"Finally, you'd be surprised at how many people book trips without getting the full names and emergency contact numbers of the people doing the planning. Don't be naive! Find out who you're booking with before handing over your money."

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

10 Questions To Ask Your Friends Before You Travel Together

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

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