When Vera Russo decided to visit Italy this summer, she didn’t go online to book a plane ticket or call a travel agent. Instead, like a growing number of Americans, she contacted a travel coach.

“I didn’t want to be in Rome, Milan or Florence,” says Russo, a retired real estate broker from Verona, New Jersey. “I wanted to get to know the locals. I wanted to feel like I lived there.”

So Russo asked Francesca Elisabetta Owens, a travel coach who moderates Travel From the Inside Out, a private Facebook group, for help. Owens, who lived in Italy for about 15 years, plans Italian trips for women 50 and over. (Yes, that’s how specialized travel coaches can get.)

Travel coaches are gaining in popularity now that interest in travel is again on the rise. There is no reliable data on the number of travel coaches, but anecdotal evidence suggests that it’s a growing field. But what is a travel coach, and should you consider hiring one?

Owens and Russo spent hours planning every detail of an almost three-month trip. That included the logistics of transportation and access to medical care.

“Francesca encouraged me that I could experience the sweet life of doing nothing, as she calls it,” Russo says. “To relax in outdoor cafes and restaurants, sitting and watching the tourists and locals in daily living.”

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Most travel coaches are experienced travelers who want to share the knowledge they’ve gained on the road. They aren’t travel agents and typically don’t make a booking for you. Instead, they are closer to life coaches, who offer advice and guidance. But instead of trying to improve the quality of your life, a travel coach works on upgrading your vacation by recommending an itinerary that matches your goals.

“Travel coaches help people set intentions for their trips,” says Sahara Rose De Vore, founder of the Travel Coach Network, which accredits travel coaches. “When you can identify the ‘why’ for your trip, you can better decide where to go. You can also decide when to go, who to go with, how long to go for and what you need to do during your trip. That will help you gain the outcome, transformations and experiences you desire.”

A travel coach can help you select the right destination and plan every aspect of your trip. Betsy Ball, co-founder of Euro Travel Coach, says she tries to eliminate the hassle of trip planning, so her clients can focus on what matters: “the food, wine, culture, history and people of Europe,” she says.

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Some travel coaches develop areas of expertise that you probably won’t find elsewhere. For example, Allie Bahn coaches people who travel with food allergies. Bahn draws on her experiences of growing up with food allergies and living in Italy for three years.

“I work with anyone who has life-threatening food allergies or has children with them and wants to learn how to travel as safely as possible,” Bahn says. “Many people haven’t traveled abroad before and are worried about eating safely in other countries.”

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So what can a travel coach do for you? Claire Burt, a travel coach and research specialist who works with tourism businesses, says a coach will ask probing questions that will help you plan a more meaningful trip.

Travel coaches, she says, “help travelers understand the fundamental reasons they want to get away — whether it’s escapism, adventure, self-growth, time with family — and have an idea of how they want to feel when they get away.”

Travel coaches can also help their clients overcome fear of travel. That fear “can be rooted in lifelong issues,” says Owens, the coach who helped plan Russo’s trip to Italy.

So how do you find a travel coach? De Vore’s site lists people who have completed her travel-coaching program. Aside from that, there are no independent directories for travel coaches. Asking a well-traveled friend for a recommendation or searching online for “travel coach” may be just as effective, although experts say a recommendation alone isn’t enough; you should ensure your travel coach intimately knows your destination.

“This means that they have made multiple trips to the location and can guide their clients to unique places and experiences,” says Jody Halsted, a travel coach specializing in travel to Ireland. “A good travel coach should know their clients’ vacation goals and interests and be able to create an itinerary tailored for the individuals or group.”

Other than that, the guidance for hiring a travel coach is much the same as that for finding a travel adviser. The strategies include asking for references, conducting a detailed interview and watching for red flags, such as exaggerated claims or a lack of experience. Travel coaches typically charge a consulting fee for their services. For example, Owens offers a free 20-minute session, then charges $150 per hour.

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Some argue that a good travel adviser can essentially do the same thing. “The concept of travel coaching is exactly what travel advisers are doing,” says Jackie Friedman, president of Nexion Travel Group. “It has been many years since travel agents just booked travel. A travel adviser is an adviser, coach, cheerleader, problem-solver, partner and counselor.” Advisers also often have certifications to verify their expertise, although some travel coaches have them, too.

So why go with a travel coach? For some travelers, where you go is more important than how you get there. They’re looking for someone with deep subject-matter expertise and training that goes beyond recommending a destination and making a reservation.

If that’s you, maybe you need a travel coach.

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