Getting to know… Michaela Conomos of La Petite Travel Agency

Travelling with kids can be overwhelming however this little Travel Agency takes the stress away so you enjoy your holiday! Their point of difference – they’ve been there!
Tell us about yourself
I am a mum to Cooper and wife to Michael. We are a little family of 3. Before I had Cooper, I was in a corporate role at a major airline buying the cabin interiors. When Cooper arrived, I had a big idea that I could have a business where I could be there for him after school hours and attend the school functions – and still fuel my passion for travel.
My husband has a phrase for me – I camp under 5 stars, not five thousand. I focus more on the luxury end of travel, though I am happy to book anything for my clients. Everyone deserves a bargain! My husband is sport obsessed (and so am I secretly) and I realised early in our relationship that if I wanted to go somewhere I just needed to find a sporting event and he would be happy to go with me! We’ve now been to the American NFL, Baseball, Ice Hockey, UK Premier League, Wimbledon, The Tour de France and we’re off to The French Open next and then Augusta for the Masters. I went to the American SuperBowl in New York while 6 months pregnant with Cooper!
Tell us about La Petite Travel Agency
It means “the small travel agency” – I wanted it to be small enough that I know my clients but not big enough where it feels transactional. Cooper is my small person and I love organising travel with kids!
Before I became a travel agent I used to be one of those people that would say “why would you use a travel agent when you can book it yourself?” I realised people didn’t want to read trip advisor for 40 hours a week when planning a holiday!
There are major differences in the quality of hotels and the facilities they offer for children. Some offer travel cots, highchairs, kitchenettes, kids clubs, games rooms and pools. It dawned on me that knowing this is valuable. Some new mums aren’t as experienced at travelling and I can help make family holidays as stress free as possible knowing what hotels offer the best facilities for children from first hand experience.
Explain the service La Petite Travel Agency provides?
The full gambit of travel services and travel planning! I love challenging or complex itineraries. I book flights and accommodation, cruises, transfers with car seats, tours, and can even do restaurant bookings. I service all types of travellers but have particular expertise in family and corporate travel. Having been both a corporate traveller and now travelling with a child, I have first-hand experience with both.
I offer 24/7 support and the service to my customer doesn’t stop when I print the tickets. When a normal travel agency closes the doors for the night or weekend, my business doesn’t close – even when I’m on my own holidays!
What are the benefits of booking with La Petite vs. another travel agency?
The big things are personal service and, more so, personal experience. I work with families a lot at night and on the weekends, whenever suits them best. A lot of my customers, I may not have met face to face but we develop great rapport. It’s a really big thing to trust someone to plan a trip for you and to handover what is essentially a lot of money. Apart from buying a house or a car, an overseas holiday can be a big investment and it is important you can trust your agent.
I put an incredible amount of time and effort in planning my clients’ holidays and I go the extra mile to ensure I offer the right options for their needs which includes taking care of all the small parts that make up a great holiday.
I have a lot of babysitting contacts, which helps my travelling families. I also offer speciality tickets to sporting events from trusted sources as it can be difficult to obtain appropriate tickets.
What can a budding traveller expect from La Petite Travel Agency?
A great holiday and first class service! Every traveller is unique. If you are a ‘fly by the seat traveller’ then I respect that or perhaps you’re someone who lives by a daily diary – I can also provide a structured plan. I deliver bespoke travel, catering to the individual.
How did you get into travel?
My parents lived overseas and perhaps that inspired me in some way. I travelled solo to France when I was 19 and again around Europe in my 20’s. I have never been the backpacking type. I wanted some time off from the banking industry early in my career and a friend suggested I become a flight attendant with her. Five years later I was still there and addicted to being paid to travel in 5 stars! After buying the cabin interiors of aircrafts, here I am the owner of a boutique travel agency. It has become a lifetime career.
When did you first take Cooper travelling? How did you find it travelling with a bub?
We went on a European adventure when Cooper was 4 months old. We flew to Paris, which is one of my favourite places on earth. For France to be his first passport stamp meant a lot to me. Along with Paris, we stayed at Versailles, which is a great family destination and then travelled on the Eurostar to London.
In Dublin, we stayed at the Merion hotel. They had a baby bathrobe and slippers, toys and a lovely cot. We went out for dinner one night and the room was messy, but on returning a beautiful lady had tucked Cooper’s toys into bed, and lovingly folded his clothes. At high tea, they gave us a couch so that Cooper could be happy and lie down. They would lift Cooper’s stroller up the stairs carefully. It’s little touches like that, the caring treatment of your child that makes you feel welcome at a hotel.
Rome was one of the most valuable experiences in helping other mothers travel – learning about cobblestones and shaken pram baby. I worked out quickly the baby carrier is the way to go! We stayed at an amazing resort with a 180-degree view of Rome and 2 pools. Again, such a valuable lesson that a pool at a hotel with kids is gold! It was a really nice time for my husband and I because we got confidence around being parents and travelling with a little one.
We’ve since taken Cooper to New Zealand, New York and Boston, Dubai and many times within Australia. I can’t over rate the value of having a kitchenette in your hotel room with a toddler. You may not want self-catering as you are on a holiday from everyday life and would like room service and your bed made. Being able to make toast or give your toddler yoghurt is priceless. These trips were instrumental in me being able to help other mums.
Cooper has now done 75 flights and I have kept every boarding pass in a logbook where the pilots record the flight info. I worked out that he has been around the globe 4 times already! Not bad for age 3.
Shopping, destinations, special holidays, sporting events, travelling with kids, airline seat configurations – your travel experience and knowledge is impressive. How do you stay on top of it?
I travel myself. I road test everything for you!
Many travel agents either haven’t travelled extensively themselves or been with children. I’ve travelled a lot as a flight attendant and now travelling with a child is it totally different. Nothing can replace first-hand experience.
Top 3 tips to easy travel with kids?
1) Spend the extra money and book the hotel room from the night before if you are arriving insanely early. As a young couple, you may be able to walk around like zombies until check-in time but with kids the extra money you might spend means you can have a shower and the kids can rest – it’s worth every cent!
2) The bassinette on the plane is not the be all and end all. The seat armrests in the bassinette aisle don’t come up so if you also have a toddler they can’t stretch out. Don’t stress over not getting the bassinette, as using a carrier can be better. Another thing to consider is turbulence. Once the seat belt sign turns on, you need to take the baby out of the bassinette meaning you may hardly get to use it if it’s a bumpy flight.
3) Air travel can be very stressful when travelling with kids. Often, it’s the anxiety caused by the judgement of others that is far worse than the reality. Babies deserve to travel from A to B too. Just roll with it and remain as calm as you can. My husband always reminds me “the likelihood of us seeing these people again is close to zero”.
You’re been involved with Australian Fearless Flying Association to help people afraid of airline travel, to travel. Tell us about that?
When I was a flight attendant and in procurement, I became involved with a group run by female pilots and a psychologist that helps people afraid of airline travel. It consists of 2 weekends and 1 evening where people can be well supported. They hear about turbulence, the phases of flight and how the aircraft is made and maintained. You hear from Air Traffic Control, Bureau of Meteorology, visit an aircraft hangar and go in a flight simulator. The last step is the graduation flight to another city.
I have deep empathy for people who are not natural fliers and have seen a lot of people struggle. I want them to be able to get through the flight comfortably. I can guarantee that hot dogs taste better in the USA, and champagne tastes better in France. To travel you must take the first brave step to get on the aircraft.
Most wonderful or enviable trip you have booked for someone?
Honestly, can I say myself for next year? Let’s just say it’s a milestone birthday! We are going to Copenhagen, and up to Stockholm and are staying in the Ice Hotel after being met by a dog sled at the airport. Next is Oslo, then to Iceland to the Blue Lagoon, which is a hot spa in the middle of Iceland. Then back to London and LEGOLAND in Windsor, Disneyland in Paris for Cooper (and secretly me!) and then the French open at Roland-Garros. I’ll then be having my birthday dinner atop the Eiffel Tower.
Most favourite holiday destination, and why?
It has to be a 3-fold answer – Paris has been such a definitive place in my life, it was the first place I went to by myself. The history there is overwhelming.
New York, especially at Christmas. I love it in winter with the lights and ice-skating rinks. And finally, Hawaii is a great warm holiday destination.
Most exquisite travel experience you’ve had?
I love to stay even just one night in the most luxurious hotels! For our honeymoon, we went to New York and my wedding present was a night at the Plaza Hotel. If you’re my age and seen the movie “Coming to America” you’ll know the Waldorf Towers in New York also! The Ritz in Paris is a must stay, Savoy in London, Raffles in Singapore or the Halekulani in Hawaii – I love great old world service.
Favourite spots in Sydney’s Inner West?
West Juliet café in Marrickville – they make the best muffins. I love Nutie donuts and eating Bomboloni in Balmain at Bertoni. In summer, I love a cocktail and the view from Sydney Sailing Club at Abbotsford.
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