According to the American Society of Travel Agents, the trade organization to which about 12,000 American travel agencies belong, travel agents are equipped to:

- Arrange air, sea, rail, car rental and motorcoach transportation.- Give advice on special fares, early booking discounts and other special offers.

- Provide assistance in applying for passports and visas.

How do you select a good travel agent?

The American Society of Travel Agents recommends that you:

- Ask family, friends and co-workers who they use.

- Meet the agent in person.

- Consider the condition of the agent's office, the attitude of the staff and the agent's willingness to listen to you,

- Determine whether the staff has firsthand knowledge of the area you plan to visit.

In addition, veteran travel writer Louise Zobel, author of "The Handbook of Travel Writing," advises you to:

- Ask people whose tastes are similar to yours for their recommendations.

- Look for agents who are Certified Travel Counselors, which means they've completed a continuing travel education program offered by the Certified Travel Institute, a non-profit organization.

- Look for agents who have been in the business long enough to be financially secure and have clout with travel suppliers.