Very few guidebooks or internet sites can tell you just how many hours it takes to get from Mopti to Timbuctoo or Cuernavaca to Guadalajara so the next step is to approximate the time for your itinerary and to create a mock itinerary which will be used to send out.
After I have my mock itinerary, I put it into an email together with a paragraph or two about me, my travel and my interests. I go onto the Net to look for agentss who live and work in the area I want to visit or, occasionally, agents in the States who specialize in the specific country I intend to visit. I explain to them that the itinerary is an approximation and I tell them how much I hope to spend and what kind of traveler I am. I request the agent look over this email carefully and respond to me with any suggestions or information they have. Out of about ten such emails I am likely to get about three back that indicate the agent understands what I am looking for and could provide the guidance and help I seek. The others do not seem to get it and so I have winnowed the field. Using whatever suggestions I have received at this point, I refine the itinerary to make it more realistic and I prepare the next step.
It is time for the next email. In that message, I send the modified itinerary, give an indication of what hotels seem appropriate, request prices, and ask for additional suggestions. At this point, I let each of three or so agents know that I have made this request to several others and that I will choose the one among them who seems to be the most knowledgable and helpful and whose pricing seems most advantageous. It is important to let each of the correspondents at this point know that you may not select them to arrange the trip. An agent works hard to get timetables, make temporary reservations and find out detailed information to put a trip together. If they don't want to do that because they are not the only ones being asked to do so, they should have that choice. Like any business person they should have the information necessary to decide if they want to do the job.
The final step is to select the agent I want to work with and which services I want from them. I may just have them take care of internal transportation and a guide, or perhaps make a few hotel reservations or arrange for a self-drive car. Depending on the available facilities, how crowded the season is and the language challenges, I have the agent set up whatever I may not be able to do. Voila! The trip is set and I am off and running. That preparation usually does the trick.
Goat Boat, Niger River, Mali