Fall travel mistakes even the best travelers make

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By Christopher Elliott

There’s one thing Jerry Slaff won’t do when he travels to Edinburgh and Dublin this fall: complain.

“We’re hoping to avoid the big push of summer tourists by going in October,” says Slaff, a playwright from Rockville, Md.

But if he doesn’t — if he gets stuck in a long line or has to fight the crowds at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery — he’ll stay quiet. Slaff figures that travelers did plenty of griping this summer and people are tired of it. Also, complaining doesn’t change anything. So why bother? 

That’s not the only thing smart travelers aren’t doing this fall. They’re avoiding some popular destinations, as well as shying away from ambitious itineraries and last-minute decisions about their trips. But there is one thing everyone must avoid this fall — and I’ll tell you in a second. 

What’s the outlook for fall travel?

Travel is still expensive and chaotic but this fall travelers will see a little relief from the summer. A new survey by travel insurance company Faye suggests 68% of American travelers plan to go somewhere during the upcoming fall and winter season, down 3% from last year. And half of them plan to leave the country, which is a continuation of a travel trend that started earlier this year.

Here’s what they can expect: 

  • Airfares are falling in some markets. Domestic ticket prices are down 11% for the third quarter, to an average round-trip fare of $257, according to the airfare app Hopper. If you’re flying to Europe, they’re down only 2% ($813 round-trip), but if you’re headed to Asia, ticket prices are up 4% from last fall ($1,417).
  • Hotel rates have slipped but remain higher than last fall. The average room rate is $183 this fall, up 11% compared to this time in 2022, but down from summer highs of over $200 per night, says Hopper. 
  • Car rental rates are falling. Preliminary booking data shows a 15% decline in the average car rental rate compared with last fall, says Mark Mannell, CEO of CarRentalSavers.com. Rental rates will average $45 a day, according to Hopper. But the lines at the counter may stay. “Agencies are still understaffed, and we have seen some long lines at locations that serve a lot of International travelers,” warns Mannell.

Overall, that’s good news. And there’s more: Travelers like Slaff, who are headed to Europe, won’t have to worry about paying the $7 fee for the new European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS). Authorities have postponed it until early 2024.

So it’s a much better time to travel than this hyper-busy summer, as I explain in my free guide to fall travel. But what should you not do when you travel this autumn?

Visit a summer destination

Some travelers try to outsmart the seasonal crowds by booking a traditional summer destination, like a beach, during the fall. Bad idea.  “A lot of people go to places like the Greek Islands and Amalfi Coast in October, when the prices reduce significantly,” says George Morgan-Grenville, CEO of Red Savannah, a tour operator. “But what they often don’t realize is that the tourist infrastructure is being dismantled for the winter. Many or all of the restaurants can be shut, beach clubs have closed, and the towns and villages are going on vacation themselves.”

Wait to book

Travelers assume that because it’s the off-season, they’ll be able to wait until the last minute to book. But with demand still high, this is not the fall to try that, say experts like Duncan Greenfield-Turk, chief travel designer Global Travel Moments. “Don’t procrastinate,” he says. Many hotels are already full. That’s particularly true of some of the more popular tourist destinations in France, Greece, Italy and Portugal.

Schedule a tight connection

Think all of our summer air travel troubles are over? Not so, says Bob Bacheler, the managing director of Flying Angels, a medical transport company. Airlines are not out of the woods, and with the holiday travel season approaching, it’s better to play it safe. Bacheler points out that on average, a quarter of flights experience a delay. So there’s a reasonably good chance you’ll experience a flight delay. “Any connection with less than one hour is asking for trouble,” he says. 

I know, I know. You put off your summer vacations because you wanted to see the Coliseum in Rome or climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower. But you might want to wait a little bit longer, says Nathan Heinrich host of the I’m Moving To Italy! Podcast. “Areas that usually only fill to capacity during the summer months are expected to be overbooked this fall as well,” he says. He’s telling his listeners to head for less crowded places like Piemonte or the Prosecco Hills of northern Italy.

Here’s the one thing you absolutely must not do when you travel this fall

Most importantly, don’t overlook your paperwork. Yeah, it sounds boring, but believe me, it is anything but that when you have a paperwork problem.

Just last week, my sons and I were almost were denied entry into Vietnam. My son had filled out his visa incorrectly — he said his port of entry was Ho Ch Minh City instead of Da Nang — and they nearly turned us away at the border.

Truth is, no one wants to think about paperwork until they have to. And by then it’s often too late. Whether it’s COVID test requirements on a cruise or your passport renewal, paperwork has never been more important. The State Department currently takes 10 to 13 weeks to process a new passport. That means if you don’t have a valid passport now, your fall trip just became a winter trip.

“Avoid waiting until the last minute to renew your passport,” says David Alwadish, CEO of ItsEasy Passport & Visa Services. Also, bear in mind that for many popular fall destinations, you need at least six months of validity on your passport in order to get into the country. 

So check your paperwork, and then recheck it. Otherwise, you could end up like me: waiting nervously in a line at customs in Da Nang, and hoping that the customs agent is feeling generous. 

Fortunately, she was.

Your thoughts, please

Are you traveling somewhere this fall? I’d love to hear about what you will — and won’t — do when you go out there. The comments are open.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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