With vacation travel up this summer, what are the best travel tips?

Nothing — not higher gas prices, not soaring airfares, not climbing hotel rates — seems to be keeping travelers off the road this summer.

Offering them useful travel advice? That’s something of a roadblock, it turns out.

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Close to 35 million Americans traveled over the Memorial Day weekend, mostly by car, according to the AAA. That’s about 100,000 travelers more than last year, which to many suggests a fairly busy summer season ahead.

The airline industry is upbeat, too. The Air Transport Association predicts that U.S. airlines will carry a total of 206.2 million passengers from June through August — about 3 million more passengers than during the same period last year, an increase of 1.5 percent.

Readers like Tom Thomas, a retired federal employee from Takoma Park, Md, are making big plans. He’s flying to Washington state for his high school reunion and then on to Alaska for a tour of the Inside Passage from Vancouver. “I’ve never been to either,” he says.

After several years of staycations, it’s clear that a good number of American travelers are planning a long-overdue getaway. Higher prices don’t seem to be standing in their way.

Hotel rates are up between 5 and 10 percent, depending on the amenities, says AAA. Airfares are up 14 percent from 2010, with the lowest average round-trip fare at $201. Meanwhile, a gallon of gas costs an average of around $3.80, more than $1 higher than this time last year.

While that’s good news for the travel industry, it’s not so great if you’re in the travel advice business. Dispensing tips is easy during a recession, when the deals are everywhere, but it’s not as simple during a recovery.

I’ve been collecting some of this year’s best and worst advice over the past few weeks. The travel site Cheapflights.com just sent out a warning about hidden travel fees, which are among my top annoyances. The worst are the so-called “peak travel day fees,” which increase the price of your flight because of higher demand. Problem is, almost every day during June, July and August is considered a “peak” day, so the only way to avoid it, according to the company, is to postpone your vacation until the end of the summer. If you have kids in school, that may not be an option. (Full disclosure: Cheapflights is a supporter of my blog.)

Another Web site, LowFares.com, recommends that bargain-hunters look to the Caribbean, Cancun and Las Vegas for relief from high prices. Sure, you can find deals in those places. That’s because summertime is low season in the Caribbean (hurricanes and rainy weather), Cancun (it’s Mexico, say no more) and Las Vegas (hot enough for you?).

Not to single out LowFares.com. The experts on the Bing Travel Fareology Team like the idea of sending summer travelers to Sin City, too, where the average high temperature in July is a blistering 106 degrees. “Vegas, baby,” they crow in a news alert, calling it a “good option” for travelers who want a deal. Bing says that another fine choice is my home town of Orlando, where the average temperature in August is a sweltering 91 degrees with an oppressive 60 percent humidity. Oh, wait. Did they forget to mention that’s when the locals like to get out of town?

A lot of the travel advice being broadcast is just obvious, and it has little if any relevance to this summer. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) sent out a news release at taxpayer expense advising us of travel requirements for U.S. citizens. But those rules are already clearly outlined on its Web site. How about some summer travel advice from the federal government? The good people at CBP offer eight tips, each one more obvious than the next. (Tip No. 4: “Build extra time into the trip in the event of crossing during periods of exceptionally heavy traffic.”)

And more obvious tips: ExxonMobil recommends keeping your tires properly inflated. It estimates that U.S. motorists could save 700 million gallons of gas each year with properly maintained tires. Give your car a tuneup, and be sure to use the correct motor oil, it also advises. These measures could improve your fuel efficiency by between 2 and 4 percent.

I see these tips before every major travel holiday. I’m actually grateful to ExxonMobil for one thing: It understands what so many others — and I include travel writers like me — don’t. A vast majority of summer vacations will be domestic road trips. Only a fraction of us will fly. So the talk about fees and high fares doesn’t really apply to most travelers. We’re grounded.

And there’s value even in the most questionable advice. In a summer when everyone is going somewhere, there are no shortcuts, a careful reading of the bad tips leads me to conclude. The only foolproof way to save money is to stay home.

That’s what Jim Castro, a geologist from Helena, Mont., is planning, for the most part. “We may take a few days off and drive up to Alberta, and we’ll be visiting family over on the other side of the Divide,” he says, “But that’s it.”

Castro says he’ll postpone his big trip until October, when he attends a conference in Minneapolis (average high temperature, a comfortable 58 degrees).

“That will have to do for a vacation this year,” he says.

12 thoughts on “With vacation travel up this summer, what are the best travel tips?

  1. One tip that’s rarely mentioned: if you’re flying into Europe, consider a flight to London – the fares are cheaper – followed by a train or low-cost flight to your destination. London hotels are terribly expensive, though, so don’t overnight there unless the UK is actually part of your trip.

    1. Absolutely. I have to tell you, I had a great time putting together this advice for my Washington Post column. A very wise travel writer I know once told me, “There’s nothing new under the sun, when it comes to travel advice.” 🙂

    2. Yep! I recently headed to Italy and flew in to London and then from there caught an easyJet – but could have just as easily been a RyanAir flight if I’d wanted to sleep in Stanstead – flight to Italy. Total cost, under $400 each way. And isn’t this the high season?

  2. Here are some of my tips:

    (1) Always bring some means of self-catering so that rather than paying inflated restaurant prices for something you can easily make for yourself, you can, um, make it yourself. Case in point: spaghetti and sauce; $12 at a restaurant, $2 if you cook it yourself. You can fly with a hot pot in your hand luggage – I just did – or barring that learn to use an immersion boiler. Much can be cooked that way. Then you’ll have more $$$ for the actual things that are worth paying for at a restaurant. Plastic utensils complete the set-up.

    This works really well when traveling with youngesters as they couldn’t care less if it is the best roast beef in the world, they just want mac + cheese.

    (2) Think about reducing the cost of your lodging. What do you really do in a hotel room? Sleep? If nothing else, think about dropping a star and putting that money toward your awake-time activities. If you can arrange it and/or are spending the time, house sitting – you won’t get paid for it, though – allows you to eliminate lodging as a budget line item, entirely.

    (3) Consider taking time to learn to meditate. Not so much for the spiritual enlightenment or stress relief parts – though if you get those too then you are lucky – but because the experience will help dramatically with the comfort you feel while contorted into an airline seat. And if you are going to be stuck in it, wouldn’t you at least like to be comfortable?

    (4) Stop the car ever hour to stretch your legs for at least ten minutes. It helps the driver drive longer. It keeps the annoyance level down for the rest of the passengers. And here are no potty accidents or dehydration when you can count on a bathroom every hour.

    (5) Bring a water bottle and use it. Staying properly hydrated will make you feel cooler when outside in summer temperatures. Bringing a refillable water bottle will save you ~$1.00/liter over bottled water.

    (6) Even if you don’t do so at home take a multiple vitamin every day of your vacation. You are entering a new environment with new germs and the potential for poor nutrition – due to availability – and being sick on vacation or when returning home has a financial cost to it. Do all you can to eliminate that by boosting your immune system as well you can.

  3. My travel tip is to get a portable storage device to back up your camera card. I use the Wolverine ESP. No need to have more than 1 card, no need to bring a laptop on vacation.

  4. The best tip I can give anyone is to do your research!  Go online, look at maps, read guide books, read blogs, read reviews, and talk to others. Find out more about where you are staying, how you are getting there, what to bring along, what to carry on, what to check, what are all the fees from checked bags fees to daily resort fees or rental car taxes and fees. Do all this ahead of time so that your surprises are how much fun you have on your trip.

  5. I always tell clients to pack their sense of humor.  It will help save those unexpected moments from ruining the trip and they will happen, it is Murphy’s Law!

  6. This one is surely found one of the best post about vacation travel tips. And the regarding travel tips are really looking so cool and superb for the summer. And it’s really looking major informative. And this one really increases my amount of knowledge about travelling in summer. And the post information is really looking with full of elegance. Thanks for sharing some authentic information.

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  7. My advice is: book online. I assume that if a company is based on the Internet its expenses for an office, staff, etc. are reduced and this way it can afford  offering a lower price to its customers.
    The second advice is: use someone local as local companies and websites are familiar with the local market and the situation in the country and know better where and what is good for you. I myself work for 8 years in the sphere of tourism and know pretty well the Black Sea coast area where a lot of Europeans go for a summer holiday in Bulgaria.

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