Welcome to summer. It’s about darn time.
Whether or not you consider the drop of the green flag at the Indy 500 to be the metaphorical start of the summer travel race, the fact is that summer travel starts now if it hasn’t already – and from the sound of things, more Americans are going to be traveling this summer than have ever traveled. And why not? The dollar is strong, airfares are low, gas is cheap, America’s national parks are turning 100, and a lot of people have a little bit of jingle in their pockets.
It always makes sense to spend your travel dollars wisely, and it especially makes sense this summer, when there are so many cool places to see and things to do. Here are five ways to travel smart – and economically – this summer.
- Watch the lodging costs. The flip side to low airfares is higher lodging prices, and you can quickly eat up the savings from a low airfare in a more expensive hotel room. The solution? There’s no single solution, but a handful of things to try:
- Book directly at the property where you want to stay. Avoid toll-free numbers that put you into a queue, speaking to operators who have little or no latitude to offer deals. As our Sharyn Alden recommends, talk directly (but politely) with the manager and negotiate your best deal.
- Use a last-minute deals site like Hotel Tonight or a resale site like Roomer. Selection is going to be spotty outside of urban areas, but for a spur-of-the-moment overnight to Chicago they’re great options.
- Try alternative lodgings – not just Airbnb but VRBO and HomeAway for longer stays.
- Instead of national parks, think state parks. If the Sequoias are crowded, try Big Basin or the Portola Redwoods. In the Midwest, Split Rock Lighthouse and Tettegouche in Minnesota and the Porcupine Mountains and P.H. Hoeft in Michigan are magical. In the South, Natural Bridge in Kentucky and Tishomingo in Mississippi are stunning. And not only are these places true scenic wonders, they’re bargains. For campers, many state parks offer last-minute first-come first-served campsites perfect for procrastinators.
- Think Canada. As Destination Canada’s Rick Naylor pointed out in a BHTP podcast, Canada is a great destination for American travelers because of the strong dollar, the combination of natural beauty and cosmopolitan sophistication, and the country’s safety. At that time he was focusing on terrorist attacks in Europe, but Canada is also Zika-free. And if you’re other-directed when it comes to state or national parks, Canada’s national and provincial parks are undiscovered gems – cool, beautiful, and uncrowded.
- Watch for travel scams. More travelers also means more people trying to profit from travelers – legitimately and less-than-legitimately. Protect yourself. Check out our earlier blog post on avoiding common travel scams, take a look at this infographic on popular pickpocket hangouts, and if you’re traveling a lot to areas where thieves and scams predominate, consider some “pickpocket-proof” clothing from Clothing Arts.
- If you’re bothered by lines, think smaller airports. The images of TSA nightmares are probably ingrained in the psyches of every prospective traveler about now, but there are workarounds. TSA PreCheck is the most obvious, but if you’re not keen on giving a quasi-governmental agency your money, consider flying out of smaller regional airports. The lines are shorter, waits are manageable, and the ambiance is decidedly chill.
- Buy travel insurance. Sure, we’re prejudiced, but why wouldn’t you? You’ve waited so long to hit the road and see the world; that little bit extra you pay for travel insurance can help make sure you see the world with all the unplesasantries removed – or at least, taken care of. It really is a prudent investment. AirCare from Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection covers your flights, and ExactCare covers everything. Get them here.
With that, the green flag has been dropped and they’re off! And so are we. Happy summer travels.