It’s Memorial Day weekend and the official start of summer travel! As temperatures (and gas prices) start to hike, so does the desire to let your hair down and hit up vacation deals.
However, you’re not the only one with the urge to get out and play, meaning that traveling during the busy summer season comes with a few downsides. Inflated ticket prices, crowded airports, and questionable weather forecasts can push even the calmest person over the edge.
Instead of facing the flurry of other travelers unprepared, get a head start on summer travel plans with a few tips that help save cash and stress.
Pick a Vacation Spot That Suits Your Personality
Would you rather lie on the beach all day or see as many sights as you can? It's best to identify the type of summer vacation you and your travel companions want in advance to help ensure everyone has the best time:
Resorts are bending over backward to attract tourists to their beaches, so this year you can soak up the sun in any number of places. The Caribbean, Mexico, San Diego, and Hawaii all have outstanding savings and package deals advertised on major travel deal websites such as Travelocity and Cheapoair.
Big City Vacations
Take a bite out of the Big Apple or let loose in Las Vegas with some amazing domestic airfare sales. This is also true across the pond. Europe is a dream destination, and with multiple big city destinations cities like Paris and Madrid so close to each other, you can have a great trip by packing in multiple sites.
Some people think this is for adrenaline junkies alone, but thrill seeking doesn’t always require a big physical commitment or giving up luxury. Try Costa Rica and explore the beautiful cloud rain forest canopies, or hike the steep steps to Machu Picchu — all while enjoying great accommodations.
Understand Seasonal Travel Trends
Masses of people attend Carnival in Brazil in February. Travelers flock to Pamplona, Spain, for the Running of the Bulls in July. College kids flood Cancun for Spring Break.
These events drive up prices and the chances of getting caught in a crowd! But all hopes of enjoyable summer travel aren’t lost. In Paris and many other European cities, locals leave for their own summer holidays during August — making these often-packed destinations surprisingly peaceful.
Quick hint: Locals might head out of big cities for the summer season, but scammers stick around to prey on the influx of tourists. Check out our article that can help you stay safe when you travel.
Tips for Stress-Free & Budget Friendly Summer Travel
Practical tips to save your budget don’t need to come with extra hassle. Now there are more online tools than ever to help summer travelers get to where they want to be.
1. Look Beyond Hotels
Especially if your family or entourage is too big for a hotel room, you can find better rates by renting a house, condominium, or apartment, or by exploring home swapping options. For vacation rentals, visit VRBO, HomeAway, and Airbnb. For those interested in trying home swaps as a way to save, check out Home Exchange and Home Link, which are well-respected websites with easy sign-up options.
2. If You Do Want a Room
A new breed of online hotel-booking site has made it easier than ever to compare prices, and in many cases the site will alert you to lower rates even after you've booked a room, allowing you to switch and save. Backbid, for instance, lets hotels sell rooms to travelers who've already made reservations at rival establishments. Hipmunk lets you input a destination and then delivers hotel rates culled from online booking sites like Orbitz and Getaroom. Hipmunk also offers an "ecstasy" rating, based on such benefits as price, amenities, location, and Yelp reviews.
3. Watch the Weather
Did you know 38% of the top 50 airports have more delays in summer than in winter? That's right! Regardless of whether they are in the north or the south, U.S. airports, including Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Orlando, and all three D.C. area airports, have more frequent summer delays.
So, how can you beat Mother Nature? Knowing each major airline's most reliable summer hub is a big help. Denver is the leader among United hubs, with a 78.3% on-time arrival rate. Dallas-Fort Worth is the best among American Airlines hubs during the summer at 76.5%, while Salt Lake City keeps Delta flights coming and going on time.
The worst offenders are San Francisco’s SFO, which comes in only after the three major New York airports — giving Bay Area summer travelers a bigger reason to visit Oakland.
4. Additionally, Buy the Early Bird Ticket
When facing the busy summer season, delayed flights are a common occurrence. Fly as early in the day as your schedule will allow. Airlines are very focused on getting their morning launch out of the gate on time, and you are less likely to be impacted by thunderstorms or operational mishaps.
Want to learn how to snag the best airline prices? Check out our article with tips on how you can find the best deals: How to Find the Cheapest Flights.
5. Know How to Avoid Lines
Need an easy tip? Think 60, 90, 120. Arrive 60 minutes before your flight if you are not checking any luggage, 90 minutes if you have luggage to check, and two hours for international flights. If you forgot to check-in online, many airlines now offer check-in machines at the airport, allowing you to make seat selections, print your boarding passes and your receipt.
6. Try to Keep it Light
If possible, try to travel with only a carry-on. Not only does this offer you enormous flexibility when navigating transport options at your destination, it helps save on extra fees and keeps your belongings close by in case of a delay.
Additionally, with increased security at every airport, it only makes good sense to pack accordingly. To help avoid a time-consuming hand-search, be sure not to pack or bring prohibited items to the airport. (For a complete list of prohibited items, visit the Transportation Safety Administration at www.tsa.gov.)
7. Invest in a Day Pass
When facing crowded airport terminals or trying to herd multiple travel companions throughout your wait, the price of an airline lounge day pass might be worth its weight in gold. Reserved for frequent fliers or those willing to shell out a few bucks, airline lounges are typically staffed with the most experienced agents who can help you with any snags or just ensure that you enjoy a little extra peace before cramming into your seats.
Finally, Be Proactive
You may not be able to beat summer travel crowds, but a little patience and proactiveness can keep peak-season crowds from driving you crazy — especially in the airport.
Stay on top of information that might impact your travels. From taking a minute to research possible backup plans if your flight is delayed or cancelled to carrying printed confirmations of your hotel or lodging address in case of limited cell phone coverage, a little proactive prevention can mean the difference between a memorable summer vacation and getting stuck.
Do you have any summer travel tips that have helped you navigate the peak season? We’d love to hear ‘em in the comments below.