7 Smart Tips for Holiday Travel
How did you celebrate the fourth of July? Plenty of folks (myself included) stayed home to celebrate, but just as many others took off a few days and turned the holiday into a vacation. I was curious as to where people were traveling, so I reached out to Fly.com to find out what their most booked destinations were over the holiday—it turns out that the most popular places over the holiday don't deviate much from the most popular places the rest of the year. For this fourth, the top three destinations were Las Vegas, New York City and Los Angeles—some of the world's most popular party cities. Florida featured highly in the list with Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando and Miami all making the top ten. The only international destination was Cancun. The others were: Chicago, San Francisco, New Orleans, Boston, Denver, Seattle, Atlanta, and San Diego.
Chances are, this list won't change much come Labor Day—and now is the time to start planning that long weekend getaway (I know I'll be skipping town then). Of course, you'll want to be smart about it. Here are our best tips for avoiding the crowds when traveling over a major holiday.
Consider alternative airports Taking the time to compare nearby airports could save you money, time and hassle. Boston residents, for instance, should consider TF Green International in Providence or Manchester–Boston Regional in New Hampshire as opposed to Logan, which are likely to be more affordable and less crowded. And the same is true for arrival cities.
Book your flights two days before and after the holidays. Two of the busiest days to fly are those immediately before and after the actual holidays. Book your flights two days before and after a major holiday to avoid the masses.
Book a non–stop flight Every time your plane touches the ground during peak travel times, the possibility of delays due to inclement weather or air–traffic problems increases—so do your odds of getting stuck with the unhappy masses.
Airport parking lots get filled up around the holidays, so use public transportation. If you must drive, consider a private parking lot near the airport: They'll often shuttle you to and from the terminal, and they let you book in advance so you won't have to worry about finding a space.
Travel on the holiday Not only is it cheaper, it's often less hectic if you're willing to fly on the holiday itself, whether it’s July 4th, Labor Day or Thanksgiving. The same is true for driving—you'll be less likely to encounter traffic if you drive on the holiday itself.
If you can't travel on the holiday, try to do so early in the morning when flights are less likely to be delayed and there are fewer people on the roads.
If you're staying at a hotel, look into business hotels. Over the holidays, you'll find low rates (and fewer people) at classy city and suburban hotels that normally depend on business travelers. Families should consider all–suite hotels or long–stay hotels such as Homewood Suites and the Residence Inn, which have more room and good holiday prices.
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Storm-Free Caribbean Islands During Hurricane Season
Watch the Weather Channel for more than five minutes during hurricane season (June 1 to November 30), and you’ll be convinced a storm is bound to sweep you away by the fall. The Caribbean? Looks like a total no–go zone. But don’t fear! The so–called “hurricane belt” doesn’t include every Caribbean island destination. You might say finding a storm–free zone is as easy as ABC: Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao. According to online database hurricanecity.com, only 22 tropical storms or hurricanes have come within 60 miles of the islands between 1871 and 2011. Compare that, for example, to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, which has had 104 brushes with hurricanes and tropical storms in the same period. In fact, throughout the summer and fall, the climate in these parts is downright pleasant. Check a climate chart for Aruba and you’ll find nearly a straight line for temperature and precipitation stretching across the entire year. Unlike other islands, which see major seasonal fluctuations, Aruba remains dry and warm all year round—monthly high temperatures never dip above or below the mid–80s. Best of all? The area’s high season vs. off season is not dictated by weather on the ground in Aruba. Instead, prices are based on the weather back home, where travelers are coming from. When it’s cold in America, prices rise in Aruba. When it’s warm in America, prices fall. As a result you can expect nice weather whenever you go, with prices slashed by up to 50% to fill rooms. Check out our Real Deals to help you plan your ABC getaway: Aruba, Air, All–Inclusive Resort, 4 Nights, From $1,269—Stay just feet away from the white sands and shimmering water of Aruba’s Palm Beach with this all–inclusive package deal. Curaçao, Air, 7 Nights, From $2,296—This travel deal to Curaçao gives you a full week to relax on the beach, snorkel in the crisp blue waters, and explore the island's historic capital city. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Hurricane Safety Tips The 2012 Hurricane Season Forecast Has Been Released, And It Looks Good 8 Ways to Save Big on Summer Travel
Hurricane Safety Tips
With Tropical Storm Debby bearing down on the Florida coast, now is a good time to post tips from the National Hurricane Center to help you stay safe during hurricane season, which typically runs from June through November, on the East Coast. Eastern hurricanes form in the southern Atlantic, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico, with heavy winds moving in counterclockwise motion at speeds of up to 150 miles per hour accompanied by thunderstorms and heavy rain. From Florida up to New England, tropical storms and hurricanes have the potential to put a serious damper on beach vacation plans, and, as with any natural phenomenon, your best line of defense is smart preparation. While I hope a hurricane never darkens your beach, here’s how you can stay safe: If you’re traveling to an eastern coastal region this summer, arrive prepared. Pack an emergency kit with packaged foods, water, and first–aid; learn about community hurricane evacuation routes, areas that are prone to flooding, and any hazards that might exist in and around your hotel or rental property (especially items prone to wind damage, such as trees, outdoor furniture, and windows). If a hurricane strikes, listen to the radio or television for information and warnings. Turn off propane tanks, avoid using the phone more than necessary, and moor any watercraft you’re responsible for (if there is time). Stay indoors away from windows and glass doors, close all interior doors, keep curtains and blinds closed, stay off elevators, and if necessary take refuge in small interior rooms, closets, or hallways. Be prepared to evacuate if local authorities direct you to do so. After a hurricane, continue listening to the radio or television for the latest updates; rain and flooding may continue after the hurricane has passed. Drive only if necessary. If you’ve been evacuated, return to your lodgings only when local officials direct you to do so. If you cannot safely return, text SHELTER plus the zip code you are in to 4FEMA to find the nearest shelter in your area. —Robert Firpo–Cappiello MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: The 2012 Hurricane Season Forecast Has Been Released, And It Looks Good 8 Ways to Save Big on Summer Travel 11 Most Spectacular New Hotel Pools
Friends Never Let Friends Buy Pre-Paid Gas for Rental Cars
The next time you rent a vehicle, you will probably be encouraged to "pre-pay" your gas. Described as a great benefit, it’s a huge moneymaker for car rental companies because you will probably buy gas you never use. Rental car companies are pushing the pre-paid gas option harder than ever. Thrifty, for instance, now requires that if instead fill up a car on your own, you must show a receipt proving that the gas station was within ten miles of the rental car lot. Otherwise, the company will slap you with a charge. Confusing matters, major chains present pre-paid gas as a "good deal." By purchasing ahead of time, they say you will be spared having to pay the high markup on gas near the airport—because local stations try to profiteer off of travelers returning cars to airports. It's tempting in such situations to think, "Wow, $2.90 a gallon is actually pretty cheap compared to $3.20 at the Shell station, so I should buy this full tank of gas ahead of time." Problem #1: The car rental companies are usually fibbing. More than half the prepay prices were higher than the average price at local gas stations in a survey of 156 prices this spring by USA Today. Much of the time, there was no real price difference. Problem #2: Taxes are tricky. In many states, the prepaid gas will be subject to a high rental car tax rate of up to 20 percent. Worse, if you rent the car from an airport, the gas will be additionally taxed at the airport access fee (or similar airport-related tax) of up to 14 percent. While the car companies aren't pocketing this money, it isn't fair for them to quote prepaid prices at a pre-tax rate against prices at your local gas station, which are quoted post-tax. It's not an "apples-to-apples" comparison. Problem #3: Even if the prepaid gas is surprisingly cheaper than prices at local stations, the deal only benefits you if you use the full tank. If you bring the car back with half a tank you may effectively pay as much as $6 a gallon. Rental companies can make an average $15 or so profit on consumers willing to opt for the pre-paid fuel option. The lesson: Fill it up yourself, allowing time to do so before you have to return the car. To cover your bases, keep the gas receipt from the local station for months after your trip. The receipt will come in handy in case the company may wait a month or two and then send you a notice in the mail calling you a liar and saying you didn't fill the tank full the way you claimed, slapping you with a fee of between $4 and $9 a gallon. In such a case, send in a photocopy of the receipt and dispute their charge via your credit card company. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL 5 Ways to Cut Down on Rental Car Gas Prices This Year France to Require Breathalyzers in All Cars, Including Rentals (9 comments) Why You Don't Want to Have an Accident When Driving a Rental Car in Mexico
7 Tested Tips for Visiting Rome
Even when on vacation, it’s hard for a travel editor to stop working. In May of 2012, my family embarked on an 11–day Italian adventure, including stops in Venice, Lake Como, the Cinque Terre area, Pisa, Florence, and finally, Rome. Needless to say, I kept jotting down notes and little tidbits of advice to bring home with me—and share with all of you. From free sites to deflecting insistent street salesmen, here are seven things to keep in mind when visiting Rome. SEE THE PHOTOS: 14 Travel-Inspiring Scenes From Rome. (Free) art is everywhere In a place as historic as Rome, you don’t have to look too far to find amazing art and architecture, especially in places of worship. Most churches around Rome house magnificent works of art that you can see free of charge—we viewed Caravaggio paintings at Santa Maria del Popolo, and saw Bernini’s statue of St. Teresa in Ecstasy at Santa Maria della Vittoria. The Vatican Museums are normally closed on Sundays, except for the last Sunday of each month when they offer free admission from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. We were able to save about $25 each by braving the crowds (the line to get in wrapped around the block, but only lasted 25 minutes). Well worth it to get free access to Michelangelo’s masterpiece in the Sistine Chapel. Plan ahead for popular sites Try to reserve tickets to popular places like the Borghese Gallery and Vatican Museums ahead of time online to avoid long lines. Or invest in a Roma Pass, which gets you a three–day metro pass and entrance to sites like the Colosseum and Roman Forum (though not the Vatican) using a much shorter line. Carry a water bottle and umbrella The sun can be brutal in Rome. While water bottles only cost a couple bucks each, it can add up fast. Bring a refillable container and stop at any of the public drinking fountains around the city (but watch for signs saying “acqua non-potabile,” or non-potable water). I also recommend carrying an umbrella around at all times, for both shade from the sun and in case of a sudden shower. Just say “no” to insistent street salesmen The biggest pet peeve of our trip to Rome was the seemingly omnipresent salesmen on the street, offering umbrellas, scarves, knock–off purses, parasols, and—the biggest scam—“free roses.” They can be quite insistent—one man even put a rose in my jacket and then tried to charge me for it. Just avoid direct eye contact, say no, and keep walking. If you can’t find a good hotel deal in the city center, expand your geography We scored a great price at Villa Paganini B&B;, an 18th century villa four stops from the Colosseum on the northeast side of town near Villa Paganini Park. The Rome metro is easy to navigate—its just two main subway lines that intersect at the Termini train station—and rides cost a mere 1.50 euro each. Or opt to stay at one of our favorite secret hotels of Rome to be closer to the city center and stay within your budget. Budget for airport transfers You basically have two choices here: cab or metro. Rome's airport is 25 miles outside the city center, and a cab ride costs 50 euro (about $62) each way. It's the more economical choice for four people, but if there are just two of you, take the Metro. The 45—minute ride on the Leonardo Express train costs 15 euro (about $19) per person and puts you right at Termini station. And, most importantly, eat your weight in gelato Ah, gelato, the most delicious part of our trip. We stumbled upon Gelateria della Palma right near the Pantheon and paid about 3 euro each for two gigantic scoops. There were 150 flavors to choose from; my favorites were melon (it tastes exactly like cantaloupe!), strawberry, mango, and anything involving chocolate. Yes, we went more than once. They also had a large display of Pope Benedict lollipops for sale—the perfect souvenir for everyone stuck back at the office.