Jump on These Spring Travel Tips and Deals
The days are getting longer, the sun is getting warmer, and it’s time to hit the road. But spring travel can be complicated by too many choices - beaches, big cities, resorts, cruises? - and high prices. The good news is, we’re here to deliver some advice and deals for spring that won’t break the bank.
MONEY-SAVING SPRING TRAVEL TIPS
HOTELS: Book direct. Sure, you should do your homework on Expedia, Kayak, etc., but then call the front desk of the hotel you want to stay at and ask them to beat the online rate. Hotels are actually very eager to win back your loyalty from online booking sites and most major chains now offer loyalty/reward programs that can be very attractive, depending on how often you travel and how loyal you're willing to be.
CRUISES: Book early or book late. Yes, booking a cruise a year in advance can nab you a great rate, but what about booking a spring cruise now? Too late? Nope. In fact, cruise lines are sometimes desperate to fill rooms (aka move inventory) before the ships sail and are willing to offer rock-bottom rates to get you onboard.
AIRFARE: We’re seeing budget carriers like Wow and Norwegian offering incredible deals to Europe - under $100 to destinations like Iceland and Ireland. For spring travel, we've been using Skyscanner.com - the site mines data from discount airfare sites to aggregate the cheapest of the cheap. In addition, always follow all the major airlines on social media and sign up for their newsletters for the inside track on last-minute deals.
EXCHANGE RATES: Look north or south for great exchange rates: The strong dollar makes Canada and Mexico very attractive this spring.
AFFORDABLE SPRING TRAVEL DEALS
SPRING PARTY AT SEA: You can book a last-minute 7-day cruise to the Bahamas & Florida on Norwegian for under $100/day per person, a pretty extraordinary bargain - but the cruise is filling up and you've got to jump on it now. You’ll love Norwegian’s “Breakaway” series cruise ships with their Broadway-quality entertainment, gourmet food themes, and onboard activities, plus stops in Florida and Bahamas cruise ports.
ROMANTIC ESCAPE: Quebec City offers old-world charm, great food, and the feeling of having run away to Europe without really going too far from home. Stroll the 18th-century streets, take in views of the beautiful Saint Lawrence River, sip exceptional wine - you’ll feel as if you’re in Paris without the price tag. The strong dollar makes Canadian hotel rates even more attractive. We love Quebec City’s Hotel Chateau Laurier, with deals for well under $200/night.
FAMILY FUN IN THE SOUTHWEST: Santa Fe, New Mexico, is calling all families for spring break fun! The beautiful, historic Southwestern city is rolling out bargains at hotels - the Inn at Santa Fe for under $160/night is just one example - and free kids’ meals and activities all over town through mid-April: Hands-on arts, treasure hunts, even kid-friendly spa treatments are free! Some hotels even offer a free third night when you book a three-night stay.
NATIONAL PARKS ARE FREE (WELL, FOR TWO WEEKENDS IN APRIL): National parks are free the weekends of April 15/16 and 22/23 (in celebration of National Park Week) - admission is typically good for 7 days, so free entrance on a Saturday or Sunday can last all week long. Great Smoky Mountains, Death Valley, Everglades, and the Grand Canyon’s South Rim are great spring choices. (The Grand Canyon’s North Rim is closed until May, and some northern parks, like Yellowstone and Glacier,are still covered in snow.)
Read This Before You Book a Vacation Rental
A summer vacation rental gives you the chance to live large. If you’re traveling in a group or with a family, it’ll save money over hotel rooms, deliver the amenities of home (kitchen, laundry room, backyard), and give your brood a little elbow room. If you're browsing last-minute summer vacation rental deals, it may be tempting to grab the first great-looking property you find. But there are some important steps you should take, questions you should ask, and details you should button up before hitting "book." Whether you're headed to the beach, a cool small town, or the big city, the essential steps every renter must take to ensure a safe and comfortable stay. 1. ASSESS THE STAIR SITUATION If you're traveling with in-laws or infants, be sure to ask how many stairs are inside (and outside) the house. Taking a tumble isn't a great way to start—or abruptly end—your dream trip, so be sure to get all the details: Are there steps to the bedroom? Bathroom? Back deck? Are these areas well lit? If not, pack a night-light to ensure that sleepwalkers both small and tall don't go bump in the night. 2. PLAN AHEAD IF YOU HAVE A BABY ONBOARD Is the house equipped with a crib, high chair, baby gate (see stairs, above!), and other baby essentials? Many times they are, and if you can avoid hauling a portable nursery, you'll free up space for souvenirs on the way home. As an alternative, ask the owners to refer you to a local rental service, or check out Traveling Baby or Baby's Away before you go. 3. GET THE LAY OF THE LAND (LITERALLY) Expecting a flat lawn for football, Frisbee, or general frolicking? How big is the property? How close is the next house? Is the lawn level or sloping? Is there a stash of sports stuff available for your use? Is your dream rental a brisk walk away from the beach/lake/town/restaurants/parks/museums/etc.? If so, find out just how far that walk is. One person's "gentle stroll" is another's walk from hell, so be sure get clarity on proximity to local attractions. 4. FIGURE OUT THE BATHROOM AND SHOWER SITUATION Is an outdoor shower essential? Do you need a tub to bathe the tots? Would a glass door on that tub be a hassle? Are you used to a massaging showerhead, and nothing else will do? The devil's in the details here, so if what you're looking for is an oversized Jacuzzi but what they have is an old-fashioned soaking tub, it may be best to leave the bath salts at home. 5. LINENS: TO BRING OR NOT TO BRING Many rentals, but not all, include sheets and bath towels but not beach towels. Some include beach towels but not the others. If you ask me, vacation means a break from washing sheets and towels and making beds. If you feel the same way, be sure to ask so that sweet dreams await when you arrive...rather than chores like making your bed and lugging a pile of dirty linens home. There's no quicker way to lose that vacation vibe! 6. ASK IF GEAR IS INCLUDED There's an excellent chance that a full supply of summer entertainment awaits in the basement or garage; many rentals come with the use of a beach umbrella, chairs, coolers, bicycles, and more. Also ask about books, blocks, and board games; discovering someone else's favorites can be a great part of the rental experience. In case you or your kids are hooked on Wi-Fi (who isn't these days?), be sure to ask if the house has it and what the code is. 7. LEARN THE GARBAGE PICKUP SCHEDULE This may not be at the top of your dreamy summer to-do list, but you've got to know: Who's responsible for your garbage? What gets tossed versus recycled? Where should you put it? When is the weekly collection? Do you take it to the curb, or do they take it to the dump? Or, heaven forbid, are you expected to take it with you?! Smelly trash will certainly put a dent in your summer fun, so sort this out in advance, and you won't spend your downtime sorting cans and bottles. 8. MAKE SURE YOUR PETS (OR YOUR PET ALLERGIES) WILL BE ACCOMMODATED Whether you can't stand to leave Fido behind or the mere thought of him makes you itchy, it behooves you to ask about pets. If you plan to bring your pooch (or other animal friend), ask where you can walk him, where to dispose of his "droppings," and if the local beaches, parks, restaurants, etc., are open to having him tag along. If allergies are your issue, ask if the owner has a pet or has allowed other renters to bring theirs. If the answer is yes, you may want to keep looking. 9. INVESTIGATE WHETHER YOUR HOUSE WILL BE AN OVEN OR AN ICEBOX Some like it hot... and some don't. Depending on where you're headed, ask if the house has air conditioning and/or window fans. If a cabin in the mountains is more your thing, ask if there is a fireplace; if so, are you allowed to use it? And is firewood supplied? Are campfires allowed? Is there a grill? That's a flame you just may want regardless of the temperature...and be sure to ask if it's gas or charcoal so you can plan accordingly. 10. READ THE FINE PRINT Before you get swept away by the majestic photos on the rental listing, look into the nitty-gritty: How much is the security deposit, and how quickly will it be returned if there is no damage? If there is damage, how will those fees be handled? Is there a minimum? Is there a cleaning fee? Asking these questions up front will eliminate any disappointment or surprises when you vacation is over. 11. EXTRA TIP FOR COFFEE DRINKERS If you like to start your day the caffeinated way, be sure to ask if the kitchen has a Keurig or classic drip brewer. That way you'll know whether to pack the K-Cups or the beans, and you'll be able to enjoy a warm cup of your preferred morning brew as you take in your vacation view.
What Other Countries Think of Americans
We've all seen "those" travelers: loud American tourists wearing bright clothing (and even brighter sneakers) and letting their kids run rampant everywhere from Italian piazzas to American national parks. We know you, a Budget Travel reader, would never behave like they do, have you ever wondered exactly what other countries think of us—travelers and non-travelers alike? We asked world traveler and Norwegian journalist René Zografos, author of Attractive Unattractive Americans: How the World Sees America, for some real talk about how foreign citizens view Americans. Read on for his honest answers and tips on what you must do—and NEVER do—to be a good ambassador for your country. Q. What would Americans be most surprised to hear regarding how other countries view us? A. "The positive: Americans are very popular. Many people I interviewed while I was writing Attractive Unattractive Americans asked me to say how grateful they are to the Americans for what their soldiers have done abroad to help people after hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. So on behalf of many people in the world: thank you, Americans! "The negative: Many people think that American pop culture is pretty shallow. And they hate American fast food: Not only because it’s causing diseases almost all over the world, but also because it kills local business for local farmers." Q. Which countries love American travelers most? A. "Scandinavian countries like Denmark, Sweden and Norway—but to be honest, many countries in the world like American travelers because they know how to behave, are friendly, outgoing, and appreciate our planet. It’s the Americans who don’t travel that people have more problems with." Q. Which countries have a low opinion of American tourists? Why? A. "Southern Europe in general: Greece, France, and Italy. People think Americans are “sticky” and that they act like they know better and look down on other people. In the south of Europe, there is a quieter lifestyle that clashes with the American way. I’ve found the same views in some Asian countries like Thailand." Q. What are the top three ways to avoid being an “ugly American” overseas? A. "1) Take your time to blend in to other cultures. Eat local food, talk to local people, and immerse yourself in local customs... At a restaurant, enjoying the experience—leave your phones and tablets behind. 2) Don’t rush from one place to another. Take a deep breath and de-stress! 3) Listen to others with respect. Talk less. Remember: We are all equal." Q. Let's talk about clothing. Is there a rule of thumb that Americans can abide by so we blend in better overseas? A. "Americans are gear freaks. They have to have the best and have all the latest gadgets, and they like to show off to others. They walk around with the most expensive cameras, phones, and handbags. Have respect for other cultures' costumes when it comes to dress codes. Otherwise, Americans abroad dress quite well (and way better than many other countries!)." Q. What's one especially rude behavior that we should consciously try to avoid when traveling? A. "Talking loud for sure. No one really understands why Americans must stand in a square and shout at each other so everyone can hear them. It’s like: “I’m an American, so you all better listen!” Also: the way Americans polluting the world, buying and throwing things away without thinking of Mother Nature." Q. Finally, what suggestion do you have for American travelers who want to get the richest cultural experience possible? A. "Don’t bring so much stress with you. Don’t rush from one city to another. Stay longer in one place, and explore the surroundings there. Many Americans feel like they have to see everything in a few days. Paris one day, London the next…but can you really see Paris or London in one day? The greatest gift of traveling is getting to know new places and people in an authentic way—and to maybe even make some friends that will last your whole life."
11 Worst Travel Nightmares (And How to Make Them Go Away)
When we talk about "dream trips," we mean the good kind of dream. But every so often a trip goes awry, sometimes due to poor planning, sometimes just because of bad luck, and turns into a nightmare. Here, we've rounded up some of the common disasters and mishaps that can be relatively easily averted or dealt with. Bon voyage! 1. CANCELLED RESERVATION For me, one of the great "ahhhh" moments in travel is when you step through the front door and into the lobby of your hotel and step up to the desk to check in. Being told, "So sorry, I have no record of your reservation" can be one of the most brutal travel nightmares. Two words: Be nice. Remember that desk clerk is your gateway to a comfy bed. Now would be a good time to take out that printout of your reservation (you did bring a printout of your reservation, didn't you?) or call Expedia, Travelzoo, or whichever online booking site you may have used. It's probably a simple misunderstanding or a data entry mistake. If not, and if the hotel is fully booked, ask what accommodations are available in nearby affiliated hotels. (This is easier when dealing with a big chain, but even smaller hotels may be in close contact with competitors in the neighborhood.) If you're like me, this situation will never happen because you will have called the hotel a few days before arriving to confirm your reservation, and if you're going to arrive late in the evening you'll let them know so there's no chance they'll give your room away. 2. LOST WALLET For all of us lifelong consumers, the lost wallet can seem like the most sickening travel nightmare, but it's actually one of the easiest to deal with if you've done your homework. Before you leave for vacation, obtain a backup ATM card, print out a list of all your bank and credit card accounts, make a photocopy of your passport, and never carry all of these things in the same bag. I think you can see where I'm going with this: When your wallet goes missing, you'll have access to cash, a list of accounts to cancel, and an ID to prove you're you in the event that you must ask a relative back in the States to wire you funds via Western Union. 3. CAR ACCIDENT This may cross your mind every time you get behind the wheel of a rented car: What happens if I get an accident? Yes, it can be a sticky situation, especially if you're overseas where other drivers, police, and emergency workers are speaking another language. But a little prep work helps: Ask the rental agency in advance what you should do in the event of a fender bender or worse; check with your home auto insurance company and credit card to see if your coverage includes a rental car; learn the local customs and rules of the road. Should you get in a crash, call the agency, file a police report, and get the insurance information of anyone else involved in the accident. 4. LOST PASSPORT Stop whatever you're doing and make a photocopy of your passport. Now write on the photocopy: travel.state.gov. Keep the photocopy and your driver's license or state ID separate from your passport when you travel and you will be positioned to find the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate and order a replacement passport immediately if necessary. (You can even get an emergency passport fast-tracked if you are scheduled to fly within 14 days.) 5. SERIOUS INJURY Quick! Does your medical insurance cover you if you break your leg on a mountain in Nepal? If you don't know the answer, you're not yet prepared to get your passport stamped! Make sure you understand your coverage—or explore emergency travel insurance to make sure you don't spend the rest of your life paying for that surprise medevac. (Hint: All medevacs are surprises.) If you are injured, your hotel and/or local consulate or embassy can be your best source of doctor recommendations. For less catastrophic injuries, a modest first-aid kit is your best travel BFF. 6. LOST LUGGAGE More than 2 million bags are lost, damaged, or stolen each year. Whether your bag is mistagged, loaded on the wrong plane, or just left sitting unloved in some godforsaken corner of the arrivals level, it can put a serious crimp in the early days of your vacation. But there are a few steps you can take to make sure your bag remains where it belongs: Write your name and address not only on an outside tag but also inside the bag; leave a copy of your itinerary in the bag (in the event the bag goes to the wrong city, this will help get it routed to the right one fast); arrive early and check your bag at the desk, not at the curb (curbside check-ins and those made less than 30 minutes before takeoff are more likely to be misrouted). 7. LOST CHILD Unlike the lost wallet, which only seems like the ultimate bummer, losing your kid at a theme park, boardwalk, or anywhere really, is a legitimate, terrifying disaster. But for the safety of your child and your own sanity, remaining calm and enlisting the help of qualified authorities immediately is your best course of action. Police officers or theme park security will have dealt with the missing-kid scenario before and will be understanding and helpful. And if you're like us, you'll have snapped a photo of your kid that morning so anyone you ask will know not only your kid's complexion and hair color but also the exact clothing he's wearing. And you'll have provided your child with an ID card that includes your mobile phone number—and you'll have pointed out the police and security personnel who can help your kid find you. 8. ARRESTED OVERSEES Yikes! Was that a jail door that just slammed behind you? In a foreign country? Whether you've been arrested for drugs (the most common reason Americans get in hot water overseas), illegal possession of an antiquity (some countries don't allow anyone to leave the country with a centuries-old item, even if you bought it legally), or chewing gum (one of the reasons I may never visit Singapore, btw), you must contact the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy. Though they can't simply spring you from jail—you're subject to the laws of a foreign country—they can make sure your rights are observed and that you get legal representation. But before you depart the States, make sure you understand the sometimes-baffling laws of the nation you're going to visit. Possession of prescription opioids, taking photographs of certain buildings, and other seemingly benign acts can land you in the slammer. 9. NATURAL DISASTER Okay, we all know that visiting Los Angeles means you run the risk of being in an earthquake, and that cruising the Caribbean during hurricane season means, y'know? But what happens if you're blindsided by a monsoon, quake, tsunami, or flood? It's pretty simple: Obey the local authorities (for instance, if they suggest you evacuate your oceanfront resort, don't be one of the Ugly Americans who dig in to "ride out the storm") and stay informed via the State Department website or those of local consulates or embassies, or via social media and email with family and friends back in the U.S., who may have a much better informed vantage point than you. 10. MISSED CONNECTION Nobody wants their vacation delayed before it even starts, but weather-related travel delays can cause you to miss connecting flights—and the airlines are under no legal obligation to put you up for the night or supply you with a complementary meal if the delay was due to what they refer to as "acts of God." Some ways to prepare for this unpleasant scenario include: In the days before you fly, keep up with weather forecasts for your departing city, destination, and any connecting cities; keep a list of hotels near those airports; check on your flight before you leave for the airport. Oh, and bring chocolate. Lots of chocolate. Why? When you get that awful news that your flight is delayed or you've missed your connection, we want you to be the guy in line at the desk who's not being a jerk. You're going to smile, make eye contact, and offer the gate agent a bar of chocolate. We can't guarantee it'll get you on the next plane or into a free hotel room, but you'll be miles ahead of the dude who's wigging out. 11. LOST ITEMS Left something important on the plane? It happens all the time, and the major airlines have super-efficient procedures for reuniting you with your stuff asap. Contact the baggage service office in your arriving city to see if the item has turned up immediately. If not, go online to file a report. You'll typically get your item overnighted to you within days. At the risk of being a little obvious: Always double-check the seat back pocket in front of you before getting off the plane.
Funniest Celeb Travel Tips Ever
Comedians are some of the most experienced travelers in the world. After years spent shuttling from city to city for gigs, they have an, ahem, "unique" perspective on universal travel experiences. And let's face it: We nomadic types could all use a laugh after a third flight delay or while trying to ignore rowdy kids interrupting our piña colada zen at the pool. With that in mind, we asked 14 comedic stars of the stage, TV, and silver screen to share their funniest summer travel tips—some are so practical, you'll pray for a travel snag so you can try them out.