Summer Vacation Tips: Your Ultimate Guide to Safety, Adventure, and Fun
Summer is a time to relax and regroup somewhere else. Anywhere else. But before you set off on your sun-filled journeys, we've put together some must-know intel and helpful tips to make your vacation easier, safer, and, of course, more fun.
1. Swim Safely
Even the most skilled swimmer can encounter troubles in the ocean, so when water is on your agenda, safety should be top of your list of things to remember. (Right up there with a portable grill, hot dogs, sunscreen, and towels, of course.) We checked in with BJ Fisher, Director of Health & Safety for the American Lifeguard Association (americanlifeguard.com), for tips on how to stay safe in the summer. The most important is probably the most obvious: no matter how much at ease you are in the water, always swim where there’s a lifeguard and never, under any circumstance, swim alone.
“Swim with a buddy,” he insists. “Many drownings involve single swimmers. If you can’t find someone to swim with, at least find someone to watch from the side of the pool or on the beach.”
It’s easy to be lured by the open expanse of the ocean and forget just how suddenly and drastically the ocean floor can change. That said, best not to use flotation devices, like inflatable rafts, in unfamiliar areas or places where you might not be able to swim. If you fall off, that’s trouble, informs Fisher. And then there’s the ocean’s stealth sneak attack: rip currents. If you’re caught in one, he says, don’t fight it. “Swim parallel to the shore till you reach a spot where the current is weak. Most rip currents are narrow,” he instructs. And for those who like to tackle the water head-on, protect your head and neck when diving and body surfing. For divers he advises, “check for depth and obstructions and remember that feet first is far safer than head first. When body surfing, make sure you have at least one hand extended in front of you.”
And, needless to say, if you’re at a pool party or a beach fiesta, don’t drink and dive. Alcohol is a huge factor in many drownings, he says.
2. Get Ready for the Road
For most drivers, cruising down the highway is a matter of reflex. But a long road trip requires a completely different frame of mind. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, you might say. One of the biggest problems on the highway is drowsy drivers. More than half of drivers involved in fatigue-related accidents experienced no symptoms before falling asleep behind the wheel, according to the American Automobile Association.
“Drivers shouldn’t rely on their bodies to provide warning signs of fatigue. Instead, they should prioritize getting at least seven hours of sleep into their daily schedules,” says Tamra Johnson, AAA spokesperson. Other rules of thumb: travel at hours when you’d normally be awake, schedule breaks every two hours or every 100 miles, avoid heavy foods and travel with alert passengers. Even better: take turns driving.
And then there’s that other major traffic risk: distraction. On city streets and highways, texting and driving has become astonishingly common. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving—everything from texting to eating—is a factor in more than 10% of crashes. Nearly one in three drivers admit to typing or sending a text message or email in the past month, according to an AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey. It also found that 40% of drivers report reading a text message or email at the wheel in the past month. It’s a risk that is all-too easy to eliminate.
“Safe driving is a complicated task that requires your full attention, so drivers need to put down their phones and focus on the driving task,” Johnson said. Best tactic: designate a passenger as the chief navigator and texter. Solo drivers should take care of everything before turning the key. Adjust the radio, phone, and GPS system, decide on your route, then take off.
Speaking of GPS, AAA offers a free app that travelers can use to map route, map a route, find up-to-date gas prices and discounts, book a hotel, and access AAA roadside assistance. Even in our high-tech world, though, nothing is 100% foolproof 100% of the time. Road atlases and maps still work as effectively as they did for our parents and grandparents. Invest in a good one. And as an added bonus, it's a pretty dependable way to keep kids engaged and entertained.
3. Enjoy the Great Outdoors
Summer is a prime time to heed the call of the wild. But while nature can be relaxing and rejuvenating, there are also plenty of factors that can put a damper on what would otherwise be a perfect trip. Most, however, are avoidable. Justin Wood, Manager of Program Development and Operations at REI Adventures (rei.com), an active-adventure travel company at REI, the outdoors retail behemoth, has some ultra-helpful hints. He breaks them up into three categories: before, when you get there, and when you’re ready to leave. The before-you-go phase is easily the most important.
“About 99% of how your trip pans out is determined by how you planned. Research so you can craft your experience to meet your needs,” he says. First, check up on the site you want to visit. A lot of places require a reservation and can book up six months in advance. There are, however, lots of first come/first serve sites, but plan smartly. Try to get there mid-week to avoid the rush. Need to learn about options in a particular area? He recommends Hikingproject.com, which drastically reduces the legwork you have to do by providing information on an assortment of trails and cool destinations in any area for any level of experience.
But first: to pack. Use a checklist. It’s worth the extra few minutes to download and print one. Get your gear—your tent, your stove—ahead of time so you can make sure everything works properly and all the pieces are there. “The worst thing that can happen is you get there and realize something’s missing. It could be a small thing, but it can really waylay a trip,” he says, noting that REI has a program where you can rent gear, like tents, to try them out before you invest in one. Of course, sustenance is not least among importance when it comes to deciding what to bring.
“Planning a menu is an important part of camping—what to eat, how to prepare it, how to store it. Storage is critical, especially if you’re in bear country or if there’s mice around the camp,” he says. He notes that dehydrated food has come a long way with lots of great options ranging from Thai and Indian fare to classic American grub. Dehydrated foods are a great way to keep it simple, which helps with prep and cleanup. Regardless, however, “everything tastes better outside,” he asserts. And good news for the caffeine-fueled outdoorsy types: you don’t have to give up coffee. There are so many great solutions for brewing gourmet coffee in camp, Wood assures, like French presses and pour-over options.
Once you arrive set up tent in an established site, not on a hillside or anywhere there are rocks around. Look overhead to make sure there are no branches over where you plan to pitch your tent. And whatever you do, make sure your tent isn't too close to your fire pit. Embers will burn holes in the tent. And definitely pay careful attention when using knives and stoves. Most injuries from cooking and cutting things, Wood notes.
Being weather-ready in the winter time is obvious: bring layers and a warm sleeping bag. You can always pile on more clothes to stay warm. Staying cool in the summer is a bit trickier. Of course, make sure you hydrate. At night, it’s important to set up a tent with the rainfly off to keep airflow moving through. In warm weather, ignore that rule about avoiding cotton, an imperative in the winter because once it’s wet it stays wet. That’s exactly what can help your stay-cool cause in the heat.
"There's a misconception that camping means rouging it—but it can be such a comfy, wonderful experience. And the best, most experienced campers are always comfy," says Wood. "If you have everything, you never have to worry about being comfy. That means the right size tent—do you want to stand up in it? Does it have enough room for everyone sleeping in it? Can you properly ventilate it? Stay dry inside? Bring a bag that's rated for the right temperature at night.”
When you're leaving, do one last sweep to make sure you have all your gear for next time. It's easy to overlook a chair behind a tree. And the cardinal rule of camping: dispose of all your waste and leave the site better than you found it. Follow that wisdom and you're guaranteed the happiest trails.
4. Include Every Family Member in the Fun
According to AAA, most American are planning to travel as a family this summer. That means a whole lot of hours of kids asking if you’re there yet. And kids, of course, are the toughest—and usually most honest—critics, so once you get there, you’d better be ready to impress. It helps, of course, when they have some skin in the game.
“Make sure to get the kids involved in planning. This will get them more vested in the whole vacation and will likely lead to much less complaining,” says Rainer Jenss, President and Founder of the Family Travel Association (familytravel.org). “Letting the children choose activities will ensure they'll be more interested!” He also suggests getting actual cameras for each child, which will get them off their phones and tablets and much more actively engaged in where they are and what they’re seeing and doing. When they’re in the car, however, reading is obviously a better way to pass the time than movies and video games.
“Bring along information on your destination, including low-tech options such as TourBook guides and maps, to make the most of your trip and as a source of entertainment for kids,” says Julie Hall, spokesperson at AAA. Jenss recommends Lonely Planet’s kid guides, a suggestion we wholeheartedly endorse, not least because Lonely Planet is Budget Travel's parent company.
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Have You Booked Your Summer Vacation Rental Yet?
Panama City is at it again—topping everyone’s summer vacation list. According to a recent study by TripAdvisor Rentals, the town, which boasts 27 miles of shoreline, takes top billing for most popular spot for a summer escape. Florida cities occupy four positions on the top-ten list based on data gathered on TripAdvisor bookings through March 28, 2017. It reflects rentals on properties for June, July, or August. Median July pricing is for two-bedroom rentals in a given destination. Beach destinations, to be sure, make up eight of the ten vacation spots. Ocean City, Maryland clocked in at number two with Destin, Florida; Myrtle Beach, North Carolina; Kissimmee, Florida; and Orlando coming up close behind. Rounding out the list are Alabama’s Gulf Shores; Virginia Beach; Davenport, Florida; and the increasingly popular North Myrtle Beach. Hotels, of course, are plentiful in each of those towns, but if you’re planning to take some serious downtime this summer, you’d be better served renting a house. After all, you can save money by eating in and if you’re traveling with a group, it’s an economical way to plan a long stay. More than half travelers in the Trip Advisor survey book their stay three to five months in advance, which means now’s the time to lock something in while there’s a decent amount of inventory available. And if you’re wondering just how worthwhile a vacation rental is, we’ll tell you that you can get a two-bedroom rental during July in perennially popular Panama City for around $1,843. Myrtle Beach has accommodations for about $1250 and quaint Davenport, Florida, has rentals for under $700. Condos that hover around $1000 for the week actually make Orlando an affordable choice for a family.
Cheap June Flights to Book Now
The warm spring weather is whetting our appetite for summer fun, and our friends at Skyscanner.com are serving up a feast: They’ve crunched the numbers on June airfares to deliver some truly amazing deals. Your only challenge will be to pick one of these dreamy destinations (including Boston, Miami, Charleston, New Orleans, and Vegas, baby!) and book now. Atlanta to BostonFriday, June 23 – Monday, June 26Starting at $172 Boston to MiamiThursday, June 1 – Monday, June 5Starting at $179 Chicago to CharlestonMonday, June 5 – Thursday, June 8Starting at $299 Chicago to Fort LauderdaleThursday, June 22 – Sunday, June 25Starting at $247 Houston to New YorkThursday, June 1 – Monday, June 5Starting at $224 Los Angeles to MiamiMonday, June 12 to Friday, June 16Starting at $292 Los Angeles to New OrleansThursday, June 15 – Monday, June 19Starting at $237 Miami to DenverThursday, June 15 – Tuesday, June 20Starting at $163 New York to DenverSunday, June 18 – Saturday, June 25Starting at $199 New York to Las VegasWednesday, June 7 – Saturday, June 10Starting at $269 Seattle to San DiegoFriday, June 23 – Monday, June 26Starting at $228 Skyscanner is a travel search site offering a comprehensive range of flight, hotel, and car rental deals. To find more bargain fares like those listed here, visit Skyscanner.com.
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.