IT’S SHAPING UP to be a hot summer for traveling—and a thorny one. According to the US Travel Association (USTA), 85% of Americans plan to travel this season, which means crowded roads and airports. “After two years of travel cancellations or delays, there’s so much excitement about getting back out there to travel again,” said Daniel del Olmo, president and chief operating officer of Sage Hospitality Management, which runs more than 50 hotels around the US “We ‘re expecting this to be a busy summer across the country.”
Those travelers will likely be paying more: Gas prices are higher than they’ve been since 2014. USTA says travel costs overall are up 12% from 2019. Flight-booking app Hopper estimates that domestic airfares have increased 7% since that year, and almost 11% from February to March, according to the consumer-price index. And while the crowd promise to be back, staff isn’t. The American Hotel & Lodging Association’s 2022 state of the industry report projects that worker shortages will continue to plague properties this year.
1. Book Early (As in Now)
“Plan ahead, book ahead,” said Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, co-president of Valerie Wilson Travel. Summer flights may fill up quickly, she said, because routes have shifted over the course of the pandemic. “There’s less capacity to many international cities.”
Brian Egan, CEO of vacation rental and management company Evolve, says the company is seeing more early summer bookings than usual; July 4 and Labor Day weekends are also filling up. Especially in demand, he said: nature destinations, including the areas around national and state parks. Some national parks, including Glacier, Acadia and Arches, have also implemented reservation systems for some areas, making planning ahead even more important.
2. Stretch Your Dollar
Inflation and demand are pushing up prices in popular spots. Hawaii is “crazy expensive,” said Jay Johnson, an agent with Coastline Travel Advisors in Orange County, Calif. Mexico and the Caribbean are also explosive, said Ms. Wilson-Buttigieg, and while prices normally decline during the summer months, she expects them to stay high this year, partly because tourists are avoiding areas in Europe. Ms. Wilson-Buttigieg recommends that intrepid travelers consider Turkey instead. “You get to experience both Europe and Asia,” she said, noting that both Istanbul and Bodrum have many new hotels. “And it’s a great value.”
Canada also offers decent prices, she said, and can be reached by air, train or car—a distinct advantage when people are still figuring out what transportation modes they feel comfortable with. Costa Rica and Chile also deliver great bang for the buck, said Mr. Johnson, who recently returned from Santiago and Punta Arenas. “In both cities, I was pleasantly surprised at how far the dollar went,” he said.
3. Keep it Simple
While dozens of countries have reopened for tourism, Monika Sundem, CEO of Montana-based travel-planning company Adventure Life, advises against destination-hopping. Testing requirements and policies from country to country (and region to region) are constantly in flux. Some travel suppliers mandate extra layers of testing to make guests feel safe. But any number of snafus—labs might have odd hours or run out of tests or results might be delayed—can upend your vacation.
“If you can find one eco-resort that does day tours—beach adventures, water exploring, ruins—I really think that’s the best way to go,” Ms. Sundem said. “It will be much more relaxing because you don’t have to be worried about, ‘What if I don’t get the test?’”
Among her recommendations: Hamanasi Resort in Belize; Manta Resort on Pemba Island in Tanzania; and Finch Bay Hotel in the Galápagos Islands.
4. Check Your Documents
Need a new passport? Get in line yesterday. Over the past few years, processing times for passports, as well as travel-expediting programs such as TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, have skyrocketed. They’ve improved recently but not certainly by much.
Routine passport processing currently takes eight to 11 weeks, according to the US Department of State. That’s twice as long as it took in early 2019. And though US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has been working to address the backlog for its “trusted traveler” programs, the agency expects a record number of applications this year—3.5 million, up from a high of 3 million in 2019. In some cases it’s taking months to be approved for Global Entry renewals. Interviews, meanwhile, currently take 90 days to schedule, said Michael Millich, who directs the programs for CBP.
5. Breeze Through the Airport
Airports may be inundated this summer. Get to the terminal early and leave plenty of time for waiting for taxis. You can also avoid crowds and hassle by paying for lounge access and, at some international airports, VIP services where a local representative will escort you through check-in or the security lines. “You’ll get a personal meet-and-greet and skip the lines,” said Terika Haynes, CEO of Atlanta-based agency Dynamite Travel. There are separate lounges and immigration lines for VIP guests, too. Purchase access through a travel adviser or by contacting the airport directly.
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