Sure, travel is about relaxation, adventure and culture. But planning a trip also means making choices, tons of them – where to stay, when to fly, what to see on which days.
In the end, it’s mostly a wash. What stays in the mind years later is the sight of the snow-capped mountain at dusk or the taste of that precious unagi, not the size of the hotel bathroom. Still, making the right choices could save the traveler serious money, especially during the busy summer season.
Matthew Stone, a travel industry professor at California State University, Chico, has shared tips that could mean the difference between paying $150 a night for a hotel room and $240. Here are his top pointers for budget-minded travelers:
▪ Consider spending weekends in the suburbs and weekdays in-town in cities such as Portland and Seattle, where hotels further in may cost 20 to 40 less on weekdays.
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▪ Add a Sunday to your weekend. In almost every hotel market, Sundays have the lowest occupancy, so hotels will do what it takes to get you to stay an extra night. If you stay on Friday and Saturday, your overall rate may even go down if you stay a third night.
▪ Watch out for resort fees. Don’t trust the first rate you see online. Once you click through, you may find resort fees of up to $50 a night, and even city hotels (especially in Las Vegas) are charging these surprise add-ons.
▪ It will be a crowded summer at national parks, so visit on weekdays or book ahead and visit after Labor Day. About 1 million more visitors went to Yosemite in 2016 than in 2013 (a 36 percent increase), as well as in other parks such as Arches (46 percent) and Yellowstone (33 percent). For summer trips, pick less visited parks such as Lassen Volcanic and Redwoods.
▪ The strong dollar says, “Head for the border” and buy more Mexican pesos, Canadian dollars and euros.
▪ Airfares tend to be high in the summer, and this year is no different, but airlines have been dropping some covert sales, especially for late August travel. Follow Airfare Watchdog or Scott’s Cheap Flights to keep up on deals and be ready to pounce when you see one you like.
▪ Get a new credit card before your trip. Credit cards (especially airline-branded cards) are offering huge sign-up bonuses if you spend a certain amount in the first three months. If you pay off your balance monthly, these cards can get you on the way to your next vacation.
▪ It may be worth it to rent a car to save wear and tear on your auto; $250 can get you a weekly rental of a full-size car with unlimited miles included. Just be aware that some locations may limit the number of states you can drive to.
Balloon & Wine festival
What: Check out musical acts such as Bush, the Gin Blossoms and Cassadee Pope at this three-day, hot air balloon festival.
When: Events run from 6:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday, June 2, through Sunday, June 4.
Where: Lake Skinner Recreational Area and Park, Temecula
What: Top classical musicians from around the world will perform the works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and other composers throughout June.
When: 7:30 p.m.-9 p.m. Friday, June 2 to 25
Where: Theaters around San Diego
What: The Castroville Artichoke Food and Wine Festival will feature tours of artichoke fields and chef demos. Visit the wine and beer garden to sip California favorites such as Blair Wines and De Tierra Vineyards.
When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, June 3; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, June 4
Where: Monterey County Fairgrounds, 2004 Fairground Road, Monterey