For this installment, we’ll look at how to make the most of your summer vacation. Whether it’s being aware of hidden travel costs or simply looking for ways to have a quality experience, we’ll show you how to make your travel worth the investment. To give us some inside travel tips, we enlisted the help of Pauline Frommer, publisher of Frommers.com and co-publisher of the Frommer guidebooks. Here’s what Frommer thinks you need to know as you embark on your summer adventure.
Great Places to Visit in Summer 2013
If you’re still open to planning a trip in the coming weeks, Frommer has some suggestions for happening destinations this year.
“If you’re looking internationally, both Marseille in France and Londonderry/Derry in the U.K. are European cities of culture this year,” Frommer says. “They’ll be filled with incredible festivals, and boldfaced named performers are coming.” You can catch special art exhibits in Marseille, she notes, and in Londonderry/Derry, there will be a massive Irish dance and music festival.
Meanwhile, stateside, this summer will mark the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement, Frommer points out. “There will be special events, exhibitions, performances, all kinds of things going on in the American South,” she says, along with Washington D.C. “If you want to go to Memphis or Alabama, these are places that are pretty inexpensive to go to during the summer.”
And on “the big island” of Hawaii, “The volcano has been putting on a spectacular show,” says Frommer. In fact, a new parking lot has even been built there so people can watch the lava flow into the sea. Plus, she adds, “Airfare to Hawaii has actually gone down — particularly from the West Coast.”
Looking Out for Extra Costs
“There are a lot of hidden fees in travel nowadays,” Frommer warns. “It can really add up.” Some to look out for:
Some hotels may tack on a “resort fee” to your bill — $25 per night for instance, to let you use facilities like the pool — which may not have been reflected in the initial room rate. “Sometimes these can be fought,” Frommer says. “With a hotel, usually, you don’t pay until you get there. So you can always threaten to walk.”
“Sometimes the minibar in your room has sensors,” Frommer notes. “So say you take out a bottle just so you can make room for your own bottle. You’ll be charged for that bottle you’ve taken out. Know in advance whether you’re going to be charged if you touch something in there.”
This can be a huge added cost, Frommer says. “I’ve been to hotels where parking is $50 a night, and that’s a real budget buster. So you need to decide in advance if it’s worth it to have a car with you.”
Getting Your Money’s Worth When Dining
“I’ve always found that, the better the view or the higher the price, the worse the food,” Frommer says. “Often, the best restaurants are the ones that aren’t in glamorous locations. When you’re sitting in that historic piazza or overlooking a canyon, you’re often paying for the view, and it’s often not worth it.”
Wherever you’re dining, note that if you’re looking to get a dish listed at “market price,” make sure you know exactly what that price is before ordering. “It can be shockingly high,” Frommer warns, “which is why they don’t list it.” Plus, she notes, “Sometimes the same menu you see at lunch is the one you get at dinner, but often it’ll be much cheaper, so you save by doing lunch in that great restaurant rather than dinner.”
As for tipping — whether in a restaurant or anywhere else abroad — do some research beforehand. “Figure out what the situation is,” Frommer says. “In certain countries you don’t need to tip; service is included and you only need to leave a little bit extra. In other countries, you do.” To find out, she recommends doing a simple Internet search (or, of course, checking out travel guides like Frommer’s and Frommers.com).
Living Like a Local
Often the most worthwhile travel experiences happen when you leave the beaten path. But how best to find hidden gems? “You simply talk to the locals,” Frommer says. “And by that, I don’t mean the concierge. Speak to people on the streets, people in the restaurants, people who look like they have the same taste as you.”
Frommer notes that the Internet can also help you find the best that local life has to offer. “There are all sorts of meet-ups for people with similar interests when you’re traveling,” she explains.
One more way to make great discoveries: Before Frommer arrives at a new destination, “I ask everyone I know, âDo you have a friend in that city?'” she says. “Then I go there and I invite them out to dinner. It’s the most fun part of the evening. You find out a lot about the location, you’re not alone and it’s something to do.”
How Booking Last-Minute Can Pay
You can really get some great deals if you book your hotels late in the game, according to Frommer. If you’re choosing your lodging a few weeks in advance, Frommer recommends checking out sites such as Priceline and Hotwire for “great values by booking blind,” she says.
If you’re really flexible and don’t mind reserving your room the day of your stay, there’s a tool that can get you big savings. “There is a spectacular app called HotelTonight that gets you discounts of up to 70 percent,” Frommer says. “That’s because, that morning, the hotel knows it’s going to lose a lot of money on that room unless they sell it. So right now, the best deals on lodgings are going to the real procrastinators.”