Plan Your Trip

When traveling, plan ahead, the earlier the better

Lisa Swanson, a travel professional with AAA Travel, poses for a picture during a trip to Africa. She has some tips for those who are ready to start traveling in these semi-post-pandemic times. (Submitted)

Lisa Swanson is a travel professional with AAA Travel and is accustomed to sharing travel tips with her clients. But she is adding a new one this summer for these semi-post-pandemic times: Pack your patience.

Swanson said she and her husband, Scott, who live in Eastern Iowa, recently visited Colorado to see their daughter, their first post-pandemic trip where they didn’t have to wear face masks.

“We had a great time,” she said. “But travel isn’t what it was before. Everything is busier. All the Colorado sites are just packed, more so than in previous summers. The restaurants in smaller towns can’t get in supplies, and their menus might be limited.

“Of course, I want to encourage people to get back to traveling now that we’re beginning to be able to do so safely,” she added. “But you need to pack your patience and your understanding if you’re traveling right now.”

Lisa Swanson, AAA Travel

That said, the pandemic has left some of us with a deep desire to go somewhere — anywhere — and the savings to do so. But the pandemic changed the travel landscape, probably for the next year or so.

Book early

One of the biggest changes is the need to book flights and lodging early.

The days of waiting until the last minute to get a deal on flights are over, Swanson said, noting airlines now have fewer flights. If you do wait until the last minute, she added, “be flexible in your location and dates to find the best price.”

But it’s far preferable to plan a vacation and secure reservations early to get the best pricing and availability, Swanson said, especially during the most popular times and the most popular destinations — holidays, spring break and summers at the national parks.

“The high demand drives higher prices,” she said. “Booking early allows a traveler to get their choice of resort, room type and flight times.”

How far ahead to book? Swanson recommends:

  • Six to nine months for Caribbean/Mexico cruises and stays in major U.S. cities, national parks and Hawaii and other islands.
  • One year or more for trips to Europe, Alaska, South America and exotic destinations such as the South Pacific or Antarctica.

Planning and saving

Planning a vacation early also brings another benefit — you have time to budget and save for your trip.

When budgeting for a vacation, guided vacations, cruises and all-inclusive resorts are the easiest to estimate and pay for before you leave home. Typically, when you book early, you put down a deposit, with the final payment due about 60 days before you leave.

It’s difficult to estimate the cost of a special vacation, given all the variables — time of year, type of lodging and restaurants, tours, souvenirs, length of stay, airfare and whether you’ll pay extra for leg room on those flights.

But, on average, Swanson said, a moderately priced, seven-day Caribbean cruise — before airfare — will cost between $750 and $1,000. A seven-day cruise to Alaska is around $2,000 plus airfare. And a week’s stay in London can run around $2,000 plus airfare.

Not surprisingly, Swanson advises working with a travel professional when planning a trip, noting they’re experienced in finding the best deals and discounts to stretch your budget.

The pros save you time and money, she said. They also know about the lesser-known expenses — resort fees, tourist taxes — that can add up. And they can help if something happens — canceled flights, world events, weather — and you need to reschedule.

They also can explain and help you secure travel insurance, which a number of travelers skip but may be worth the investment these days should your plans change or world events force a change.

Driving vacations

If you’re driving, AAA.com/Travel and the AAA app are good sources for road trips. TripTik shows where you’ll run into road construction, saving you time and frustration.

AAA.com also has a gas calculator (for members and non-members) that will estimate your car’s mileage and gas cost. GasBuddy.com can help you find the cheapest gas along your route.

Another tip you may want to consider is putting your trip on a credit card that offers cash back on your purchases. You also have a complete record of your expenses when you get home and the bill arrives.