Summer travel advice no one dares to give you
The experts aren't telling you a lot about travel this summer. But I will.
What are the experts not telling you about summer travel?
I ask for two reasons. First, this is the time of year when I'm typically glued to my computer, doing live interviews with TV stations about summer travel.
It's always the same questions. How early do you have to get to the airport? (Two hours.) How do you save money? (Buy your groceries instead of eating out.) Are all the cheap fares gone this summer? (Yes.)
This year, since I'm in a different time zone and less accessible to U.S. media, it's not as busy. And there's more time to reflect on the advice I'm giving — and getting.
And second, I just spent the last two days interviewing more than 200 of the top travel experts about their summer travel advice for Forbes. Here's part one on what to expect from the summer travel season and part two on essential summer travel advice. I also did my latest USA Today column on attitudes toward summer travel.
The consensus: It'll be the busiest summer in years — maybe the busiest summer ever — so travelers should take the usual precautions. Select your destination carefully, book now, arrive at the airport early, and mind your COVID testing requirements.
So what's missing?
A few things. I'll get to those in a minute. But there's an overall approach to summer travel advice that I find problematic. I think travel experts are practicing self-censorship when they talk about the upcoming vacation season, which could cost you.
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What you don't know about summer travel
On Friday, I asked readers what they weren't being told about summer travel. Here are the questions and my answers:
What are the odds that my flight will be canceled?
Your flight probably won't get canceled unless you have a ticket on Allegiant, Frontier or JetBlue. Then, the odds are much better, according to the latest government report. You can look up a flight's on-time record on a site like FlightAware.
What are my rights if my airline cancels my flight?
If an airline cancels your flight, you're entitled to a full refund within seven days if you paid by credit card.
How far in advance should I book my trip?
Book now. Everything is selling out quickly. You might be able to find a last-minute deal this summer if we go off the cancellation cliff, but don't bet on it.
Under what circumstances is trip insurance necessary?
If you're taking a typical family vacation, you can skip it. And by "typical," I mean a road trip to visit Uncle Bob and go hiking in the state park. If you have prepaid, nonrefundable expenses like a plane ticket or hotel, then yes, get insurance.
Do I need a Covid booster to travel?
Not if you're traveling in the U.S. Overseas, the rules vary. For example, Greece has no vaccine requirement for entry. But Malta requires a booster shot if you had your first shot more than 270 days ago.
No one knows the future, but based on all the interviews I've done, I'd say, bad. Like really bad. Staffing shortages, summer weather and unprecedented crowds could push the transportation infrastructure to its limits.
What else aren't they telling us?
There's a lot we don't know about the summer. Mostly because it's unknowable. But there's also a lot the travel experts aren't talking about.
Of course they're not telling you everything.
For example, here's a basic question: Should you even bother to take a vacation this summer? If someone asked me that right now, I'd say no. It's too expensive and too crowded. Among all of the experts, almost no one would say that.
But Kimberly Davis, founder of the travel agency Trouvaille Travel, said it — the lone voice in the wilderness.
"I'm telling my clients not to travel," she says. "Can you tell I'm cranky today?"
No, Kimberly. Just honest.
Travel experts have to protect their interests, of course. If you run an airline, insurance company or travel agency, you're probably not going to tell people to avoid travel. But other experts toe the line, too, and their reasons are more complicated. They may have a vested interest in being industry cheerleaders. (That's something readers have accused me of, which even a cursory review of my articles will quickly dispel.)
But the problem with this censorship is that consumers like you are getting vanilla summer travel advice. It's the advice experts gave you last year with a quick update for 2022. And it serves no one except the people dispensing it.
So the takeaway is that you have to find travel advice from a trusted source — someone who always tells it like it is. And also, find out how your expert is coming up with the advice. Is it carefully researched or just Googled?
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What you really need to know
There's one more thing they aren't telling you. And it's because of a problem with the media.
"If I only listened to the news, I'd never leave my house because I'm going to die from some disease, get shot, carjacked, mugged, kidnapped, stuck somewhere unable to get home, suffer food poisoning, quarantined, or my identity will be hijacked by Russians," says Nicole Landreneau, who works for a web design company in New Orleans.
"On top of all of that, fuel prices are soaring, so road trips won't be much less expensive than flying somewhere. Supply issues abound. Staffing is reduced, so you probably won't find a room anywhere that is cleaned or has towels. Eating out is going to cost you double time and money. Rental cars are still ridiculously priced. Airlines are so undependable you don't know if you'll be wasting half your vacation in the airport."
Miller makes a good point. Where's the positive news?
And you'll probably accuse me of being an industry cheerleader for saying this, but I do believe most vacations will be positive this summer, despite all that.
And if they aren't? Well, you can always contact me through my advocacy organization. I might be able to help.
What are your thoughts?
Do you believe the travel advice you're getting this summer? Or will you wait and see for yourself? Which parts do you believe — and which parts don't you believe?
About the art
"For this piece, I was inspired by beautiful horizons and sunsets," says artist Dustin Elliott. "It's a vacationer's dream." He wanted to capture the essence of what people aren't telling you about summer travel. Zipped lips against a mesmerizingly beautiful but catastrophic backdrop.
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