Any parent who’s traveled more than an hour with their kids has heard this question at least once. With a little creativity and planning, your next trip can be as fun getting there as the attractions you are going to enjoy. Part two of the Vacation Planning Series is Travel. That seems to be a very broad topic…because it is. There are as many choices of how to go on vacation as where to go on vacation. Plus there’s always the, “Mommy, I’m bored!” to contend with. Let’s start with the most obviously utilized: automobile, plane, and train.
If you decide to take a road trip vacation, you can use your own car or a rental car. If you use your own, make an appointment with your mechanic at least a few weeks before your road trip to do a pre-trip inspection. Bring a checklist of things to ask your mechanic to review including:
- Check all fluids.
- Check belts and hoses.
- Look for any leaks.
- Check and fill all tires, including the spare tire and make sure they’re in good condition.
- Perform a four-wheel brake check (if not done in the last six months).
- Check the condition of the exhaust system.
- Flush the cooling system (if not done in the last year).
- Pressure-check the cooling system to inspect for leaks.
- Load-test the battery to test its ability to hold a charge.
- Check the alternator output to make sure that the charging system is working well.
- Replace the spark plug wires if they are more than two years old.
If you choose to use a rental car, there are some things to keep in mind:
- Beware of hidden fees and extras-If the rental company has to top-off the gas tank after your return, you will pay a ridiculous price per gallon. Always ask that the car be filled up prior to your departure, and then bring it back full of gas. Go to the reservation page, and you learn what your taxes and fees will become.
- Airport rentals are best avoided-There will be an “airport fee.” It’s often very convenient to rent a car at the airport, but keep in mind that you’ll pay for the privilege. It will be cheaper to pay for a shuttle or cab to your hotel and rent the car from there.
- Decline the insurance-Most travelers know this one, but there is a lot of pressure to change minds at the rental counter. Companies make big profits from insurance fees. Some clerks are trained to create as much anxiety as possible for people who decline it. They’ll tell you their insurance closes expensive loopholes, which may or may not be true in your case. They’ll tell you stories about how a customer’s auto insurance or credit card failed to cover damages during a recent accident. There may be truth in the stories, but the odds are slim that you’ll need any of this coverage. It is very likely, however, that your auto insurance policy at home covers rentals as well. Call your agent to verify it. Also check with your credit card company to see if using the card to pay for a rental provides collision coverage. In many cases, you’ll find it a positive response.
- In smaller offices, reserve the smallest car possible-Most North Americans who rent cars don’t like driving compacts. Rental companies know this, and they usually order more mid-size and full-size cars. If your destination is a smaller facility or non-hub airport, chances are good that they have only a few compacts. On some days, they might not have any compacts when customers arrive. In that situation, if you’ve reserved a compact, they are obligated to give you a free upgrade. Many times, you’ll move up two categories for no additional charge. You can usually pay an upgrade fee on the spot for a larger car if they call your bluff and tell you the compact is ready to go. There will be times when the smallest cars are all that remains on the lot. Those times are fairly rare. In larger facilities, where the supply of cars is huge, this plan is far less likely to work. But it might be worth a try if you’re willing to risk getting a smaller car.
- Surf the Net-As is the case with many purchases, you’ll usually find the best rates on the Internet. Shop around. Buying online will afford you the luxury of seeing what rates look like on any vehicle your heart desires, without the inconvenience of having a salesperson breathing down your neck. Also, many companies offer special discounts to people who rent online.
- Go Weekend-Rates are typically cheaper on weekends.
- Weekly Does It-Weekend rates are great, but weekly rates are usually the best of all. If you plan on using the vehicle for five days or more, choose the weekly rate.
- Book Early-Rates depend on how many vehicles the company has on the lot at the time the rental is made, so sooner is better. Reserve your car at least a week in advance.
- Think Twice About Prepaid Gas-From a financial standpoint, prepaying is a bad idea unless you’re absolutely certain that you’ll use the full tank.
- Join the Club-Many of the larger companies offer club membership in which members pay a yearly fee in exchange for certain perks and privileges. These clubs can save you money with benefits like free rental days and airline miles, but you’ll likely only see savings if you’re a frequent renter. If you fall into this category and use rental vehicles more than occasionally, go clubbing.
Now if you decide to choose an airplane to reach your personal paradise then you’ll need to remember a few things to get the best fare:
1. Be flexible with your travel dates.
2. Book at least two weeks ahead, preferably three.
3. Stay overnight on a Saturday during the trip dates.
4. Fly mid week if you can.
5. Fly into/out of a neighboring airport-Remember the US Virgin Islands trip example from the Budget article? Flying out of Atlanta instead of Nashville was over $200 cheaper.
6. Avoid holiday dates.
7. For US To Europe trips, stop in London.
8. Use the proper website to search for the appropriate fare:
- If your travel dates are super-flexible, try Travelocity or Orbitz.
- For semi-flexible or specific-date U.S. flights, use Kayak & Southwest.
- For international flights, use Kayak, Momondo and Mobissimo.
If you are interested a train trip there are some great options. I personally have never traveled by train but would love to someday. With no experience personally it’s hard to advise what to do. But I would stick with the trusted expert websites such as Amtrak and TripAdvisor. If anyone has any tips for the readers on train travel, please share in the comments below so we can all be well informed
Next in the How2U Travel Series: How to Pack