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Try this pro trick for an affordable and stress-free summer vacation

Try this pro trick for an affordable and stress-free summer vacation

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  • Travelers are facing high prices and crowds this summer.
  • The best way to get around the high prices and crowds: Be flexible.
  • There are ways to become flexible during the busiest travel season of the year, from planning your trip to the tools that get you there.

Life is full of compromises, and that will never be more true than when you’re traveling this summer.

Flights will be packed. Just before Memorial Day, the Transportation Security Administration set a new record for most air travelers screened. It checked nearly 3 million passengers on May 24, surpassing the previous record set last Thanksgiving. U.S. airlines are projecting a record summer. They expect to fly 271 million passengers in June, July and August, up 6% from last summer.

Roads will be jammed. GasBuddy’s latest summer travel survey predicts 76% of Americans plan to take a road trip sometime between Memorial Day and Labor Day — up 18% from last summer.

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Hotels are full, too. Average hotel occupancy will rise to 63.4%, the highest level since 2019, according to the consulting firm HVS.

There’s only one way to get around the high prices and crowds: Be flexible.

“With peak season prices, crowds, flight delays and more, your itinerary should be in pencil — not pen,” said Bill Smith, CEO of Landing, a company that offers flexible rentals. “Being flexible can help to minimize your travel spend while maximizing your adventure this summer.”

There are ways to become flexible during the busiest travel season of the year, from planning your trip to the tools that get you there. Being a more flexible traveler also means thinking about travel a little differently — bending but not breaking.

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Ways to become more flexible this summer

So, how do you become more flexible? Here are a few examples:

  • Fly to another city. Sometimes, the place you’re trying to visit is too popular — and expensive. That’s what happened to Phil Strazzulla when he tried to visit Milan last summer. Airline ticket prices were more than $1,000. But he could fly to nearby Zürich, Switzerland, for less. So he did. “Not only did this save us more than $300 for each ticket, but the drive over the mountains was spectacular,” recalled Strazzulla, who runs a software review company. “Travel flexibility can result in cost savings — and a unique experience.”
  • Go off the beaten path. Being truly flexible can mean getting outside your comfort zone a little. “Instead of Rome, Italy, go to the Puglia region,” said Lynna Goldsby, a cruise planner with Travel With Lynna. “Instead of London, try Normandy or Bath.” Trying these alternate destinations can still satisfy your travel itch but also reduce your expenses for lodging, restaurants, tours and transfers, she said.
  • Take a detour. Airfares are often less expensive if you fly out of the way through an airline’s hub. Don’t waste that opportunity, said Linda Robert, a travel coach with Back in the Groove Again. Airlines such as Icelandair, Qatar Airways and Copa have stopover programs that allow you to enjoy a day or two at their hubs before continuing to your vacation destination, often at no extra cost. “This strategy enriches your travel experience and offers a cost-effective way to see more places,” she said. 

Here are a few useful flexibility tools

There are a few new ways to be flexible. 

For example, Landing, which is a favorite of digital nomads and location-independent workers, rolled out a new tool this week. Its 12-month Flex Stay program offers renters the opportunity to save up to 30% on monthly rates by committing to living with Landing for a year, which has locations in more than 375 cities.

“This new offering gives members the freedom to roam throughout our nationwide network of fully furnished apartments as much — or as little — as they’d like throughout the year,” said Smith.

Another newish feature is Airbnb’s flexible dates search, which lets you select a period of time rather than a specific date, to see more options. Airbnb introduced the feature during the pandemic, and it can help you save as much as 20% on vacation rental accommodations.

One of my all-time favorite tools is available on almost every self-respecting online travel site. It’s the ability to search for airfares or hotel rates based on a more flexible schedule. Google Flights and Kayak are great at showing you more flexible options. Pro tip: Don’t limit your flexibility to dates; select a region you want to travel to, which may include an alternate airport.

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You can also be flexible when it comes to the rate you pay, said Virginia Tech hospitality and tourism professor Mahmood Khan. Hotels cut their rates by about 20% if you pay upfront (but you have to be sure you’re going because those lower rates are usually nonrefundable).

“At times, selecting a hotel away from busy destinations, yet comfortable for commuting, helps in finding an economical deal,” he added.

But how do you put it all together this summer, including the flexible itinerary and the tools? Funny you should ask.

What are some more ways to increase your travel flexibility?

There are also new strategies to increase your travel flexibility, which can help you save money and a big headache when you’re on the road. 

“A critical skill is knowing how and when to put white space into your itinerary,” said Stephanie Chastain, owner of Infinite Ireland Travel, a boutique travel consultancy. “A too-rigid schedule leaves travelers vulnerable to travel hiccups that disrupt well-intended plans.”

What is white space? It’s literally that — a blank page on your itinerary. An empty afternoon with free time. A leisurely breakfast instead of getting up at the crack of dawn for an all-day tour. It’s a rest day every two or three days, to prevent yourself from vacation burnout and to give your schedule some wiggle room.

Even the experts keep relearning the lesson of flexibility. For example, I had to fly from Anguilla to Miami at the last minute recently, and the flights were crazy expensive — around $800 for a one-way ticket. Just as I got ready to book, I realized that Anguilla is a short ferry ride away from St. Martin, which has more flights. 

Total savings: $200. 

Being flexible means thinking about travel in a different way than everyone else. It’s the belief that there are many ways to get to your destination and that if you don’t get there on the exact day your vacation starts, it’s not the end of the world. Travel companies love sticking it to you when you absolutely must be in one place at a fixed time. Be a contrarian. But don’t go too far.

Bend so you don’t break

Some of the best travel advice for people who want to be flexible comes from veteran travel advisor Susan Sherren, who runs Couture Trips, a travel agency. She told me that lowering your expectations is one of the best ways to stay flexible.

“Life isn’t perfect,” she said. “Your trip will likely involve unforeseen and unpredictable events.”

One more thing: Being too rigid is a recipe for a terrible trip. I’ve made that mistake before, and believe me, it’s no fun.

You don’t want to take it too far. By all means, schedule your flight on a weekday to avoid high fares. Try booking your flight by using one of the flexible fare features on Google Flights or Kayak, or check out Landing’s new flex program. 

But if you make too many compromises, it won’t be much of a vacation. You’ll end up staying in a motel in the suburbs, far away from all the attractions, and missing all the fun. Be flexible, but be smart. 

Bend — but don’t break.

Christopher Elliott is an author, consumer advocate, and journalist. He founded Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps solve consumer problems. He publishes Elliott Confidential, a travel newsletter, and the Elliott Report, a news site about customer service. If you need help with a consumer problem, you can reach him here or email him at chris@elliott.org.

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