The last ring of the school bell means a start to summer vacation for most families. According to AAA, the 4th of July is the busiest summer travel holiday with more than 5 million Americans hitting the road as compared to Memorial Day. Whether you are traveling by train, plane, or automobile, it’s important to be prepared for the various hitches and snags that can arise when the roads and skies are more congested than usual. These common-sense tips will help you save time, money, and preserve your sanity while in motion during the warm months.
The airlines have mostly eliminated pre-boarding for families, so it’s doubly important for people traveling with small children and infants to plan their airport trips. Checking in online rather than at the airport will save a ton of time. If have extra time before your flight or a layover, most airports have play areas for children which you can find out about on their websites or on sites like iFly.com. Additionally, many airlines sell day passes to their lounges; $50 per day is the standard rate. A comfortable lounge with WiFi can often ease the stress of flying coach with the family. If you are traveling by car, plan your route well in advance with plenty of rest stops. Enjoyable side trips and roadside attractions can help break up the monotony of a long car ride for children. Yelp can help you find restaurants along your route, and there are plenty of downloadable apps that can help you find gas stations as well. Carrying a cooler in the car with plenty of healthy snacks can save a lot of money and time as well, avoiding unnecessary stops and high-priced rest stop junk food. Making plans will help you even if unexpected obstacles arise and plans are thwarted; any anticipation and/or backup plans will help you feel that much more secure and reduce stress levels for all travelers involved. And when in doubt, plan for ice cream.
With extra travelers out and about, it is definitely true that the “early bird catches the worm” as the proverb goes. Arrive early to the airport to allow for lines at check-in, backups at security, and gate reassignments. This is especially important if you have young children or a sizable group. For car travelers, hitting the road early avoids traffic and children won’t be as tired and fussy as later in the day.
Prepare your vehicle
Proper vehicle maintenance and preparation can go a long way towards avoid frustrating breakdowns and issues on the road. Check the tires, including the spare, as proper inflation and good tread are key. A quick inspection by a qualified professional can give your car a thorough once-over - checking the engine, battery, hoses, belts, fluids, A/C, brakes, lights, and wipers. Also, have an emergency roadside kit including jumpers, a flashlight, and plenty of bottled water (especially if traveling through remote desert areas i.e. most of the way from Texarkana to L.A. on the southern I-10 corridor).
Focus on the essentials
There is one surefire way to increase your travel stress tenfold: overpack. If you’re flying, the airlines will charge you for each checked bag; you actually have a financial incentive to keep your traveling possessions basic. Plus you want to leave room in those suitcases for any souvenirs! Take what you need and leave the rest. Sunscreen and bug repellant are essential for those engaging in outdoor activities. If traveling by car, it’s important to keep your rear view mirror sight lines clear and not loading a car to its maximum capacity will also save you on fuel economy. Figure out the basic clothing items you need by paying special attention to those items you can wear more than once, complement other items, and can have multiple uses. What you will gain in peace of mind is worth far more than taking those 10 extra dresses or the copy of War and Peace you’ve been meaning to read for 15 years (get the Kindle edition instead, but don’t forget your charger!).
Alliance for Affordable Service members have an abundance of ways to save money on summer travel related items and activities. The included Association Motor Plan offers roadside assistance in the US and Canada 24/7 with coverage up $125 per incident. Rental car discounts are available from Budget, Enterprise, and Hertz, and Alliance members also save 50% on enrollment fees with Zipcar. The Hotel Savings Program will save you 15% off the “best available rate” at over 7400 participating hotels nationwide; other lodging discounts are available from Motel 6 and by using the Hotel Access Card. The Alliance also partners with Expedia to save you even more on airfare, hotels, rental cars, and more. We even offer theme park discounts! For more information and to become an Alliance member today, visit the Alliance website or call us at 1-800-733-2242 (M-F, 7am-5:30pm Central Time).