With school breaks and extra sunshine, the months of June, July and August tend to be peak tourist season for Americans.
It’s also peak season for rookie travel mistakes. So we asked travel experts to share the common missteps they see tourists make when it comes to their summer vacations.
From poor timing to lack of research, here are just a few summer travel errors ― and some advice for avoiding them.
Picking mega-popular destinations
“One of the biggest mistakes many people make when planning their summer vacations is going to the super popular tourist destinations,” Claire Summers, the travel blogger behind Claire’s Itchy Feet, told HuffPost. “Personally, I look for up-and-coming destinations that aren’t so overcrowded and overpriced. One thing I like to do is use the ‘anywhere’ function on Skyscanner or Google Flights to find the best flight deals and then take it from there.”
Of course, tourists flock to Paris, Rome, London, Las Vegas, Miami and other top destinations during the summer. But consider alternative options if you want to avoid crowds and expensive accommodations.
“Instead of waiting in long lines, sweating in 95-degree heat to see the Colosseum, look slightly off the beaten path,” said Willis Orlando, senior product operations specialist at Scott’s Cheap Flights. “Scandinavia makes a great summer alternative. The weather is fresher, crowds are smaller and there’s tons of daylight.”
Not researching enough
An important aspect of enjoying a new destination ― particularly if it’s in a foreign country ― is managing expectations.
“The most common mistake is assuming that everything is the same as home, when in reality the majority of tourists travel to experience something different,” said Alan Fyall, the Visit Orlando endowed chair of tourism management and associate dean of academic affairs at the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management.
“Such complaints in the industry are commonplace, with tourists frequently expressing their surprise that when in Spain, Spanish food is served, when in France, French is spoken and when in Florida, gators do really exist in lakes,” he added.
Research and due diligence minimize the opportunity for error or disappointment. While you don’t have to plan every little detail, travel blogger Katie McIntosh emphasized at least getting a base-level understanding of what to expect at your destination.
“One example of this is travelers who visit Europe in the peak summer season, only to be disappointed by the crowds, expenses and traffic,” she told HuffPost. “For example, many Italians get their annual leave at the same time in August and head for the popular summer locations. If you plan your visit at the same time, your vacation might be more crowded and stressful than the dreamy, summer vacation you imagined.”
Underestimating the heat
“Climate change has been driving up summer temperatures, and this will only worsen over the next years and decades,” said travel blogger and TV host La Carmina. “Last year, for example, Vancouver had a horrific heat dome and people had to stay indoors for several days to make it through. Many travelers do not take into account the unbearably high summer temperatures that now plague places like Spain, Italy and Arizona ― and when they are there, they are unable to walk around or enjoy activities due to the heat.”
She advised choosing destinations, activities and accommodations with the climate in mind. If you’re booking a rental, for example, make sure it has air conditioning. Pack accordingly as well.
“I think many people underestimate the heat when planning their summer travels,” said Stephanie Be, a travel blogger and founder of the travel website Buena. “It’s easy to get caught up in cute Instagrammable essentials, but then overlook the things you actually need like sunblock, mosquito repellent, and inexpensive sunglasses that someone might steal in a busy city.”
Waiting too long to book
“Do not wait. I repeat: Do not wait. There are wild deals right now,” said Ravi Roth, a travel expert and host of “The Gaycation Travel Show.” “Find the flight deals. Book now, cancel or change later!”
Given the popularity of summer travel, you’ll want to secure airfare, accommodations and rental cars well in advance. Otherwise, you may lose out on available options and have to pay higher prices.
“For trips to closer destinations, you’ll want to book your travel between one and four months out, so right now is the perfect time to get searching for those summer vacation flights,” said Naveen Dittakavi, CEO and co-founder of the flight deal website Next Vacay. “Any closer than one month and you’ll start to see those prices increase, or worse, they might sell out. However you can use the time in between to watch price trends and get an idea of what’s a good price for your destination.”
Rising inflation and fuel costs are already affecting the air travel industry, and experts are predicting airfare price hikes.
“Booking now versus later can mean locking in better prices,” said Casey Brogan, a consumer travel expert at Tripadvisor. “Waiting to book could mean you might pay more.”
Only considering beaches
Rather than spending thousands on an East Coast beach house and sweating in the sand, consider crisp mountain air, said Phil Dengler, co-founder of The Vacationer.
“It is a mistake to only consider traditional beach vacations for summer travel,” he told HuffPost. “Everyone wants to go to Myrtle Beach or Outer Banks during the summer, which is why I recommend considering other types of trips. If you like hiking, go to a traditional winter resort that offers skiing in a state like Colorado or Utah. While you will not be able to ski, there are countless mountains and other trails to hike as well as activities like mountain biking.”
If you do opt for the beach route, pack your own sunscreen to avoid paying excessive markups and check to see if your hotel or rental provides complementary beach chairs, towels and umbrellas or if you’ll have to pay daily fees for them.
“Over an entire week, you could end up paying hundreds of extra dollars for things you assumed were already included,” Dengler said.
Booking for peak times
“It is a huge mistake to book summer travel during the peak season. That includes the Fourth of July to the middle of August,” Dengler said.
In addition to crowd considerations, he noted that airfare, lodging and car rental prices are often at their highest during that time.
“Instead, you should book summer travel during the shoulder season,” he said. “For summer, the shoulder season is a period where it is still warm enough to enjoy the heat and beach but where crowds are minimal and prices are lower. For most locations in the United States, this is the middle to the end of June and the middle of August to the second week in September. Many kids in the Southern states go back to school in early August, which means popular summer destinations will see fewer vacationers.”
Martin Jones, CEO of ParkSleepFly, advised against traveling to destinations during annual festivals and events if they aren’t the purpose of your trip.
“Make sure you check the calendar before booking, as these events can cause a spike in prices and limit hotel availability,” he said. “If you’re not interested in the events, then consider booking alternative dates.”
Missing travel benefits
“You should check to see what travel benefits your credit card offers,” Dengler said. “Even nontravel cards may have valuable benefits. For example, the Chase Freedom Unlimited offers trip cancellation/interruption insurance, secondary rental car insurance, and travel and emergency assistance services.”
Before racking up travel charges, make sure you aren’t missing out on discounts or doubling up on services you already have access to for free.
Travel blogger Rocky Trifari also suggested applying for additional services that can ease the chaos of summer travel if you can swing it.
“The increase in volume translates into busier airports, longer lines and a greater need for advanced planning and making reservations ahead of time,” Trifari told HuffPost. “If possible, I recommend applying for TSA PreCheck, Clear, Global Entry and any other optional services that can speed up how long it takes to get on and off airplanes to expedite how quickly you can get to and from your travel destinations ― which is really where you want your time to be spent, not waiting around in the airport.”
Planning a stressful itinerary
“A mistake people often make is trying to squeeze in every top attraction and landmark and fill every minute of their time with activities,” Brogan said.
Thirty percent of U.S. travelers polled in a January Tripadvisor survey said it’s more important now than before the pandemic that they “pack as many activities” into their holiday travel as possible.
“Understandably, travelers want to make the most of their vacations and make up for lost time,” Brogan said. “But this can be a daunting and draining task, leaving no time for spontaneity. Instead, try booking local tours and guided cultural activities ― those activities and tours where subject matter experts and professional guides allow for travelers to sit back, learn, relax and see all that an area has to offer. Enjoy all the top sites with none of the planning.”
Booking accommodations first
“People tend to lock in their dates by booking accommodation first, but there’s little chance you’ll find a good flight deal,” Orlando said. “You’re penning yourself in.”
He recommended opening up your options by starting with a broader idea, such as “I want to go to a beach destination” or “I want to go to Cancun, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica or the Bahamas.”
Then, find flight and hotel deals that fit the bill.
“If you have a big group, airfare can really add up, so keep your options open and snag good deals when they come along,” Orlando said. “Then evaluate your options for accommodation. Rather than, ‘I’m going to Paris from July 5-12,’ say, ‘I’m going to Europe sometime between late June and early August.’ This gives you more room to find something unexpected that will surprise you.”