I recently sat down with WTOP Radio's Rachel Nania for an extensive interview about summer travel deals. In addition to the on-air segments, Rachel penned this comprehensive piece for the station's website.
Not too late: Summer travel deals and destinations
Tuesday - 7/8/2014, 6:34am ET
WASHINGTON -- If you're without vacation plans this summer but hope to get away during the season's last two months, there are still plenty of deals to be had and plenty of destinations from which to choose.
Laura Powell, a veteran travel journalist and blogger for The Daily Suitcase, has ideas on budget-friendly, last-minute summer vacations, as well as local getaways and trends in travel.
To snag a deal in the dog days of summer, Powell says, scout destinations where July and August are considered the off-season. "If you're willing to go to places where it's really hot or where there are threats of hurricanes, those are good options."
Resort prices in the Caribbean and parts of Florida are greatly reduced in the summer, and hotels in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona, typically offer major discounts during summer's hottest months. In Arizona, Powell says, a room at a high-end hotel, such as The Four Seasons, may be discounted up to $300 a night.
If the heat during the day is too much, Powell suggests flipping your normal schedule. Stick to the spa or indoor shopping during the day, and enjoy the pool later in the afternoon or golf in the evening.
Cutting Costs When Booking
With so many deal sites out there, booking a vacation on the Internet can be overwhelming. But Powell says a few websites, such as Airfare Watchdog and Kayak, consolidate prices offered from the major online booking sites. "[They] will give you the whole gamut so that you don't have to go to each individual site. That can save you some time for your comparison shopping," Powell says.
If the price of a hotel looks too good to be true, chances are it is. Many have hidden costs that drive up the price of your stay.
Be wary of tax, which, if left off the reduced rate, can add quite a bit to your final cost -- especially in a city such as New York, where taxes are up to 20 percent, Powell says. Parking is another cost to consider; some hotels charge upwards of $40 a day.
If you need access to the Internet on your trip, find out whether Wi-Fi is included in the advertised rate.
"Some hotels -- especially the more expensive hotels -- charge you $20 a day for Wi-Fi," Powell says.
Resort fees -- or an added cost for using resort facilities -- are another hidden fee some travelers encounter. "This is what they do to keep the room price down, but in essence, you're still paying an extra $25 a day for this resort fee," Powell says. "These are the little extras that people may not think about when they see that great deal online and say, ‘Oh yes, I'm going to book that hotel in New York for $199,' but then all of the sudden it becomes more than $300 a night when you factor in all of the other things."
If you can't get away for an entire week, but still need to squeeze in some fun and relaxation, Powell suggests scouting out a local destination for a few days or a long weekend. Within a few hours of D.C., travelers can access the beach and the mountains. Nearby golf resorts, spas, bed and breakfasts and towns overflow with history. Powell suggests nailing down what you and your travel partner want to see and experience, and then keep an eye out for the deals. Local discount subscriptions, such as Groupon Getaways and Living Social, are great places to start."A lot of times they will run last-minute deals for some of the great hotels in this area, whether it's the Homestead, the Omni Bedford Springs … so if you're not tied to a particular destination, but you just want to get away, going to those sites can be a really good option for saving money," she says.
One of Powell's favorite places to visit for a weekend is Saint Michaels or Easton on Maryland's Eastern Shore. If she is limited to a day trip, she heads up to Baltimore. "Even just for a day trip, Baltimore is a very fun change of pace from Washington. A lot of different, quirky museums are up there; it's a totally different vibe from the city and yet it's only about 45 minutes away," she says. And if she wants to venture a little bit farther, Powell says there are beautiful resorts in Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania, or great rafting destinations in West Virginia.
Trends in Travel: See the City through a Local's Eyes
Instead of staying in a hotel, more travelers are opting to rent out someone's apartment or book a room in someone's house through Airbnb or a similar site. Powell calls this trend "DIY travel." "I think that goes into the trend of people wanting to meet local people," she says. Many cities offer local travel guides who are experts in a variety of topics -- from history to food. And companies such as Bookalokal allow travelers to reserve a seat at someone's private dinner table, rather than a restaurant. "People are really getting more interested in finding out what makes places tick, and they want to do it by meeting the locals, by staying with the locals, by dining with the locals," Powell says.
International Travel on a Budget
The cost of flying across the world is much greater than a budget road trip to the Eastern Shore, but an international trip doesn't have to completely drain your wallet. Powell says a few international destinations are great deals for American tourists. Her top choice is Greece. "They really need tourism so they are really encouraging tourists by lowering prices," Powell says. Argentina has a good exchange rate against the dollar, and Powell says Turkey is incredibly reasonably priced compared to other counties in the area. "Airfare can be expensive getting to these places, but once you get there on the ground, it's not that expensive," she says. A recent Trip Advisor survey found the cheapest international cities for travelers are Hanoi, Jakarta and Bangkok; the most affordable European cities include Sofia, Budapest and Prague. "Berlin is a place where you can find some really good deals on nice hotels, so Berlin would be one I would add to that list," Powell says.