Memorial Day is behind us, which means we can all rest assured that it probably won’t snow again for awhile. During the next few months at least, bitter cold and icy terrain are optional — for those planning travel to Patagonia, say, or Siberia.
For the rest of us, I have some recommendations for traveling safely and sanely in the summer of 2014. My suggestions fall into two categories: logistics and practicalities, and health and safety.
Following are my tips for getting out of town during the warm weather — and getting back again safely.
Air travel: Plan ahead.
It’s already a bit late to be planning a summer vacation that involves a plane ticket. But it’s not impossible.
A lot of ink is spilled these days about which hot app or site might yield the best airfare. The sad reality is that no matter what app you have, airfares have gone up substantially for most routes, planes continue to be irritatingly full, and the cheapest seats sell out early.
So I have three recommendations for people who want cheap fares: One, shop early and buy immediately. Hesitation will generally work against you these days. Two, and especially if you are a last-minute type, stick with major hubs and popular routes like New York to L.A., if possible; they’ve suffered the least inflation and have, numerically, the most cheap seats for sale.
And three, be flexible. It’s amazing how much prices fluctuate within a given week on a single route. Also, “low season” can be just days away from high season. The week after Orthodox Easter is dirt-cheap across Eastern Europe; the Italian coast is empty after school starts around Sept. 15; and I have a friend who took his kids out of school the first week of January to enjoy a cut-rate week at Disneyworld. I’m sure it was educational.
I know I just said to plan ahead, but for those who do things last-minute, there are some new options. Many travel websites now have features allowing travelers to search for last-minute deals; these are particularly useful for people who want to get away and don’t care where. This weekend, for instance, I could book a four-star hotel in Orlando through Expedia for $79 a night, a third of the usual rate.
AirBnB, the popular home-accommodations website, has begun offering same-day rentals for those looking for a place to stay that night. The service is launching in West Coast cities at first — so if you find yourself in Los Angeles, you can land an $80 room in a beach bungalow or a $150 apartment with a pool, on just several hours’ notice. My personal experience is that AirBnB tends to be a better value in Europe than in the U.S., but if you want to skip a hotel and still book on a whim, it’s worth a go.
The changing dynamics of summer travel — basically, the rise of the last-minute weekend traveler — means greater flexibility for those who wait to book house rentals and ferry tickets. It used to be, for instance, that if you didn’t book your car months ahead on the Steamship Authority, the only car ferry between Cape Cod and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, you’d have to leave it behind. But last summer, several friends found reservations for their cars within a week of their midsummer travel.
Staying Healthy: New worries, old precautions
Changing weather and global migrations mean that when it comes to staying healthy, there’s a lot more to worry about besides Lyme Disease. (Sorry, you still have to worry about Lyme Disease: last year, the Center for Disease Control revised its estimate of the number of annual cases upward by a factor of 10. Yikes!)
Let’s start with ticks. Once largely a problem of the humid Northeast, they are now everywhere. And apart from Lyme Disease, ticks are increasingly known be to transmitters of several other, potentially horrifying illnesses — including tularemia, babesiosis, and two newly identified ones, Borrelia miyamotoi and Powassan disease. The latter, while still rare, appears to be quite deadly.
It’s more important than ever to avoid high grass and brush — including beach grass in the dunes — wear insect repellant, cover up when venturing into nature, and above all, report any symptoms promptly. The sooner you get treated, the better your odds of defeating these, er, bugs.
Moving on to mosquitos: A warming climate means some tropical diseases are turning up much farther north. Last winter, several Caribbean countries reported the first-known outbreaks of Chikungunya fever — a virus described as similar to dengue fever — in the Western Hemisphere. And dengue itself has been identified in Florida in the past several years. Meanwhile, malaria has popped up in places where you wouldn’t think to worry about it – places like Greece, Turkey, and Morocco, where an acquaintance of mine contracted it and ended up feverish in a Casablanca hospital. Millions of people travel to the Mediterranean rim safely each year, but it’s worth knowing malaria is a possibility in case you do develop symptoms.
Let’s not even start on MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). Given the speed of new developments, recommendations on both treatments and prevention have changed for many travel-related illnesses — so do your research and take appropriate precautions. The bottom line: If you come home from a trip with any symptoms, tell your doctor where you’ve been.