By Pam King
I love summer for many reasons. High on the list is the opportunity to travel and explore our planet. My husband and I have had great fun taking trips – some alone and many others with our extended family.
We’ve visited many locations within the United Sates and have traveled extensively abroad. In addition, I travel frequently on BBB business.
I’m not alone. For the second consecutive year, the outlook for summer travel continues to brighten with more than three in five U.S. adults, or an estimated 154 million Americans, planning at least one trip for leisure purposes during the next six months, according to the U.S. Travel Association. The percentage of Americans planning to travel between May and October is up from 61 percent in April 2011.
And, according to U.S. Travel, business travel is expected to improve slightly in the next six months, with 17 percent of U.S. adults planning at least one business trip between May and October, typically a slow period for such travel. Business travelers took an average of 6.3 trips in the past 12 months, the highest average number in the past five years.
Traveling does not come without risks, be it missed airline connections and rental car agencies out of vehicles when you show up with your reservation in hand or hotel rooms that look nothing like the photos on their websites or jewelry that goes missing from your checked bag.
Whether flying to Portland for business or Portugal for fun, it’s important to be uber prepared for any circumstance.
My husband and I approach travel planning as if we’re putting on an event. And in essence, we are. We research destinations, transportation and activities. We make copies of everything – travel documents, reservation numbers and maps of the cities and neighborhoods we will be visiting. We also alert our credit card company about our travels – both business and pleasure, stateside and abroad – so “suspicious activity” won’t put a hold on our ability to charge expenses.
Although we do a fair amount of travel planning on the Internet, we also know when to hand the reins over to a trusted professional who in most cases have been there and done that. They know which hotels you’ll enjoy and which ones you should avoid. They can recommend tours that the entire family will enjoy and which off-the-beaten track destinations you absolutely must make time for.
And we find comfort in knowing that if something goes awry – missed connections, for example – we can call our travel agent and she’ll be able to make the right calls to get us on the next plane out of Kalamazoo.
Unfortunately, there was nothing we could do about that five-star hotel in Italy that more closely resembled a youth hostel.
Check out the following tips from your BBB, along with a few from me, to ensure your next trip goes off without a hitch:
• Ask friends and family for recommendations about hotels, vacation rental homes and even campgrounds.
• Consult a reliable travel agent or travel service (you can find a list of BBB Accredited travel companies at wynco.bbb.org). Full-service travel agencies can negotiate preferred rates with certain hotel/motel chains.
• Whenever possible, book directly with the hotel. Most hotels now feature online booking, and generally prices are as low, if not lower, than what you’ll find elsewhere. Travel expert extraordinaire Rick Steves swears by this.
• When making reservations, never wire money or write a personal check. Plastic is the way to go because your credit card company may offer some protection if there is a dispute.
• If booking a vacation home, don’t trust an owner who only communicates via email. Don’t hesitate to call the owner/property manager to ask detailed questions or to request additional photos of the property.
• Do not check bags containing valuables such as jewelry. Either leave them home or pack in a carry-on bag.
• While abroad, if a trip to a medical clinic becomes necessary, make sure you bring home all resulting documentation to ensure your health insurance covers it.
Pam King is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Northern Colorado and Wyoming.