How to: Plan a Stress-Free Vaca Virtually Anywhere

It’s the ultimate irony—planning that bananas relaxing summer trip winds up giving you major anxiety, between the cost of travel and all the coordinating. To help you escape without going crazy, we consulted a few travel pros to get their expert advice on how to save money and make sure your trip goes off without a hitch.

Plan a Stress-Free: Beach Vacation

• You know to check the traveler reviews on Trip Advisor, but head to Oyster.com to get the real low-down on accommodations—like whether you can only see a sliver of the ocean from those seaside rooms or if that “short walk” to the beach is more of a hike.

• Consider staying near a state park or national recreation area like North Carolina’s Outer Banks, instead of one of the more popular beachside locales “They’ll be less crowded and less glitzy,” says Marybeth Bond, National Geographic writer and founder of Gutsy Traveler. And, most importantly, less expensive.

• Bypass cars and planes and take advantage of homeport cruising, recommends travel expert Mark Murphy. Many cruise lines bound for the Caribbean islands depart from East Coast ports, and getting on board there can save you lots of money compared to meeting the boat in, say, Miami.

Plan a Stress-Free: Last-Minute Escape

• Travel agents may seem passé but they’re totally worth it for discovering spur of the moment deals—search the Asta database for one that has expertise in your destination of choice. Mark Murphy says. And consider looking at a resort chain like the all-inclusive Couples in Jamaica. You won’t know which of the four properties you’ll be staying at until you book—but you save a bundle by agreeing to a bit of mystery.

• Download the Hotel Tonight app for day-of hotel reservations at reduced prices. It only covers select cities, but if you wake up Saturday and decide you wanna skip town, it can help you find a room in your vicinity that night while you’re still drinking your morning coffee.

• If you’re concerned about the high rates when booking last minute, call the hotel and talk to a real live human. “You’d be surprised the deals you can get when you connect with someone,” says Jen Murphy, Deputy Editor of AFAR magazine.

Plan a Stress-Free: International Journey

• Figure out when the main tourist season is wherever you’re heading, and plan your trip just before it starts of after it ends during the “shoulder seasons,” Jen Murphy recommends. “The weather may be slightly riskier, but there will be way fewer crowds and better deals.”

• International flight prices tend to be more flexible. Call a travel agent (you have one now, right?) and ask them to help you get a “consolidator fare,” Mark Murphy advises. They can be a bit more restrictive than the tickets you buy online, but if you’re flying business class, they’ll often save you 20-30% off the base far. Some airlines even offer consolidator fares for economy that will save you, say, $100 to $200 on a flight to Europe.

• Consider less popular destinations abroad: Mark Murphy suggests Ecuador, with its mix of city life, idyllic countryside, Amazonian rainforest, and spectacular Galapagos Islands. Bond puts in a vote for Quebec (“It’s like going to Europe without crossing the pond!”). If you do want to head to Europe proper, Jen Murphy raves about Croatia and Slovenia. “It takes a bit more legwork to figure out where to go, but you can avoid the crowds and get a better price.”

Plan a Stress-Free: Girls’ Getaway

• Just like the countless bachelorette parties you’ve attended together, your trip needs a planning ‘maid of honor’. Bond advises asking someone to spearhead the organization and communication to keep things running smoothly.

• Everyone’s busy—and the longer you wait to block off time for your trip, the less likely it is to happen. Select the dates as far in advance as you can, and mark it on your home and work calendars, Bond says.

• Pool your resources, both financial and social. Get everyone to fork over a $100 deposit, so whoever’s making the reservations isn’t also ponying up the whole payment. Or see whether anyone in the group has a beach house in the family that you could rent for a steal (or for free!).

Plan a Stress-Free: Epic Adventure

• While adventure travel was once only for seasoned explorers, it’s open to just about everyone now. The traditional expeditions like rock climbing and mountain biking can be done at easy, moderate, or challenging levels. If those aren’t your speed, check out less intense options like ziplining or riding an ATV. G Aventures has a wide range of offerings across the globe.

• Minimize any risk by being very honest about your ability level. “It’s always good to ask someone in advance, from the local bike shop, surf shop, or outfitters what they’d recommend for someone with your experience," says Jen Murphy. Consider some guidance too: “If I were mountain biking, I might want to have a guide the first day to get the lay of the land, and the second day my friends and I might want to go on our own.”

• Don’t shy away from adding some adventure to a city getaway, Bond says. Love to run? Look for a 10k while you’re away. An avid cyclist? Check for a bike race you can enter. Major events—like marathons—can jack up prices and draw crowds, but visitors’ bureaus will have tips on smaller events you can enter.

Wherever You’re Going…

• If you’re flying, search beyond the nearest big airport, advises Mark Murphy. The secondary airport in an area may have deals that shave a significant amount off the ticket price.

• Don’t just ask the hotel concierge for a recommendation, since they’ll often have a prescribed list of selections. “I think bartenders and wait staff give the best restaurant recommendations,” says Jen Murphy.

• Log all those travel daydreams: “I keep a trip file all year round of the places I think I want to go, so when I do go, I already have some ideas,” Jen Murphy says.

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