Next Avenue: Vacation hot spots and money-saving travel tips, from the experts

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This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org.

The Polar Vortex was good for one thing: giving many of us incentive to ponder where we’d like to vacation to get away from the big chill. Soon! After spending two days at the New York Times Travel Show in New York City recently, I have some suggestions as well as ways to save money when you take a trip in 2019.

Where to go in 2019

“The world is on sale,” said Mark Murphy, president and CEO of Travalliance Media. “The dollar is strong against every foreign currency. If you ever thought about going abroad, 2019 is the best time.” Murphy said traveling abroad is 30% to 40% cheaper, based on the dollar, than 10 years ago. But he had a caveat: airfares. “The most expensive thing you’ll do is fly. But when you’re on the ground, things are dirt cheap.”

Singapore “has the most inexpensive Michelin-star restaurant on earth — a noodle shack where you can eat for $1.80.”

Pauline Frommer, editorial director of the Frommer’s travel guidebooks

Pauline Frommer, editorial director of the Frommer’s travel guidebooks and co-president of FrommerMedia, reeled off her annual list of the best places to go. Among her picks, which she said are “less expensive than usual or have special celebrations going on or are under the radar but about to pop big:”

Tahiti: “It’s a great year to go there, believe it or not,” Frommer said. “The new airline French Bee is doing direct flights from California for a fraction of what others charge, so there’s a major airfare war going on. Prices are sometimes 30% to 40% lower than a year ago.” Frommer recommend tourists visit the nearby Austral Islands — “Tahiti as Gauguin would’ve experienced it, where you stay in guesthouses on the beach. It’s not Bora Bora where you might spend $400 or $500 a night. Here, it’s more like $100.”

Matera, Italy: “This is the year to go to one of the longest continually inhabited places on earth,” said Frommer. (Mel Gibson used the setting as a stand-in for Jerusalem in “The Passion of the Christ.”) A city of caves, “Matera will be one of Europe’s Capitals of Culture in 2019, with 1,000 artists descending and putting on artworks, dance, opera, and theater. It will be amazing to be there,” said Frommer.

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Matera, Italy

New York state: “We think our home state is one of the best places to go in 2019,” Frommer said. “It has more ski resorts than any other state and more improvements the year, with better trails, snow-making and resorts.” Also, she noted, in March, New York City will begin opening the largest real-estate development in U.S. history, 28-acre Hudson Yards (what Frommer’s calls “the grandly envisioned, multi-tower mini-city”), an indoor-outdoor arts complex with an Escher-like climbable sculpture called The Nest. The Jackie Robinson Museum will open downtown, too. And there are two big, 50th anniversaries: June’s Stonewall Inn gay rights uprising, which will be marked during WorldPride NYC (“Madonna is rumored to be performing,” Frommer said), and Woodstock 2019 coming August 15-18, two concerts to be held at the site of the original rock concert.

Singapore: “It became famous this year in the hit movie ‘Crazy Rich Asians’” Frommer noted. “You’ll see cutting-edge, wacky architecture, with vertical gardens and elevators big enough for a car. But the real reason is it’s a culturally-rich place and a very unusual one, with some of the best food on the planet. And it has the most inexpensive Michelin-star restaurant on earth — a noodle shack where you can eat for $1.80.”

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Crowds fill a market in Singapore’s Chinatown on the eve of the Lunar New Year of the Pig, Feb. 4, 2019.

Frommer said a few spots have become overrun with tourists, though, and had alternatives for them: Instead of Iceland, go to the nearby Faeroe Islands. Skip Bali and go to Komodo Island instead. In Thailand, rather than sunbathing on May Beach, head to the Similan Islands. And ditch Dubrovnik for Rovinj, also in Croatia.

Rudy Maxa, of public television’s Rudy Maxa’s World, said “I really like Uruguay. It’s quite unspoiled and it’s not a place Americans talk about a lot.” He also talked up the former Soviet republic of Georgia. “It’s my new favorite place. I expected grim Soviet-style buildings and grandmas with babushkas. I was surprised. It’s an incredible value for the American dollar and has five-star hotels for $189 a night and dinner for two for maybe $33. But it’s a little tough to get to; I had to overnight in Istanbul.”

How to save on flights and hotels

Saving on airfares: Kurt Knutsson, aka “Kurt the Cyber Guy” from Fox & Friends, says the site where he starts looking for airfares is Google’s GOOGL, -0.32%   ITA Matrix, which shows “every single seat for sale for the best price and experience.” He also recommended the Donotpay.com travel site. “It’s an amazing resource. You sign up free for a flight and they watch the fare. If it’s worth re-ticketing between the time you bought it and the time you’ll travel, they’ll alert you,” he said.

Frommer said her company’s search for the lowest airfares had the best results with the Momondo and Skyscanner.net sites. “They whupped the competition,” she noted.

Book airfares on Sundays and avoid purchasing on Fridays, Frommer said. She cited an Airline Reporting Corporation study that found you can save 17% buying on Sundays and pay 12 % more on Fridays.

Also, she said, for the lowest fares, it’s best to book flights six to eight weeks in advance. ‘You won’t save booking seven or eight months out.”

Saving on hotels: A few websites are especially good for finding hotel deals. Frommer’s picks: Booking.com, and for Asian trips, Agoda.com. If you don’t mind using an opaque site (think Priceline) where you don’t know in advance which hotel offers the lowest price, Frommer recommends BiddingTraveler.com and TheBiddingTraveler.com.

Also, look for an anniversary deal at resorts and hotels. “Many resorts offer really nice anniversary packages,” said Nancy Barkley, a Philadelphia-based travel planner and founder of Honeymoons and Get-A-Ways. “They may offer a complementary romantic dinner.”

And see if you can get a free night by staying an extra day. “You might be able to pay for three nights and get the fourth free at a luxury hotel,” said Matthew Upchurch, chairman and CEO of the Virtuoso network of luxury travel agencies.

Eleven more travel tips

Be careful about “New Distribution Capability” or NDC. This travel-industry online pricing program “will shape how you book airfares in coming weeks,” said Frommer. Essentially, NDC will let airlines track you better to learn how you’ve booked tickets in the past “and then give you what they think you want and what will give them the most money.” The problem? If you’ve bought tickets for work, and paid for, say, priority boarding and a checked bag, the airline will assume you’ll pay that higher price for a vacation and only show you that fare, Frommer noted. To avoid NDC, Frommer advised, “be anonymous when you search for travel online and clear your history and cookies. It’s the only way you will see the true prices.”

If you want a tour, check out marketplace websites that vet tour operators. Frommer recommended Tour Radar, StrideTravel, Viator and Evaneos.net.

Know the differences among river cruise companies before you book a river trip. Frommer said Uniworld, Tauck and Scenic are “over the top” lines. By contrast, Emerald Waterways, Croisieurope, Grand Circle U and Vantage are budget lines.

Scrutinize a travel insurance policy before you buy it. Travalliance’s Murphy said it’s essential to read the fine print so you’re not unpleasantly surprised that the policy doesn’t cover what you expected. “It ought to have trip interruption insurance to cover you for prepaid items if you don’t fulfill the trip. Be sure it picks up costs if your airline cancels on you and you need a hotel or meals.” Frommer likes the Squaremouth.com site, which searches for the best travel insurance policies. “Never buy travel insurance from the same people you’re buying your travel from. If they go belly up, you’ll lose the cost of the trip and the insurance. And you’re paying them a commission that’s more than if you go direct,” she said.

Consider using a travel agent — now called a “travel adviser” — to get luxury-travel perks. Upchurch, of the Virtuoso network of luxury travel agencies, gave an example. “A client called about booking a three-night stay at the Aria hotel in Las Vegas, after finding an ‘awesome’ rate online and asked one of our travel advisers to beat it. The adviser said: ‘I can’t beat the rate; my rate is $20 more per night, but if you book with me, you get breakfasts included and a VIP upgrade and a $100 resort credit, so the value of the stay is much better. You’ll pay an extra $60 total for a three-night stay in exchange for $200 in value.”

Spend money for a private guide when traveling abroad. “If you’re going to splurge on one thing, do it on a private guide who can take you places where you can’t go otherwise or wouldn’t have gone — a local who knows the ins and outs so you’re not waiting in lines,” said Barkley. If you need to find one, ask your hotel’s concierge, she added. And, Upchurch said, you may be able to get a guide for 20% to 40% less during the week than on a weekend.

Try “high/low” eating when overseas. That, said Upchurch, means you might go to a Michelin-star restaurant lunch (where prices can be half those at the same place for dinner) and then have street food for dinner.

Know whether haggling is expected or shunned. “In some parts, it’s expected and it’s a nice thing to do, going back and forth. When I was buying jewelry in India, tea was brought out,” said Daisann McLane, a former New York Times Frugal Traveler columnist. “I wouldn’t try doing it in Paris.”

When packing a suitcase, lay on the top a printout with your name, address, phone number and email address. That way, said Liam P. Cusack, managing editor of Cruise & Travel Report, “if your baggage tag gets ripped off and your bag gets delayed by the airline, they’ll be able to know how to find you.”

Be sure your passport is valid for at least six months after you plan to travel. If it’s not, Cusack said, you may be denied boarding on your flight.

Buy an AirSelfie, said Knutsson. “It’s a drone with a camera that you can fit in your pocket. You download the app and throw the AirSelfie up in the air and it takes aerial pictures of you for a minute or two and then comes back to you,” he explained. The AirSelfie2 sells for $199.95.

Richard Eisenberg is the Senior Web Editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of “How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis” and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS MoneyWatch. @richeis315

This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org, © 2019 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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