***This story first posted to USA Today***
After more than a year stuck at home — and thanks to the just-relaxed mask mandates for the fully vaccinated — some 37-million people plan to travel over Memorial Day. If all goes well, summer vacation season could be off to a banner start, and life might finally start resembling something closer to “normal.”
But the sudden freedom to travel again doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing.
Airfares are on the rise, rental cars are in short supply, and hotel room rates are skyrocketing. Even finding an available — and affordable — vacation home or campsite near many popular destinations in the U.S. can feel like a new form of doomscrolling.
Luckily, there are some incredible tech tools to help you get around all kinds of potential travel troubles so that you can — finally! — take that vacation you’ve been dreaming about.
MASKS OFF, VACATION ON?
No matter where you go or how you plan to get there this summer — planes, trains, automobiles, eBikes — you still need to pack a mask. At this time, the federal mask mandate for public transportation remains in effect until September 13th. That means anyone over the age of two has to wear a mask on any form of public transit — including airport terminals, on busses, and ferries — any public space people use for mass travel.
What about everywhere else? The AARP has an excellent state-by-state guide to face mask requirements. Be sure to bookmark this before your trip.
Pro Tips: I’ve traveled a lot — primarily for work — during the pandemic. One of my friends introduced me to Zeiss antiFOG spray and biodegradable wipes on a recent trip to Antigua, and it was a total lifesaver. It’s inexpensive and keeps your face shield, glasses, sunglasses, or even snorkel mask clean and fog-free for a full 24-hours.
NO RENTAL CARS? NO PROBLEM
Good luck finding rental cars available — or even remotely affordable — in many places in June, July, and August. Rental car companies sold off a large portion of their fleets during the pandemic and have yet to restock for rising demand.
Pro Tips: Try peer-to-peer auto rental app Turo. Similar to the Airbnb business model, if someone has a car they’re not using, and it meets Turo’s standards and safety requirements, you’re welcome to rent it. The price you get quoted upfront includes the rental cost, insurance, cleaning fees — all of it — so there’s no sticker shock. The company even has 24/7 roadside assistance.
There’s also Outdoorsy, which uses the same concept, but for van, camper, and all kinds of other Recreational Vehicle rentals. I’ve used this service several times since first covering its launch in 2015, and we’re using it again for a trip to Denali National Park with family in July. We were able to find a new-ish camper that sleeps four, is dog friendly and is available for a fraction of the cost of traditional R.V. rentals.
Other peer-to-peer vehicle rentals are available in specific locations, such as Getaround for cars and trucks, Cabana and Roamerica for vans, and RVezy or RVShare for campers.
NO ROOM AT THE CAMPSITE
Once you get your R.V., or tent, or even a roomy car, you might have trouble finding a place to park or pitch it. According to the CEO of the camping app, The Dyrt, some 100 million Americans plan to escape to the great outdoors this year. Reservations at many popular National Parks such as Denali and Yosemite are already full — or really hard to come by — and even areas near the parks are running out of room.
Pro Tips: Several apps help pair campers with safe sites these days, but for quality and variety, it’s hard to beat Hipcamp. I just used it to find an alternative place to park an R.V. when our family visits Denali National Park in mid-July. The company works primarily with private landowners to list thousands of sites tailored to meet specific needs, from R.V. hookups to more remote glamping bungalows.
Additional alternatives include Tentrr, Harvest Hosts, GlampingHub, Pitchup, and Campspot. These apps and websites let you browse by amenities — does the site have a hot shower? Is it child- and pet-friendly? — and see reviews. They also cater more to glampers with all-inclusive canvas tents, yurts, tree-houses, and even vintage trailer options on private land.
While you can’t book directly through the Dyrt app, it offers detailed information and links for more than a million locations around the country, including R.V. sites, state and national parks, and even free dispersed camping sites on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. Campendium and Freecampsites.net also established sites where you can pitch a tent in the woods, with no fee and no reservations.
For $10, the Campnab app will send you a text message when the campground of your choosing has an opening on your requested dates. The app scans more than 8,000 campgrounds for cancellations and recently added hard-to-get backcountry permits too.
More than three-quarters of Americans (77%) plan to take trips this summer, according to the latest results of a Harris Poll survey. Several other traveler-sentiment surveys show nearly 70% of those polled are willing to spend a lot more money this year, too — as much as $7,000 per vacation.
Pro Tips: If you can commit to a payment plan versus shelling out a large sum of money upfront for your big trip, you might want to research buy-now, pay-later (BNPL) vacation options. I just booked a rental home in Lake Tahoe for a mid-week work trip through Vacasa this way with a 0% interest offer for six months through a service called Affirm, which launched an updated travel page last week.
It lets you spread out the cost of R.V. rentals, accommodations, experiences, and more into biweekly or monthly payments with Expedia, Vrbo, Priceline, Delta Vacations, and others. In an email, a company spokesperson wrote, “it helps people stay on stay on budget by letting you pay overtime on a schedule that works best for you, with interest options as low as 0% APR. It also shows the total cost of your purchase upfront in simple dollars and never charges you more than you agree to.”
Ted Rossman, a senior industry analyst for Creditcards.com, told Investopedia recently that BNPL offers “an enticing mix of instant gratification and financing. If you split it into installments, it feels more affordable, rather than incurring massive, ongoing debt,” he said.
But as USA Today Travel pointed out in another article recently, be sure to find a better interest rate than the one you might already have with a traditional credit card, and don’t bite off more than you can chew, so to speak.