It’s summer! Which may mean a road trip, an epic overseas journey, or months defined by summer camps and kids’ schedules. Whatever you want to do—and wherever you’re at in your planning—this week’s episode of Unpacked, has something for you. AFAR’s mighty destination team tackles flight deals, the beauty of shoulder season travel, how to escape the heat (and crowds) in Europe, tips for procrastinators, and so much more.
Mark Ellwood, writer: I’m, I’m sorry. I got very sunburned yesterday, so I think I, I, I feel like I look slightly—I look sort of like Freddy Krueger after 20 minutes of makeup, so I apologize.
Aislyn Greene, host and moderator: I’m not seeing it. Just a healthy glow. A healthy summer glow.
Chloe Arrojado, associate editor, destinations: It fits with a summer theme, OK?
Aislyn (episode intro): I’m Aislyn Greene, and this is Unpacked, the podcast that unpacks one tricky topic in travel each week. And this week, we’re turning up the heat on everyone’s favorite topic: summer travel.
Whether you’ve been planning for months or you’ve barely scratched the surface, we’re here for you. I spoke with the two editors who comprise our mighty destination team here at AFAR, as well as the freelance writer who handles our monthly Where to Go columns. They share tips on how to make your dollar go far, where to go in Europe to escape the heat (and crowds), how to deal with the hell that is flying, and so much more. I’m kidding—it’s not that bad. But make sure you get that TSA PreCheck. OK, let’s get to it.
Aislyn (in conversation): Welcome everyone to Unpacked. I thought we could start by going around and introducing ourselves, explaining our relationship to AFAR and where we’re calling in from today, because we have some people—or a person—in an exceptional location. Anyone wanna kick it off?
Mark: Of course. I’m Mark. I’m Mark Ellwood. Um, I work for AFAR every month. I try and find you the best places to go for that month around the world, and I’m actually doing some in-person research for that kind of work. Right now I’m in Baja California for the first time, kind of running around the four Capes to try and understand what, what the different Cabos are rather than them all getting lumped together.
So I feel very lucky. I’m eating way too much Mexican food, and it’s a little too early to have tequila, but not quite—like right on the edge.
Aislyn: Wait, did you have tequila before we started this? That’s the real question.
Mark: I, I mean, I’m not really on vacation. If I was on vacation, I might have had a breakfast margarita, but who is, who is judging? Who’s judging?
Aislyn: No, not us. Well, great. That sounds amazing.
Tim Chester, deputy editor: Well, it’s an hour-long session. So I hope you’ve got one within reach at least.
Aislyn: And then there’s the illustrious Chloe Arrojado. Chloe, what about you?
Chloe: I’m—yeah, I’m definitely not in as an adventurous place. I’m with my parents right now in Charlotte, North Carolina. Um, so kind of the Southeast of the United States. I’ve been with AFAR for just over a year now, and I’m the associate editor of destinations.
Aislyn: Nice. And finally we have Tim Chester.
Tim: Yeah. I’m a deputy editor at AFAR. I’m based in Southern California, so a city called Thousand Oaks just north of L.A. Uh, and I’ve been with AFAR for coming up for five years next month.
Aislyn: Five years. Amazing. You are our mighty destination team here.
Aislyn: I guess I should say I’m Aislyn. I am the associate director of podcasts here at AFAR and I’m calling in from sunny Sausalito. There are geese honking in the background and I hope they don’t interrupt this.
Uh, OK, so on a personal level, where are you all at in terms of your summer travel planning? Are we in summer right now? Not really, right. We’ve gotta wait till June.
Tim: I thought it was Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Aislyn: Yeah, OK.
Tim: Is that summer?
Mark: But do you see, this is—I, I get very anxious about this. Because I’m a planner. I just feel like it’s, I feel like the minute it gets warm, it’s summer and I should be thinking about where I’m going and when, and I still haven’t booked it. And I think we’re gonna touch on this, when you look at the airfares—especially to Europe, which is a lovely sort of Mediterranean summer getaway—they are so eye-watering. I keep assuming that if I just refresh it, and refresh it tomorrow, they’ll magically change. And so I think I’m in this paralysis of planning, which I think we’re probably gonna touch on.
Aislyn: Yeah, absolutely. How about you guys: Tim? Chloe?
Chloe: Yeah, I can definitely share, uh, where I am with the summer travel planning because kind of the opposite of Mark where I am not a planner. So I’m right now just starting discussion with my friends about trips from mid to end June. So I’m the, I’m the refresher and the hoper that the prices will go down.
So, you know, I really like to wait until the last minute for my trips. I know for sure I’m going to go to New York for maybe a week or two in early June. But we’re thinking somewhere in Mexico for mid to end June. Pray for me, Mark. If you have any wisdom to bestow upon me, that would be great.
Mark: And it’s interesting because the Mexico flight prices are, are staggeringly affordable. I played around with my prices and I ended up booking my flight from New York to Baja on the nonstop direct JetBlue for 500 bucks, two weeks out, which was remarkable. You look at anything to Europe, even London, which is always the starting cheapest starting point and it’s triple what you expect to pay. So yes, go to Mexico, and then when you get here, the weather’s perfect.
Chloe: Well, good to know that, you know, it’s not too late for me. There’s still some hope to get some good priced deals on these flights.
Tim: Regarding what you were saying, Mark, um, about booking flights for the summer. We had a piece that went up recently. Our, uh, travel news editor Michelle Baran, spoke to, um, Katie Nastro at Going.com about when to buy a flight and, um, she basically said, look for the Goldilocks window. The time period that’s not too early, but not too late, that’s when the opportunity for a cheap flight to pop up is at its greatest. And the advice from her was for domestic flights, book between one to three months before departure or three to seven out for peak summer travel season, which would’ve been a few months ago, I guess. So, uh, not much use, not much use this year. And then for international flights, two to eight months out, for off-peak travel and four to 10 for peak.
Mark: But I will say, I will say, if you are caught short, one of the big tips—and both Tim and I, obviously, are not natively from America, so this is more familiar for us. In Europe, buying packages is very commonplace. So in other words, you buy the flight and accommodation together. It’s a much less automatic reaction from Americans. And that means that the little tab on airlines’ website, which says it’s Vacations With AA, or whatever, Delta Vacations. Click on that and look at the flight and hotel packages together. Because it’s a quirk of the way that seats are priced, but the seats that are allocated to the hotel space that they have confirmed do not rise in price in the same way as the other seats on the plane.
So when you are buying last-minute tickets at peak season, you may find that even if you don’t need the accommodation that it’s cheaper than a flight alone. And it’s a great sideways if you’re thinking “Gosh, how the heck am I getting an affordable flight?” You’d be very surprised what little secrets lie there.
Chloe: Well, I would’ve not thought about that. Because I feel like anytime I see anything about this bundle deal between a hotel and a flight, I just automatically assume that it is going to be more expensive than if I did it myself independently. Because you know, of course, if I was to have an easier time booking all of these things, why would it be cheaper?
Tim: Yeah, that’s really interesting cuz I have this reaction where it—Expedia always takes me to flights plus hotel and I always just click “I just want a flight. I don’t want the hotel.” So it’s interesting, I never thought about that.
Mark: And do it, I would always, I would encourage you to remember also, do it through the airlines for lots and lots of reasons. But do it through the airlines.
Chloe: Well, I was also gonna ask about, like, the deals that you’ve gotten.
Mark: That’s a great question. I have sent people—it’s especially things like Thanksgiving, when, when people are flying home for Thanksgiving. One of the great hacks—or flying home over July Fourth—remember, if you don’t need the hotel room, but you need to get there, it doesn’t matter if you don’t use the hotel room. And frankly, you could use one of the resale apps to resell your hotel room so that you might end up offsetting the price of your flight. You’re not gonna get full whack for the ADR of that hotel room. But you are legally allowed to resell an unrefundable room. And that might offset the price you paid as well, so think about that.
Aislyn: That’s a great hack, great tip. Cuz I, I think I’m like Tim and Chloe, I’ve always been like, if it’s a bundle, run, run, run away from that. So, thank you. Um, Tim, did you wanna share anything about your own summer travel planning?
Tim: Well, I have two things booked. Um, one is Legoland for a birthday. Uh, and the other one is, um, just a big family get together for the Fourth in Cambria on the Central Coast, which is one of my favorite spots. Little town, uh, equidistant between San Francisco and Los Angeles. And a couple of thousand people. They call it, Where the Pines Meet the Sea. And it’s just a beautiful spot on the Central Coast.
Yeah, I mean, like we may go to Mexico, but I’m not into the planning of that yet. We tend to get trapped by summer camp and, you know, we tend to travel out of summer, so.
Aislyn: Yeah, yeah, right? There’s a lot of reasons that people don’t end up traveling in the summer or maybe travel during the kind of shoulder season, which I know we’ll get to later. But in terms of more specifics, I wanted to pivot to our Where to Go series and, Mark, you write stories for us each month about where travelers should go next, and I think the most recent one was July. And I think August is coming up next. What are your recommendations right now?
Mark: So I would say one of the, one of the places to think about going for summer, and not just because I’m biased, is the U.K. Largely because the pound is so weak against any other currency you could name. If you’ve always wanted to go to the U.K. and worried about expense, right now you’re getting about a buck—it’s about a buck 25 to the pound. When I first moved to America 20 years ago, you were nudging two dollars to the pound. So I would say if you’ve ever wanted to go to the U.K., you could go to the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland in August, and you’re gonna get the best bang for your buck you will have done for years and years.
I’d also send you along way Down Under because the Women’s World Cup is being played across both of the major antipodes nations, so you’re getting New Zealand and Sydney. Go to Sydney if you wanna be there, the big World Cup final is in Sydney on August 20th.
I will warn you, Sydney in August—I’ve been in Sydney in August and it can be a bit wet, and it’s not a city that knows how to cope with rain. I know Southern Californians will be like, “Yeah I know what you’re talking about.” So just be prepared for Sydney to be—Sydney’s moods dampen a little when it rains because everyone is just a bit bummed they can’t be sitting outside.
Tim: Mark, I’m curious what you think about visiting places during big festival season versus when there isn’t an influx of people, for example, I much prefer New Orleans when it’s not Mardi Gras, but Edinburgh, I think, especially in August, there’s like several festivals happening at—you’ve got the book festival, the comedy festival, the theater festival, and it’s just such a fun time to be there.
Mark: See, I think you’ve identified—I think if you boil that down, I would never go to a place where the festival is based on booze, because I think then it’s just sloppy and messy.
You’ve got the Edinburgh Festival, and sure, you’re going to have a glass of wine at a comedy show, but the raison d’être of being there is not to try and not remember the trip. And I think the problem is that Mardi Gras, some of those events—and I’ve been to, I don’t know if you’ve been to Edinburgh during the festival. It’s very different.
But it is also super exciting because it brings talent from around the world, often, at reasonably affordable rates. And you never know who you could stumble on. It’s that chance to be at, you know, Taylor Swift’s first gig when she was 14, just because you lived in Nashville. The Edinburgh Festival brings comics from around the world. And you might get to see someone who, who in 20 years time, people are like “You were out there at their first show? That’s insane.” So that’s another appeal.
Tim: Yeah, I went to Edinburgh for Rough Guides years ago. And for one night I just decided to say yes to every flyer and every person on the street who approached me about their show, and it’s the kind of place where you can do that and have a good night.
Aislyn: Very cool. Anything else anyone would like to add about kind of where to go this summer, July, August—places that you’re particularly excited about from our list?
Chloe: Yeah, for Where to Go July, we’re spotlighting Idaho as one of our places and I’ve been a long believer in the beauty of Idaho in the summertime. I think I even, like, talked about this when I was applying for this job at AFAR about hot spring opportunities in Idaho. So it’s such a great place to road-trip. And you know, there’s a lot of crowdsourced resources if you want to find the great hot springs wherever you are in Idaho. But a lot of times it’s kind of asking around, seeing what the locals think and getting directions to these kind of places that you wouldn’t have otherwise come across.
Mark: And Chloe, can say—I’m sure we have listeners from Idaho. Boise is one of my favorite overlooked places in all of America. I think it’s used by people on the East Coast as a sort of shorthand for the Middle of Nowheresville. I went to Boise on assignment and was staggered by this amazing college town. Really cyclable. Easy hikes nearby. Enormous Basque population. Albertson’s has a Basque section. There’s a Basque neighborhood. It was one of the most eclectic, interesting, unexpected finds. So I think Idaho is one of those states that sort of punches above its weight and is very unfairly overlooked. So I think Chloe and I are both voting—we’re voting, voting like team Idaho.
Aislyn: I grew up in Washington and we would actually road-trip to Idaho every summer and go camping, like in Coeur d’Alene, and we loved it.
Mark: This podcast is sponsored by the Idaho tourism board. We really should confess that now.
Aislyn: We should.
Mark: Getting a little backhander.
Tim: Regarding the Basque communities, are there the little Basque tapas bars?
Chloe: Yeah, like pintxos?
Tim: Pinxtos, yeah. There are?
Mark: [There are] pintxos—everything, including red wine and Coca-Cola, which is a big Basque drink. I’m not a big fan of either, so putting them together was worse than Tom Hanks and his champagne and Diet Coke. But you can go to multiple restaurants that are age-old, and the Basque community there dates back to the big immigrant waves of the late 19th century.
And the historian there said to me, the shorthand is basically Basque people don’t scan as ethnically southern European. So they escaped some of the racism that some of the other Mediterranean immigrants did, so they were able to head further West. But they also speak a language that is not Indo-European, so learning English was much harder. And they ended up working in shepherding, which is not traditionally a Basque role, but that’s a solitary task. And so Idaho was a place, there was a lot of sheep herding. And they randomly ended up there and created this remarkable enclave in a very unexpected place.
Aislyn: Very cool. Well, pivoting away from the United States for a moment. So Europe, which we talked about a bit earlier, does tend to be a big summer destination, especially for American travelers. Last year, in recent years, we’ve heard the news about the big heat waves. Some people have experienced them. What are your thoughts on traveling to Europe during the summer months now?
Mark: I could tell you, I could tell you. I will say, I will say, I think the mistake we make is when we picture Europe during the summer, we picture the Mediterranean. And Europe is very big. And a great travel specialist I know who’s based in Italy, she said, “I can’t get enough people into Iceland for the summer.” Because whatever happens to the weather in the Med, Iceland will very likely not be so intolerable. And the Nordics, the U.K., Iceland, northern Europe, as southern Europe boils, northern Europe is very pleasant. And so don’t forget that you can just shift a little further north. But again I’m I’m British, so I would say that,
Chloe: I was like, I’m gonna wait until, you know, the Brits, uh, speak before I maybe give my controversial opinion. I don’t know.
Aislyn: Tim, do you wanna wade into the argument?
Tim: Uh, yeah, Mark, I remember last year you recommended the French Riviera, I think for July, and presumably would stand by that for this year. Um, again, can be hot. My mum used to run a bed-and-breakfast down there in, um, a town called Flayosc and spent many summers in the interior and a place called Les Gorges du Verdon, which is a beautiful canyon for swimming and pedalos and waterfalls. So I miss going to that area. I recommend that area. Um, it seems me—I wouldn’t if—I mean, I’m tied with kid holidays now. I have school holidays to go with, but I can’t see why you would go to Europe—unless you have to—in the summer. Go in the spring or the autumn. I mean the hotter parts especially.
Aislyn: I mean also for the crowds reason, right? Like that’s why I have typically avoided, you know, like at least the really big destinations in the summer months, just cuz I feel like they do tend to get a bit overrun. Mark, you mentioned that Iceland is a great destination, but if people wanna escape the crowds, are there some lesser-known destinations that you might recommend?
Tim: I have a soft spot for Slovenia, as an alternative to Croatia. It has about 30 miles of coastline, the Adriatic North. Tiny, but very pretty, port town, Piran there and some good wines. And didn’t get to Lake Bled, but obviously, you know, that’s a big one. Yeah, Slovenia would be my pick. Have either of you been there?
Mark: No, but I’ve written a lot about it and I’m trying to put a trip together. Because I’m fascinated by its marketing. Because it straddles in that fascinating way—it markets itself a bit as Middle European, that sort of Austria charm. And then the idea that yes, it may be a tiny strip of coast, but it’s sort of Mediterranean. And I’m fascinated to see the way that culture kind of manifests because coastal Croatia and interior Croatia are so different and I’m interested to see that.
Chloe: Yeah, I know you put it down for a Where to Go Next: Europe pick [live on June 15th]. But I guess before I talk about my interest, Mark, I kind of want to hear your opinion about Malta because you felt so strongly about it.
Aislyn: Wait, what’s the backstory? Can you tell us the backstory of this really quickly before…?
Mark: I’m obsessed with Malta. I stumbled on Malta because I was on a cruise, I was on a Silverseas cruise in the summer last August. And Malta was a curious box check. I thought it was going to be, like many still British English–speaking cultures, a little unappealing. Egg and chips in the sunshine. Sort of a bad version of Britain. And the ignorance of that kind of staggered me because when I got there, Malta is this fascinating collision of Arab culture, Sicilian culture, British culture that has sat at the fulcrum of the Mediterranean for millennia and has been important to everybody.
One of one of the human excavations, one of the oldest evidence of human habitation anywhere in Europe is the Hypergeum in Malta, which only 80 people can go into every day. And it was carved out in the Stone Age using stone equipment from the limestone. They didn’t even have tools. But you’ve got this incredible history and then Malta is coming in—there’s a contemporary art museum opening. There are three or four new hotels opening. There’s a real effort to upgrade its tourism, because historically, it was very much older British people going on package holidays.
And it’s such a pity to miss the chance to see Valletta, which was built almost overnight as a defensive effort by the Knights of Malta. So it has a uniformity of architecture that is Ottoman meets Venetian. And it was built as a grid so it air conditions. So even in August when you’re standing in central Valletta, the beach breezes whizz through the town and you aren’t sweltering, quite the reverse. You’re really quite cool.
And it’s the most interesting, eccentric, slightly hard to pin down place. Now in summer it is boiling hot. So I wouldn’t go in August. I’d go in September. I’d add it as a summer destination sort of edge of the season because it’s outdoorsy and gorgeous. Rock beaches, no sandy beaches, so you know, take water shoes. Gosh, the water is like Belize or the Maldives. And also sponsored by the Maltese tourism board.
Aislyn: We’ve got a lot of sponsors for this episode.
Chloe: I guess from my pick for European destinations that may not be as hugely hit. Speaking from my experience, I lived for, you know, eight or nine months in Logroño, which is kind of below the Basque region in northern Spain.
So I’m very much used to the red wine and cola mixture that they like to drink there.
Tim: I’ll have to try this.
Chloe: Yes, it’s called calimocho. And you know, I really like it. Maybe because I’m a big fan of both.
Mark: What is there to like about it? Honestly! I mean, anyone listen, please tweet at us: Does anyone agree with me? This is insane.
Aislyn: We’ll send out a poll.
Mark: What is there to like there to like about red wine and Coca-Cola?
Chloe: I think it’s the sweetness, bubbliness.
Chloe: Yeah, caffeine. There’s just so many different things to like about it.
Aislyn: It keeps you awake. I don’t know.
Chloe: Maybe it’s a bit of nostalgia that’s hitting me. But I feel like a lot of people, you know, who go through northern Spain, they’re always there to do the El Camino and you know, to hit those spaces. But I think, you know, there’s a lot to be said about northern Spain and just exploring that region, especially since there are so many smaller cities, um, that you can find. And the scenery is just gorgeous.
Aislyn: Wow. Great suggestion. Tim, I wanted to briefly return to what you were saying about traveling to Europe and the shoulder season. For those who may not have booked summer travel plans yet and have the flexibility, September could be a great time to go. Do you want to add anything about shoulder season travel?
Tim: Yeah, definitely. I mean, we may have covered this in the Where to Go podcast, but Yellowstone always sticks out in my mind. The visitor numbers there, it’s like a million people in July or August and something like 70,000 in February. Obviously it’s completely different, covered in snow and there’s some roads closed. But, um, a very different experience in the summertime.
Aislyn: Yellowstone tends to be like a big road tripping destination. And of course, summer road trip, right? They were made for one another. Any thoughts about good road trip destinations, either within the United States or elsewhere, international?
Mark: My favorite road trip is in Italy. I spent a lot of my childhood in Italy. I’ve worked in Italy. Um, if you go north from Venice, you end up in the Veneto. And that’s where all of the prosecco in the world comes from. And all of the vineyards are on one road between two towns, Conegliano and Valdobiadene. And you can drive along the Prosecco Road, it is very well signposted. And you go to these little vineyards, most of which are just old family run and you knock on the door of a barn and some Italian guy comes and pours you some prosecco, then you buy a couple of bottles. He speaks no English, it doesn’t matter. It is the loveliest scenery to do any time of year. I’ve done it in the winter, I’ve done it in the summer. But it is the antithesis of those congested roads in southern Italy on the Amalfi Coast, where you just think this is L.A. traffic but with Italian scenery. Go to the Prosecco Road.
Aislyn: Love that.
Tim: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And uh, we recently had a piece on the site about that whole region from, uh, writer Devorah Lev-Tov. And, um, I didn’t realize it was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2019 as well.
Mark: As it should have been—it should have been a World Heritage site decades ago. Because when you, it is just the most charming. I think when you go to Napa and Sonoma, even Sonoma, the, the sense of professionalism in some ways is a little disappointing. And in the best possible way, most of Prosecco feels very unprofessional.
Chloe: Mixing alcohol with trips. There it is again.
Mark: If you go to—I mean, I dunno if you have ever driven in Italy, but if you go to the Autogrill, they’re amazing roadside service stations. Fast food on any roadside. But there’s a beer tap. The bar has a beer tap. And it just feels counterintuitive that they’re really encouraging you to have a beer when you stop for gas.
Chloe: Whoa. Whoa. I definitely wanna check that out. I guess my opinion was not gonna be as controversial because since everyone said no, I was going to agree with that. In general, no, because I also, I think especially with the flight chaos, I just had a friend who came back from this crazy trip that she took throughout Europe. She was hitting a lot of different places and with—there were a lot of things, different airlines had messed up. And so, you know, she was kind of hopping from one destination to the next and they had lost her luggage at one point. And I can’t imagine that kind of stress on a vacation. Um, but I know that South of France was also something that we talked about on Where to Go July, and we just had a piece come out of all the crazy things that are happening right now in that area.
Like, you know, like the Carlton reopening in March and you know, the 50th anniversary of Picasso’s death. There are a whole bunch of different exhibits that are going on. So, you know, to me, I guess I’m kind of anti-crowd. So I would usually think, you know, South of France, like especially in the craziness of the summertime, no, but with all of the events going [on] there, you know, I think I might, I might take a trip.
But I guess with bigger cities like Paris, when I was backpacking, I did not know that everybody, like so much of Western Europe was just closed July and August. And so I just remember scouring for a place to eat with my friend in August in Paris and not finding anything except the Buffalo Grill. So…
Mark: Although I will say, Chloe, historically, August has been a great hack to visit Paris because it was when the hotel rates were historically at their lowest. So if you wanted to visit Paris affordably, you might have to forgo some of the restaurants but it was the cheapest time to score accommodation. And it always felt very counterintuitive that what felt like peak season, Paris would be deserted because the Bobos were all on the Île de Ré.
So the prices have gone up a little bit, but if you wanna go to Paris affordably and you’re happy to—there are more restaurants than the Buffalo Grill. There are a few more. And you can get a bistro.
Chloe: Yeah, I think there’s like some compromises you have to make. Cuz I have some friends who are always like, “Oh, should I wait to go to Paris? Should I go this year?” But I’m, because they’re like, “With all these protests going on,” and then I’m like, “Well, there’s the Olympics next year.” So, you know, there’s always a compromise to be made.
Aislyn: Yeah, I guess it depends on what you’re looking for. Like if you want affordability, maybe Paris in August is for you. If you want, you know, less heat and fewer crowds, maybe you go in September or October. Well, any kind of, I know you were talking about Europe, Chloe, but any road trips that come to mind? Maybe in your neck of the woods or things you’ve done that you’ve really loved.
Chloe: Yeah, I think, you know, domestically, great national parks. Aislyn, you’d probably know about this, um, North Cascades in the summertime. Gorgeous turquoise color lakes. I never seen anything like it. I felt—the whole time I was hiking, I thought that I was in the Wizard of Oz because of all of the bright colors. It was so gorgeous. Um, and Tim, kind of to your point about, you know, staying away from the crazy national parks that are super popular. Um, near me there’s the Great Smoky Mountains, which is historically the most visited, um, national park. But I think there’s something to be said about visiting during the summertime.
Maybe I’m a little bit biased towards this region, but I think because there’s the Blue Ridge Parkway that connects Shenandoah and the Great Smoky Mountains, even if, you know, you find that the Great Smoky Mountains are super busy, you know, just driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway, you can come across some incredible hikes along the way or places to camp.
Aislyn: Do you think that, um, even in the summer, going during the week versus the weekend makes a big difference ?
Chloe: Yes. I won’t say absolutely because, you know, even though school’s out, a lot of the time, people still have work. And whenever I’ve hit that area during the week, it is always such a good time to go. I actually just came yesterday from Cashiers, which is near the border, and during the week there were so many empty parking lots and, you know, swimming holes that [would] usually be crowded with people, [there were] just, like, a couple of people.
So it was—I would say go during the week if you can, but during the weekend you can always find a place to camp.
Aislyn: Camping for the win. Tim, how about you? Are there any American road trips that you really love?
Tim: From L.A., you, you can obviously road-trip in different directions, but a lot of the routes are not that picturesque. Like driving to the desert is just a freeway. Driving south to San Diego isn’t great, going up to Yosemite, so on. But everybody does the famous Highway 1, uh, Big Sur road trip, which is definitely worthwhile. But the one I like is, um, it’s the 395 up the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada. So you’re going from L.A. up to Mammoth Lakes. Beautiful high-elevation mountain town there for skiing in the winter and lake fun in the summer. But you go past a couple of small towns, Bishop and Lone Pine, and you go past um, Red Rock Canyon State Park, which has these very striking red rocks that you drive through. And then there’s a place called Mono Lake up there, which has these calcium carbonate sort of rock spires that come out of the lake and very still water and nobody around.
Very interesting place to see. So that, that’s my slightly less trafficked Southern Californian road trip tip. And the other one was about going different times of day. Well, yeah, I, I, I mean this is about summer travel, but I always advocate for traveling between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I think most people are just, uh, you know, the holidays at the end of the year.
Most people are caught up in the end of year rush. It’s, it’s a hard time to get away, but the few times I’ve done it seems like nobody else is really traveling at that time.
Aislyn: Yeah. You’ve talked about that. I’ve never, I’ve always thought that that’s a time that I would want to avoid. Um, so that’s a great, I think that’s a great tip.
Mark: It is one of the single best times. One of the reasons Art Basel was put into Miami Beach in early December is because it was such a doldrums time for travel, and they thought “Juice it.” It’s one of Vegas’s—it’s one of the cheapest times to go to Vegas, [which] is one of my favorite places in the world. If you want a cheap time to Vegas, between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Absolute steal. I think it’s a brilliant tip. It’s that weird time that people forget you’re allowed to take a vacation. Yeah, and that’s bollocks.
Tim: Yeah, we, well, one year we went to Aspen and the slopes were fairly empty. Another year, last year, we were in Fiji and no one else around where we were. Like I said, hard to take the time off. There’s a lot happening at that time of year, but it’s worth it.
Chloe: Yeah, I guess that’s why it’s cheap. People are like mentally preparing for the craziness that is going to ensue. But I’m always down to talk about Las Vegas. I love that place too.
Aislyn: Yeah, but not in the summer, right? Like we’re not—
Mark: You know, I’d even go in the summer because the point is that dry heat, I, you know, the—I’m British, so obviously I wilt in, in moist heat, but the dry heat in Vegas is fine and honestly, most of the time in Vegas you’re indoors. I just, I just want to, like, grind Vegas up into pellets and sort of inject it in my veins. That’s my spiritual home.
Tim: And it’s quite a nice road trip from L.A. I mean, it’s interesting the way the, the topography changes and you get up the elevation and, um, go past enormous solar farms. A lot of people fly, do the short flight, but I think it’s, like, a five-hour drive. Um, not too bad.
Aislyn: And you’ve done the EV road trip to L.A. right? Or uh, to Vegas?
Tim: Yeah, I did. I did it in an EV yeah, a, um, Polestar 2. And, um, made it in about the same time it would’ve taken to fly with all the waiting around at airports. And I think it was about 45 minutes of charging each on the first, on the way out, and maybe more like two hours on the way back. But yeah, and it cost me about 18 bucks, so…
Aislyn: Oh my God. Would you do it again in an EV?
Tim: Yeah. I’m not sure if I’d take the kids, but, uh, I, I would definitely take myself. Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
Aislyn: Do you think that Vegas is any cheaper in the summer? Because you had mentioned that’s a cheap time to go. Can you get good deals?
Mark: The challenge with Vegas in the summer is that people from Europe flock there. Remember all the places that we think of as not summer destinations? Especially British people. The, the Virgin and BA flight from London to Vegas is the one that the staff can never get on because it’s always booked solid.
And all the places that we think, “Oh, not in the summer.” All the crazy Europeans go, “Oh, Mexico in July? That’s brilliant. Oh, Vegas in July?” and they fill those planes. So I think there is that weird thing: You realize that we may not be a market, but long haul is suddenly a market. So Vegas is not not as cheap in July as you assume it’ll be.
Chloe: Yeah. I assumed they would always be busy with all of, like, the pool parties going on.
Mark: Full of, full of British people not caring whether they get burned to a crisp because they’re in Vegas in July.
Chloe: Yeah, they have Steve Aoki right in front of them. Why would they care?
Aislyn: Well, of course to get to any of these places, we will have to fly. And as you said earlier, Chloe, flying has been a bit of a nightmare recently. Do you have any suggestions for travelers planning to fly this summer?
Chloe: To Tim’s point about, yeah, timing, flights, obviously going specific times, you’re gonna get better deals when you fly. So you know, taking an either late night, early morning flight, I know that a lot of people are against it, but it might be worth it considering the crowds. To not only beat the crowds, but to also get a better deal, I would say that’s kind of my biggest tip, and that’s one I just live by year round. I’m very used to crazy hours of flights, but I see it as, you know, jolts of energy. Something new to keep you on your toes.
Mark: So I would build on what Chloe’s saying. Remember, if you’re flying to Europe and you’re looking for a better deal, Google Flights has a, has a function that I don’t think everyone uses as adroitly as we could. You can put in your home airport and then as a destination, you can put the word “Europe.”
And it will show you the flights to—all the nonstop or the connecting flights, whatever you wish—to all the European cities, and you can see what is the cheapest hub to fly to. And then of course, Europe is covered with budget airlines. So once you work out where you go, check what cheap puddle-jumping kind of short haul you can take.
But I think when you are worried about prices, do the home airport, Europe, and you’ll get a real sense of where there might be a little slackness in pricing that you can work around.
Tim: So where would that be if we did that right now? Where are the cheap spots? Or does that change all the time?
Mark: Typically, the U.K. will be the cheapest because it has the densest concentration of transatlantic flights.
There’s also been a big push, which is very convenient for what we’re talking about. London has two airports, as Tim will know. It has Heathrow, which everyone has heard of, and it has Gatwick, which is slightly like, you know, the, the, the character who’s brought in at the end of a sitcom when it’s really running out of gas and they hope they’ll juice the narrative—that sort of hail Mary, it’s that if it were an airport, it’s that slightly like, oh. Poor Gatwick, but they’re trying to make it much more of a long-haul destination. It’s where a lot of the cheaper flights from London go from. You’ll see more flights to Gatwick from America. JetBlue, I believe, serves Gatwick. Delta serves Gatwick and is pricing very affordably to try and siphon people there. So I would look at Gatwick.
Chloe: Especially with airlines like TAP Air Portugal. They have things like stopover in Lisbon or Porto. So take advantage of those opportunities if your airline offers them.
Mark: And I will say, there’s another thing, there’s two things technically I would say. It is a great idea to put an Air Tag in your bag. Put a bathing suit, pair of underwear, and a T-shirt in your hand luggage. If you’re checking something, put an Air Tag in your bag. It is more than just sort of something nerdy to do. It works. And download—there is an amazing flight tracking app called Flighty.
You can try it for free. I pay 50 bucks a year for it. Put simply, the airline apps are not built to give you information quickly. Flighty was built from the ground up and the information gets to you faster than any other source. So the key in an issue is to be the first person to know about it so you can get rebooked so you can. Flighty will flag something before anyone else does. It has never let me down.
Aislyn: That’s great. But does anyone else use the Hopper app for booking or tracking?
Mark: Should we? Why should we? Tell me. I mean, now I want to—
Aislyn: Well, you can basically put in your dates of travel. So for example, I have some August dates. I’m going to Colorado for a conference, and it will essentially tell you whether to wait or buy, and then it will alert you when prices drop and they have a bunch of hotels and other kind of discounts and it’s a free app.
Chloe: In your experience, has it, does it work pretty well?
Aislyn: Yeah, I’m more of a planner, so I’m usually looking like, you know, six to eight months out. And so I like that I don’t have to, like, constantly be paying attention to flights and it gives you a prediction about, like, whether prices are going to kind of rise, drop, et cetera.
The other thing I was just gonna share from my former flight attendant mother was that she would always say, take the first flight out if you can, because it’s as the day goes on and things go wrong, that—it’s the rollover problem. And so she was a big proponent of the early flights, although, you know, the 6:00 a.m. flight, not my favorite. Um, but if you wanna avoid problems, that’s often a good one.
Tim: Given the, you know, potential chaos of summer flying, making sure your TSA PreCheck or Global Entry are up to date, or that you have them in the first place are good. After having to run to the front of a line in New Orleans last year, I finally got Global Entry and there was a very long wait at the time for six months or so to get the interview, but I used this thing called Appointment Scanner, which basically just sent me endless texts when people canceled appointments. And I ended up getting a next-day appointment to see someone at LAX for the interview. So check that out. If you’re waiting a long time for Global Entry.
Aislyn: That’s great. Yeah. Get that TSA PreCheck. Right. Tim, did you wanna add anything else about flying in the summer?
Tim: Um, no, bring a book. You never know how it’s gonna turn out.
Mark: It is also—but talking about weather, and I think this is something that’s worth thinking about year-round, if you do have to take a connecting flight, think about where that connection is happening. If the connection is happening in Chicago in January, you are [more] likely to deal with weather than if it’s happening via Atlanta in January.
Conversely, if it’s happening in the hurricane belt in August, September, it’s probably a little riskier than if it’s happening in Chicago. So think about the weather. It’s, it’s one of the things that’s behind the Middle Eastern carriers’ huge success is that they’re able to be hubs for global travel because their weather is so reliable and flights don’t get delayed. So think about the weather if you are booking flights to connect because that will make a difference.
Tim: Something that I spotted recently was this company called Sensible Weather, which calls itself a climate risk technology company, but it basically offers a guarantee if weather gets in the way of your trip. Uh, it partners with places like Auto Camp Collective retreats, so I think we are probably gonna see more of that.
Mark: So it’s weather insur—it’s basically weather insurance. So those crazy people who complained when they get to a place and they’re like, “Wow, the trip was terrible.” Say to the GM, “Fix the weather.”
Tim: I think it’s more if your trip gets canceled. Not that you just don’t like the fact it’s raining when you get there.
Mark: Yeah. Cause that would be, I mean, could you imagine you’re like, “I don’t like the weather. Please give me a refund.” That would be—
Aislyn: That’s not gonna be a lasting business. Well, we’ve talked a bit about deals. Are there any other summer deals that you would recommend or that you’ve seen out there?
Mark: I think the key. Deals, flight deals—you have to change the way you think about this.
People are obsessed with getting a cheap flight and not obsessed with thinking about a cheaper trip overall. Don’t think of your flight as a standalone expense. Think of it as part of your vacation budget, and that’s why if you are going to go somewhere and you’re worried about prices go overseas, because the dollar is very, very strong.
It’s strong against the Turkish lira. Of course, the Turkish political situation is so uncertain. That is a complicated decision to make. Very strong against the Turkish lira. It’s strong against the euro. It’s strong against the, it’s really strong against the yen. Don’t go to Tokyo in July. It’ll be wet and horrible and muggy. But eh, August, September are all right. But think about, if you paying more for your flight, you can offset that if you are ending up in a destination where your dollar goes further. And I think rather than just looking for flight deals, think about that a bit.
Chloe: Thinking about summer deals, I think towards destinations as you know, as Mark has said, thinking about kind of the overall price.
You know, last August when I was in Colombia, I thought it was a great destination. I mean, especially, you know, for people who want to travel abroad, maybe, you know, you don’t need to go to Europe to experience a beach there. There are plenty of fantastic beaches in Latin America, places to be. Speaking again in Colombia, I was in the Rosario Islands off the coast of Cartagena, and they were just gorgeous. A lot of people go there for day trips and then they go back, but I opted to stay for a couple of nights and it was just wonderful being, kind of, me and my friends, the only people on this long stretch of sand, and I didn’t have to, you know, pay crazy amount of money to have a ticket to go over there.
So, I would say, you know, rethinking the destinations, what experience do you want and is this the only place I can have set experience?
Aislyn: I love that way of thinking, you know, not even necessarily just when it comes to last-minute travel, but travel in general. Well, speaking of beaches, um, we should talk a little bit more about them since they’re such an iconic summer experience.
And maybe Mark, you’re particularly well-poised to speak to this, but do you have any, any beach destinations that you could recommend for the the summer?
Mark: Would I send you to Todos Santos where I’m sitting right now? Yes, of course I would. Although it is much breezier and I think, I think it’s actually worth remembering a lot of the resorts, for example, in Todos Santos are adults-only because the riptides in the water are rather risky to have young kids on the beach. And I think that’s one of the things people don’t check when you check a beach destination, especially if you’re traveling with kids, how family-friendly the waters are, because that can make a big difference to how stressed you are if your kids are kind of wandering near the water. So I would say that.
I have—I spent my summer, uh, my summers as a kid in Italy on the coast of Tuscany, and the coast of Tuscany has beaches that are as broad as the Jersey shores. Wide swaths of golden sands, private beach clubs. They, they’re not cheap, but I mean, everything is clean.
There’s a bathroom, you can get an espresso, and they’re very family-friendly. So you’ve got little kids, they can play in the kids club. You’ve got teenagers, they play ping-pong with the local teenagers who are hanging out there. And I think Italy’s the, the Tuscan coast is very overlooked because everyone is obsessed with the pebble beaches in Amalfi, the pebble beaches everywhere else. So if I was going to a Mediterranean beach, that’s where I’d send people.
Chloe: Pebbles are overrated. Yeah. Got it.
Mark: It’s not—who can build a sandcastle out of pebbles? When you’re on a beach, you wanna be building a sandcastle of some kind.
Tim: Yeah, that reminds me of burying a friend on Brighton Beach and, pebbles, it’s not a nice experience.
Aislyn: No, that sounds terrible.
Mark: Did you like this friend? This feels like a, it’s like something you do to someone you don’t really want to stay—
Tim: We were students, so student, student, friendship, friend. Yeah.
Aislyn: Are, are you still friends? That’s the question.
Tim: No, uh, we’re not. But that’s, that’s by the by, it was a long time ago. My favorite beach I’ve been to was back in Fiji on, um, the south coast of Viti Levu, stayed at a place called Nanuku Resort, and it was during that period of when I mentioned between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
There’s no, there’s not really much development. There’s a few hotels along that south coast and Nanuku has its own beachside development, and then they have a parcel of land that hasn’t been developed. So when you go in the water and look back at the view, there’s, there’s nothing there. Just trees and, you know, there’s no umbrellas, other people. And we had, there were about four or five guests there with us when we were there and it’s a 500-acre property, so it was like truly no one else around, you know, no boats, nothing. And yeah, and they have a reef right there for snorkeling. They have a private island. You can take a boat and there’s another reef there.
Mark: How did you fly to Fiji, Tim? Cuz I was, I think for the West Coast, it’s a really smart idea. It’s not as far as it is for those of us who are on the East. Was it easy to get there?
Aislyn: And Fiji is about 19 or 20 hours ahead of L.A., right?
Tim: It is. It’s an overnight flight both ways. So you arrive at similar kind of time of day, so you don’t get jet lag, but you lose a day.
So, you know, you leave on a Tuesday, get there on a Thursday, and then you come back and you arrive on the same day, having had an overnight flight. So I was away for seven nights, but I only got five nights at the hotel. So the overnight both ways was, you know, a shame, but, um, it was easy. It was like 10 or 11 hours direct and then a 2- or 3-hour transfer in a car when we got there. So yeah, it’s not as easy as Hawai‘i from the West Coast, but where I went much less developed.
Aislyn: Yeah. I was going to quickly plug, since I am from Washington, Olympic National Park is actually great in the summer and there’s wonderful beaches there. Neah Bay is like one of the kind of northernmost points and it’s gorgeous like you kind of trek to get out there. But yeah, Olympic National Park Road trip and then beach time is fantastic.
Chloe: Yeah, I feel like the beaches must be gorgeous there. I think for my pick, Puerto Rico is an amazing beach destination, but yeah, those waters off of San Juan can be pretty gnarly, especially with all the riptides. But what’s kind of special about Puerto Rico is that because you’re gonna have to rent a car to explore a lot of the island, anyways. There’s so many beaches along the north coast that are just gorgeous, like Liquillo, where the kind of waves are just so gentle and then Rincon, which is known as a surfing destination, but that’s in the wintertime. So in the summertime you get a lot more relaxed waves, which sucks for surfers. But if you are like me, who is not exactly the best on a surfboard, you know, you will find it to be a nice kind of surprise. To be like, “Oh my God, I was expecting to be, like, world-class surfing.” And you’re just like, “Oh, this is just families hanging out.”
Aislyn: Has anyone been to Tofino in the summer? I was just wondering. I know that’s such, like, a classic—I haven’t either, so I was just throwing it out there, but OK.
Mark: Every time we think we’re well-traveled, there’s always gaps. That’s half the joy.
Aislyn: It’s half the joy. Yeah. Maybe it’s most of the joy. We’ll never run out of places. Well, last question, and we did touch on this earlier, but for procrastinators, say you end up—it’s midsummer, you haven’t booked anything, any tips on how to still have a, you know, fun and not horribly expensive summer vacation?
Chloe: Um, well, I can definitely start us off as the, the resident last-minute planner, booker. Well, I think the biggest is mindset when it comes to, you know, doing a lot of last-minute trips, it can be hard because you want to go to like a far-flung place, but I think definitely considering something like a road trip or something more accessible or even doing like a different type of, like, more slow travel.
Because if you want to go to a destination kind of last minute, it can be just so hectic to plan this crazy experience, whereas, from my experience, it’s been easier to be like, “OK, let’s set up a base point. Where do we want to be in like a place where we could have, like, multiple day trips from?” And then pick from there, and obviously going somewhere closer, you’re gonna probably get a better deal if you’re looking at it in terms of budget. But for me, I think it’s definitely trying to be less ambitious and be more open to opportunity and, you know, for a little bit of spontaneity to kind of take it away. Mark, right now is like, “Spontaneity, why??”
Mark: You’re just making me anxious, even mentioning the word. Like when it comes to travel, I’m, I’m losing sleep over the fact my summer stuff isn’t sorted out. It’s three months away, so I just, no, I just can’t, I just can’t.
Chloe: But see, that’s what’s, like, kinda nice about getting, you know, one base and then you’re like, “OK, maybe like a day trip here, day trip here.”
But if you’re in just one place where there are a lot of different things you wanna do there, at least you know for sure you’ll have a good time. It’s just my advice to any fellow last-minute planners out there.
Aislyn: Love it.
Mark: But it’s also, I will say, it’s about, and I think the point you’re making, Chloe, you have to be cheap and flexible simultaneously. You can’t be cheap and inflexible. So if you’re looking for a deal, there will always be something. But if you’ve left it to the last minute, you can’t say, “I want to stay at this hotel in Rome on this date, and I want it to be the cheapest price possible.” You’re gonna have to follow where the cheapness is and embrace that.
Chloe: I feel like you distilled it. You distilled it greatly. And I will say many good adventures have come from, like following, the cheapness, but also many other crazy incidents. So I will still—
Aislyn: That’s another podcast episode.
Chloe: Exactly. Follow the cheapness.
Tim: Maybe just stay closer to home if you’re procrastinating. I, I mean, it’s easy for me to say in California, but—
Aislyn: Um, I feel like you’re one of the best at doing, like, the local California trips. Tim, you’re always somewhere new. Any other favorites?
Tim: Uh oh, I mean, yeah. All sorts. I mean, um, Santa Barbara is a really nice city. Um, inland, the Santa Inez wine region. Um, all the little towns there like Los Olivos. Um, I love the Channel Islands National Park, which is just an hour off the coast from Ventura, which is just north of us, a couple of mountain towns. Big Bear, Lake Arrowhead. Yeah, there’s a lot. That’s one of the best things about L.A. There’s a, there’s a lot within two or three hours. A lot of variety. Yeah.
Mark, what about going somewhere where it’s winter at in our summer?
Mark: That’s an interesting idea.
Tim: Yeah. Yeah. Have we got any of those in our Where to Go monthly roundups?
We’ve got Queenstown and it’s interesting, I was just in New Zealand, obviously where it was, where it was fall and Queenstown in July, there’s a great Maori festival celebration and of course it, it’s a winter sport destination. So when you go Down Under, and you are in the South Island of New Zealand, it’s at its prime in July and August. And Queenstown is a pricey place to go, but there are plenty of alternatives if—I’m not super outdoorsy, but if you are. If you are outdoorsy, New Zealand is like a spiritual home. You get there and everybody is like, “Shall we put some crampons on and go for a climb?” And I just say, “I’d rather have a martini.” But everyone else—
Chloe: Oh my god, Mark, we need to travel together. I feel like you’re just speaking my language.
Mark: We’ll have a martini. We’ll be like, you know what, “You let me know when you finish your walk and I’ll, I’ll make a second martini. I’ll have another one with you when you get back.
Aislyn: I think I’ll join you two. Anything else you’d like to add about summer travel?
Mark: Don’t be put off. I think that we’ve, I think a lot of it has been us sort of talking about the, the pains and yes, there are more people traveling than ever and yes, it feels more expensive. But gosh when you get there, you are going to forget all of the hassles, all of the costs. There’s gonna be a moment where it feels like it was the best thing ever to do. So don’t be put off by how intimidating the planning might feel. Hopefully we’ve inspired you as much as intimidated you, and, you know, every trip is worth it. Every trip.
Aislyn: Well, I agree with Mark. Don’t let the stress of planning or any other logistical hangup turn you off. There are many adventures to be had this summer—in fact, I’m likely drinking wine in eastern France at the very moment you’re listening to this. I’ll actually be sharing my story of traveling along the Vallée de la Gastronomie on our sister podcast, Travel Tales by AFAR. Season four debuts in September 2023, so make sure you follow the show for updates and to catch up on previous episodes—we’ll link to it in our show notes.
We covered a lot in this episode, so we’ll also link to our distilled tips on traveling this summer, as well as several other resources about how to score flight deals, vacation rentals, and more.
And we’ll link to Mark’s stories about where to go in July and August, as well as his broader where to go this summer roundups. If you want to read more from Mark, visit mark-ellwood.com or follow him on Instagram @markellwood. You can find Chloe on Instagram @heychlokay and Tim @timchester. Happy summer travels!