Summer Vacation Tips: Cheap Trains, National Parks & Depressed Economies

Here’s a very quick summer travel story that you can easily digest in either video form from ABC.com or easily digested nuggets (below). As a side note, almost all the still images (except Amtrak and the National Parks) are from last year’s cover photo contest. We launched a new cover photo contest on June 1

Summer Bad

Airline fuel surcharges between $250 and $500 
Gas north of $4/gallon

Summer Good

1. Trains

This quarterly update of Amtrak discount codes is a regular hit on Frommers.com. Before you start clicking links, make sure to check Amtrak’s Weekly Specials, on sale between Tuesday and Friday each week.

Example: Vermont really wants people to come by train. If you’re visiting Vermont from outside the state, book here for 20% off any trip through Oct. 31. But if you’re traveling within the state, book here for a flat $12 fare on any in-state trip, through Dec. 31.

We recently covered scenic train routes under $25 throughout the U.S. and Canada. It was an enormous hit. Here’s one example from that article:

New York State: New York City to Cold Spring/Beacon, from $12.25/$14 each way

The humble Metro-North Hudson Line — one of the greatest bargains in American railroading — cruises right up the Hudson River at least once per hour. From the left side of the train going north and the right side going south, you get to see the river, the New Jersey Palisades, and some grand bridges. About an hour north of the city you’ll encounter two great little destinations one stop apart: Cold Spring, well-known for its antique shops, and Beacon, with a gigantic contemporary art museum (Dia:Beacon) and a scrappy, slightly scruffy main street of quirky restaurants and stores,

2. Parks

U.S. National Parks had one of their best years in a long time in 2009, and 2010 is looking good already. The best rooms in the best lodges are going fast, but parks offer accommodations at multiple price points (from campsite to suite), so you can find something to suit. Also look at special themed packages (hiking, birdwatching) — they come with rooms that have been blocked off. Another plus: Wyoming and Montana have lower gas prices.

Always look at the rates of official providers. Xanterra is the biggest, but you can find the right one for every park at the National Park Service’s website, www.nps.gov.

3. Flash Sale Websites

For travelers who can make last-minute adjustments, these sites offer excellent choices this summer. There are so many of them these days, that they’re fighting for customers. Best ones are TripAdvisor’s Sniqueaway.com and Gilt Groupe’s Jetsetter.com. Great for couples w/o kids.

4. Think Local

Hotels.com Price Index: U.S. hotel prices are still low: They’re right around at 2004 levels. Short trips within your region can help you save on transportation. Visiting regional vacation spots (SFO or LAX to Hawaii) is a better idea than cross-country trips.

5. Use Protection

This winter had serious weather interruptions that ruined many vacations. If you’re going anywhere that could be hit by a storm — hello, Gulf of Mexico — get trip cancellation/interruption coverage. That way you can enjoy a shoulder/low-season deal to the Caribbean with some protections.

Major travel insurance brokers, as covered on Frommers.comInsureMyTrip.com,TripInsuranceStore.com, and QuoteWright.com.

6. Accommodation Price Drop in Europe

Ireland is cheapest country in the Eurozone. Fly-drive packages there combine a car rental and stays in four- or five-star hotels, where before you stayed in less posh places. Sceptre Tours has six-night trips with air/land for under $1,200 this summer.

Spain has Madrid, Barcelona, and Europe’s best high-speed rail system. Rates are flat from 2009, and you get good value for the dollar.

Eastern Europe is cheaper than any time since it became “hot” in the early nineties (down 15-20%). Only downside: flight time (12+ hrs) and higher ticket prices ($1,300 and up).

7. Perennial U.S. Deal

Washington, D.C.: The nation’s best collection of free museums. Fantastic for a family. Multiple lodging options in the District, and VA, and MD. Just don’t go in August, or you’ll melt.

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