Summer vacations are sold out. Here’s how to travel anyway.
Are you ready for the sold-out summer for travel? Ready or not, here it comes.
“Many prime destinations are either sold out or rates are super inflated,” says Limor Decter, a travel advisor with Embark Beyond.
Travel demand is sky-high in the summer of 2023. A new survey by the American Society of Travel Advisors says 30% of Americans plan to travel abroad this summer. And 47% of survey respondents ranked a vacation as their number-one discretionary spend — twice as many as the second choice, a home improvement or renovation (23%) or a new computer (10%).
What’s sold out? I asked HotelPlanner for places that were running at higher occupancy than usual this summer. Among the top spots domestically, Orlando, Las Vegas, New York and Honolulu. Internationally, London, Tokyo, Dubai and Amsterdam are overbooked.
Strategies for getting around a sold-out summer vary. A study by Global Rescue found travelers were using these tips for getting a room and flight:
- Most travelers (41%) booked trips in advance to lock in their reservations.
- Another 18% said they plan to travel during off-peak seasons to avoid high prices.
- Some 13% said they’ll look for undiscovered destinations or locales that are off the beaten path.
- And 11% said they would avoid weekends and holidays to sidestep crowds.
So what are the most effective ways to avoid a sold-out summer?
Look for alternatives for a sold-out summer
Travel advisors are busy sending their clients to alternate destinations, which may still have some availability.
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“For example, for those craving Amalfi or Capri, places such as Sardinia, Corsica, Croatia or even Portugal might offer similar sun and sea vibes,” says Decter. “For all those White Lotus lovers, other regions of Italy — Puglia or Forte dei Marmi or Cinque Terre — can offer a Sicily experience.”
- If you want a place like Mykonos or Santorini, try other Greek islands such as Paros, Crete or Zakynthos, says Decter.
- Want a European mountain, but Switzerland is all booked up? Try Slovenia or Austria instead.
- Looking for a European city but are priced out of Paris or London? Check out Ljubljana or Budapest.
If South Africa’s Kruger Park is sold out, consider Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana or Namibia.
Travel earlier — or later
A favorite contrarian summer vacation strategy is to aim for the beginning or the end of the season (technically, summer doesn’t start until June 21).
“Be flexible,” advises Ed Granville, chief operating officer at Red Savannah. “You can benefit from much better rates, and popular destinations are less busy.”
This strategy works, but you have to be careful about your choice of destination. For example, an early-season cruise in Alaska can be uncomfortably cold. If you hit the scenic Turkish Riviera too late in the summer, it might feel more like fall, and swimming in the Mediterranean might not be an option.
Choose an activity, not a place
That’s the advice of Daniel Green, co-founder of Faye Travel Insurance. He’s been watching the ebb and flow of summer travel bookings, and he says people are booking a vacation type rather than a particular place.
“Be flexible with the destination rather than setting your heart on a specific one,” he advises. “That way, you can choose what fits your budget and research that locale, making sure it’s not short-staffed.”
Faye says this summer, 60% of its U.S. sales are for Europe, 21% are for North America, 7% are for Asia, 6% are for Africa, 2% are for Central America, 2% are for the Caribbean, and South America and Oceania get 1% each. Which brings us to our next summer vacation tip.
Be a contrarian
Remember, if one destination is full, another one is likely empty. Consider scenic Olympic National Park in Washington State, where bookings are lower this year. Stephen Fofanoff, general manager of the Domaine Madeleine boutique hotel in Port Angeles, Wash., says visits are trending about 30% less than last summer.
“It’s a great alternative to one of the busiest national parks like Yosemite, Yellowstone, or Glacier,” he says. “Also, it’s easier to get to than those parks, with more lodging options close to or within the park that still have great availability.”
Olympic ain’t exactly chopped liver. You can explore a million acres of protected wilderness, seeing Alpine mountains with glaciers, glacial lakes, and wild Pacific beaches all on the same day. It is easily one of my favorite destinations on the planet.
“Be willing to alter your vacation dates to avoid weekends when occupancy is typically at its highest,” says Tim Hentschel, Co-Founder and CEO of HotelPlanner.
That means check in Sunday night and stay through Thursday, which sounds a lot harder than it is. Most American summer vacations are shorter than a week, so aiming for a weekday is pretty easy.
“Your favorite hotel or resort is much more likely to have availability during the work week,” says Hentschel.
Hire a pro
If you must go to a hot destination in the middle of the summer, don’t try to do it yourself. Hire an expert.
“Fortunately, as a travel consultant, I have connections with local suppliers who can access the hotel inventories and are connected with hotel management,” says Susan Sherren, founder of Couture Trips, a travel agency.
You’ll have to pay full price plus a fee to your agent, but you will get that dream vacation to Sicily or that magical theme park experience in Orlando this summer.
So which of these summer vacation strategies is right for you? All of them — or maybe none. It really depends on where you’re going.
“Overall, there are many alternate destinations and strategies that can help travelers experience the summer vacation they want without overpaying,” says Shelley Ewing, president of TierOne Travel.
Certainly, they’re all worth trying.
Elliott’s tips for a sold-out summer
I’ve been traveling nonstop for most of my career as a travel journalist. Sometimes, I have to travel to popular destinations during peak season, like last June when I spent a month in Paris on assignment. Here are my favorite strategies:
Aim for the suburbs. You don’t have to stay in the middle of town. Many cities have excellent mass transit, and you can find an affordable apartment outside of town. You might even have a more authentic experience. I certainly did.
Look beyond the same old booking sites. One of my favorite places for lodging is Blueground, which offers fully furnished medium- and long-term apartments at reasonable rates. While they’re not marketed to leisure travelers, anyone can use them.
Take a staycation. Of course, the ultimate contrarian tip is not to travel anywhere. Take a summer vacation like you did in 2020 — head out to your favorite state park and let everyone else fight the crowds.
Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t. He’s the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can’t solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. This article originally appeared in Forbes under the headline, Summer vacations are sold out. Here’s how to travel anyway.