As the summer travel season quickly gets under way, pack your patience.
After all, it’s going to be a busy one. In fact, due to low gas prices (They’re about $1 a gallon lower than they were last year, and the cheapest they’ve been in at least five years.), a strong dollar, and the harsh winter we’ve had, “it could be the busiest summer ever,” says travel expert Chris McGinnis, founder of travel blog www.travelskills.com.
The numbers suggest that not only will more families be hitting the road this summer, they’ll also be taking to the skies: an estimated, record-breaking 222 million passengers are forecast to fly on U.S. carriers from June 1 to August 31, according to industry group Airlines for America, which represents the largest U.S. carriers. That figure includes 31 million travelers on international flights.
What else can you expect this summer?
No doubt, Europe is getting a lot of press right now, and while many families do plan to go there this summer to take advantage of the savings (It’s about 25% off!), Canada, which is already seeing a 16% increase in advance bookings year over year, is the “it” place for others. And rightly so, says McGinnis: “Not only is it also a great bargain, but it’s also a day’s drive for a third of the population. Plus, it’s clean, safe, and family-friendly.” Adds travel expert Kendra Thornton: “As families seek more active vacations, there has been a lot of interest in Banff and Lake Louise, in particular — this region offers hundreds of miles of trails, and multitudes of lakes with illustrious scenery and wildlife.”
When it comes to travel experiences, you’ve likely heard buzz words like “immersive,” “transformational,” “aspirational,” or “experiential” over the past few years. And while these types of trips have been — and continue to be — popular today (who wouldn’t want to surf with Laird Hamilton?), they’re becoming so common that they’re “not nearly as cool as they once were,” says Jen Murphy, an editor at AFAR, a travel magazine. “Bragging rights have diminished as travelers look for more empowering experiences — trips that push your boundaries both mentally and physically. They’re more personally fulfilling — you come back a changed person.”
Babysitters are AWOL
Multigenerational vacations are nothing new, but these days more families are staying in private homes and villas (in popular destinations like Europe, the Caribbean, Hawaii, Las Vegas and Orlando) as opposed to hotels. Cruises are also popular among multigenerational travelers. “You get more space and privacy; it’s an easy way to keep different generations, with different needs, happy” says travel expert Wendy Perrin. But this new sense of autonomy is creating a problem: Where’s grandma and grandpa when you need them to watch the kids for a few hours? AWOL. “Grandparents don’t want to stay in and babysit; they’re much more active these days — they’re out on the golf course, on the zip lines, or going through the sugar cane fields on Dune Buggies,” says Amy Graff, a family travel expert who also writes an online parenting column for SFGate, The Mommy Files. “This generation of grandparents wants to live it up!”
While it’s no surprise that parks are still the most popular stops on road trip itineraries, what’s changing the face of road trips this summer are the routes travelers plan to take. Rather than make a cross country trip, for example, most travelers will opt for short, regional routes closer to home. Or, they’ll fly to a city and make a round-trip within the same state. Also changing: the alternative stops travelers plan to make. “It’s becoming more about local discovery,” says Perrin. And as kids become more involved and take greater ownership of the road trips, they’re not only helping with the navigation and putting together playlists, they’re also using their smartphones to map things out impromptu, like finding offbeat attractions or “a cool diner they want to try,” says Murphy.
No more ‘Mac and cheese’
“In the past, interesting food experiences were just a grown-up thing, and the kids would just have ‘mac and cheese,’” says Perrin. But with kids’ palates becoming more adventuresome, due in part to the popularity of TV cooking shows like “MasterChef Jr.” and “Chopped,” parents are now actively seeking out culinary excursions that the whole family can enjoy. “Whatever the destination, it involves meeting the locals, and seeing and learning how to make authentic things — whether pizza, pasta, cheese, chocolate or tiramisu — with kid-friendly cooks and guides,” says Perrin.