Get in the Car and Go

Tips for last-minute summer travel that won’t break the bank.

Summer on the prairie is hot, people.

Hot, hot, hot.

When we first contemplated relocating to central Illinois, I comforted myself with the idea that we could make spontaneous weekend jaunts to awesome locales like Chicago and that summer would bring the chance to spend lazy days on the shores of Lake Michigan in a quaint little cottage.

Are you laughing yet?

I am, until I cry.

We’ve been to Chicago exactly twice, and both trips required more planning than the invasion of Normandy. Now, with another child on the way, our travel is once more restricted only to the essentials, like holidays with family back East.

Even that has been curtailed, thanks to my totally inconvenient due date of Aug. 11. I haven’t been allowed to travel since July 1. (Read previous Back Page column, “Road Tripping While Pregnant.”) So instead of our usual summer hiatus in Wellfleet, Mass., we’re landlocked here in Urbana.

But hey! That doesn’t mean you can’t go somewhere awesome. School’s out, dude. Take advantage!

In fact, do me a favor. Jump in your car or hop on a plane and get thee to the nearest large body of water. Then send me a postcard.

Because that’s the closest I’ll get to a vacation this year.

Get a Sitter

What? You say it’s too hard to pack all your kids in the car and hit the road?

Not so, says Debbie Dubrow, author of the family-travel blog Delicious Baby. This Seattle–based mom of two has plenty of advice when it comes to preparing for a spur-of-the-moment summer vacation.

Her first tip? Bring in the big guns.

Yup. Call your sitter.

“It can be stressful for kids when mom and dad are running around trying to pack, load up the car and finish last-minute details,” Dubrow says. “Instead of letting them get agitated, hire a sitter to hang out with the kids for an hour or two while you get ready to leave.”

Excellent tip there, because who wants to start off a trip with cranky kids? Not I. Nor do I want any cranky at all when we arrive, especially because I’ve forgotten something essential.

Keep a List

Since “forgetful” is my middle name, I really appreciated this next piece of advice: Keep a packing list in your suitcase.

“My needs change as the kids get older, so after each trip I update (my list) … and then put it back in the suitcase,” Dubrow explains. “Having a packing list helps keep me from throwing tons of things in the suitcase that I don’t need, and it helps me identify the things that never get used, so I travel a little bit lighter each trip.”

Dubrow also keeps a copy of her “essential travel items” list on her Web site. I highly recommend using it as a template for your own.

I know I will—after all, I managed to pack 10 pair of PJs for a five-day trip the last time we traveled. My sherpa, er, I mean, my husband, wasn’t too happy to be lugging around a suitcase the size of Mt. Rushmore.

Deals in Your Backyard

Speaking of Mt. Rushmore, just where are the best last-minute deals this summer? Should I pack my bikini? Or my hiking shoes? Or both?

Karen Johnson, director of sales and marketing for Shell Vacations Hospitality, says many travelers are forgoing far-flung destinations this summer.

“For last-minute travel, we’re finding so many travelers choosing to stay close to home and explore their own neighborhood,” Johnson says. “The best deals can be right in your own backyard.”

Look for theme parks offering discounts for in-state residents, and off-season options like ski areas and desert locations, are also great for last-minute deals, Johnson adds. Hotel lodgings in areas like these often are discounted to attract tourists, and local transportation is often thrown in for free, such as a hotel shuttle to and from the nearest mall.

In fact, many hotels and resorts are offering incentives to travelers who might otherwise stay home, thanks to record gas prices and an airline industry increasing fees and slashing flights.

“Shell Vacations, along with many other organizations, offers gas cards, food and beverage credits, and even discounts toward future stays,” says Johnson. “We know consumers want to travel, but they’re looking for ways to ease the pain at the pump. We’re packing in more value-added offerings, such as free groceries during their stay, organized family activities and deep discounts for local residents.”

She adds that plenty of families are still hitting the road this summer, but they’re making the choice to visit areas that are within driving distance, in order to avoid the airport.

Not me. I’ll be at home with my swollen, pregnant feet in the kiddie pool, looking out over the vast expanse of cornfield that makes up most of my backyard.

So scat! Go! Get in the car and take a vacation, for heaven’s sake. And have a mojito for me, would you?

Check out our Travel Deals column this week featuring last-minute summer discounts

Themes: Family Travel

User Comments

Great road trips check out for excellent road trip itineraries within (you guessed it) 71 miles of your home location (or thereabouts).