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The Best Trips to Book in July: What to Lock in Now




Late-summer getaways, warm-weather vacations for the coming winter, once-in-a-lifetime experiences that must be booked a year out…and even a safari deal exclusive to WendyPerrin.com readers: These are the trips you’d be smart to lock down now. That’s because, this month, you can get the most value for your money, you still have a range of accommodations to choose from, and our Trusted Travel Experts still have enough time to work their magic and optimize every aspect of your trip.

(Don’t miss the rest of our series on what trips to book in each month of the year. If you prefer to know which destinations are ideal for traveling to in any given month, see our Where to Go When series, and don’t miss our comprehensive guide to the benefits of booking early.)

Exclusive Deal: Zambian Luxury for Less

Lounge chair at Sausage Tree Safari camp in Zambia overlooking pool and watering hole and elephants on safari

Every room at Sausage Tree Camp overlooks the Zambezi River in Zambia. Photo: Sausage Tree Camp

For: July through October 2019

Located on banks of the remote Lower Zambezi River, Sausage Tree Camp allows guests to explore Lower Zambezi National Park from a very private, uber-luxurious tented camp. Views from every room and the lounge area overlook the Zambezi, where elephant and hippo abound. Leopard, buffalo, lion, and rare wild dogs frequent the area, along with zebra, bushbuck, and kudu. Nocturnal animals such as porcupine, pangolin, and aardvark are often spotted too.

Why book in July? This month only, our Trusted Travel Expert has negotiated a special offer just for WendyPerrin.com readers: Book now and receive 30% off rates for stays from July through October 2019, which is prime game-viewing season.

Ask about a trip to Zambia

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London’s Quiet Summer Season

The London Eye Ferris Wheel

The London Eye Ferris Wheel. Photo: Celebrated Experiences

For: August 2019

London is ideal in August because the lack of business travelers drives down hotel rates, the weather is mild, and everything is open but the city is far less crowded—so it’s easier to get great seats to London’s renowned theater events, for example.

Why book in July? It’s your last chance to snag some of the best deals of the year—such as four nights for the price of three, or guaranteed room upgrades—at the city’s top four- and five-star hotels.

Ask about a trip to London

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Costa Rica for Christmas

Hot springs in Costa Rica

Hot springs in Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

For: December 2019

Christmas kicks off the dry season in Costa Rica, so it’s a great place to take your family for an eco-friendly holiday surrounded by nature. While you’ll feel good about helping preserve the country’s environment, your kids will love the abundance of available activities, including hiking, kayaking, and snorkeling.

Why book in July? By August, the top-rated eco-lodges are selling out for the busy December period. Since most families have a fixed window to travel during the school holidays, waiting to book will mean compromising on your accommodations.

Ask about a trip to Costa Rica

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St. Barts for Thanksgiving

Le Guanahani, St. Barts

Le Guanahani, St. Barts. Photo: Le Guanahani

For: November 2019

November is one of the best times to be in St. Barts: Many shops and restaurants have just reopened after hurricane season, so everything is fresh and new, but prices are still up to 40% lower than during high season—even over Thanksgiving.

Why book in July? Come the end of summer, many people start making Thanksgiving plans. Savvy travelers have their choice of villas or hotel rooms for the holiday by booking in July.

Ask about a trip to St. Barts

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this.

Mexico’s Caribbean Coast: Whale Shark Season

Tulum beach, Mexico

Tulum beach, Photograph courtesy of Journey Mexico

For: August or Early September 2019

For a few months each year, whale sharks congregate along Mexico’s Caribbean coast, feeding on plankton. These gentle creatures are not actually whales at all, but the world’s largest fish, weighing as much as 20 tons, with a length of up to 40 feet. They will even let you swim near them; and unlike many other sea life encounters, this is one that happens naturally, without the animal confined to a cage. You can arrange such an excursion from Isla Mujeres, Isla Holbox, the Riviera Maya, Tulum, or Cancun.

Why book in July? You still have access to the best accommodation, guides, and boats before the whale sharks swim away from the Mexican coast in early September; if you wait until August to make arrangements, you’ll have to settle for mediocre outfitters.

Ask about a trip to Mexico

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this.

Paris for Fall Fashion Week

The Eiffel Tower and surrounding gardens, Paris

The Eiffel Tower and surrounding gardens, Paris. Photo: Anthony Delanoix/Unsplash

For: September and October 2019

From September 23 to October 1, the city will be awash with models and fashionistas—it’s quite a sight. Join a small-group walking tour focusing on Paris’s couture fashion history between runway shows, or go shopping with an industry insider, with stops personalized to your style and budget.

Why book in July? Book now, while everyone’s still focused on the summer season, to ensure a room at a trendy hotel.

Ask about a trip to Paris

Ask Wendy to find the right travel specialist for your needs and to plan the best possible trip.  You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this.

Canada: An Arctic Odyssey

Arctic swimmer floating in snowy lake at Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge

Spend your summer in the Arctic. Photo: Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge

For: July and August 2020

Explore the vast landscape of the high Arctic: Ride ATVs across the tundra, paddleboard alongside beluga whales, fish for Arctic char, and go fat-biking over sea ice. Your basecamp for the trip is a luxury wilderness lodge 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle owned by renowned polar explorers and accessible only by charter flight. The wildlife here is rich, from muskox and polar bears to seals and migratory birds.

Why book in July? This lodge may have the shortest season of a hotel anywhere on earth: It’s only open in July and August. Not surprisingly, it often sells out a year in advance.

Ask about a trip to Arctic Canada

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this.

Italy’s Palio di Siena

Palio di Siena Janus Kinase

Palio di Siena, Italy. Photo: Janus Kinase/Flickr

For: July and August 2020

The Palio di Siena—a centuries-old, famously colorful horse race with bareback jockeys representing each of the city’s contrade, or districts—is held twice a year: on July 2 and August 16. More than just a 90-second-long race, the multi-day Palio festivities typify the pride and spirit of community felt throughout the city.

Why book in July? Seats for each of next year’s Palios go on sale as soon as this year’s event for that date is over. If you book as soon as the July Palio winds down, we can reserve an exclusive vantage point (such as a balcony overlooking the Mossa spot or the Curva di San Martino) for next year’s July race.

Ask about a trip to Italy

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this.

Bhutan’s Festival Season

Bhutan festival dancers

Fall is the height of “tsechu season,” or festival season, in Bhutan. Photo: Toni Neubauer

For: September through November 2019

Fall is the height of “tsechu season,” or festival season, in the tiny country of Bhutan; each district holds its own colorful tsechu, full of dancing, Buddhist blessings, and socializing that draws locals from near and far. Bhutanese festivals are a kaleidoscope of color, horns and drums resonate through the air, and the local populace turns out dressed to the nines. Merely attending one bestows merit on you for your next life.

Why book in July? Only two airlines, Druk Air and Bhutan Air, fly into the country’s sole international airport (Paro), so seats are extremely limited. July is your last chance to get the fall flights you want, without having to compromise on logistics. Moreover, many of the top hotels are tiny, so those convenient to the most famous tsechus are often sold out by September.

Ask about a trip to Bhutan

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Australia’s Fantastic Wildlife

kangaroos on kangaroo island Australia

Kangaroo Island, off the coast near Adelaide, is a top destination for animal lovers. Photo: South Australian Tourism Commission

For: October and November 2019

Many people head to Australia during the southern-hemisphere summer, but the continent’s unique wildlife—including kangaroos, koalas, echidnas, and a great variety of birds—is more active and visible (and the human crowds fewer) in the milder spring months of October and November. Two top destinations for animal lovers are Kangaroo Island, off the coast near Adelaide, and the Flinders Ranges, located due north of the city. In both regions, you’ll also find fabulous wildflowers in bloom.

Why book in July? Hotels and guides book up six months or more in advance for the peak summer season, but you’re safe planning just three or four months ahead for a trip during this secret shoulder period.

Ask about a trip to Australia

Ask Wendy to find the right travel specialist for your needs and to plan the best possible trip.  You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this.

Peru’s Inca Trail

Wiñaywayna ruins along Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

It is magical to approach the ruins of Machu Picchu on foot via the Inca Trail. Photo: Southwind Adventures

For: November 2019 or May and June 2020

November is the last chance to trek the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu before the wet season hits. It is magical to approach the ruins on foot, getting your first glimpse of the citadel from the Sun Gate, as many Incans did. On a private trek, it’s possible to arrange for a glamping experience with tents large enough to stand up in, inflatable mattresses, gourmet meals, and even a massage therapist. If you’re not up for a multi-day hike, you can take the train most of the way from Cusco and hike the last seven miles along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

Why book in July? Permits typically sell out four months in advance, so by August you’ll have to choose between hiking and camping in inclement weather, or holding off until next spring.

Ask about a trip to Peru

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this.

Los Cabos, Mexico, for Christmas

villa in Los Cabos Mexico with infinity pool

If you want to be in Cabo over Christmas or New Year’s, July is the latest that you will still be able to find space in a villa or hotel for your preferred travel dates. Photo: CaboVillas.com

For: December 2019

The winter months—and the holiday season in particular—are the most popular time of year for travel to Los Cabos. If you want to be in Cabo over Christmas or New Year’s, July is the latest that you will still be able to find space in a villa or hotel for your preferred travel dates.

Why book in July? Because if you wait until August (or even later), you’ll likely be stuck picking among extremely limited options that don’t quite match your requirements—accommodations with a long hike to the beach, perhaps, or not enough bedrooms to fit your group comfortably.

Ask about a trip to Los Cabos

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this.

Cartagena, Colombia: New Year’s Celebrations

The New Year's party at Sofitel Santa Clara in Cartagena, Colombia

The New Year’s party at Sofitel Santa Clara hotel in Cartagena, Colombia. Photo: Sofitel Santa Clara

For: December 2019

Each year, the crowds grow bigger and more glamorous as Cartagena rises higher up the list of worldwide hot spots in which to celebrate the New Year. There’s salsa dancing on the 17th-century city walls, parties all around the city, and of course a fireworks display at midnight.

Why book in July? Cartagena is a popular New Year’s destination for Colombians and foreigners alike. If you wait until August, you’ll have a hard time finding quality accommodations, guides, and boat charters for trips to the Rosario islands—a lovely escape from the city.

Ask about a trip to Colombia

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Maldives for a Last-Minute Getaway

aerial view of an overwater bungalow at Huvafen Fushi in the Maldives

Huvafen Fushi, Maldives. Photo: Huvafen Fushi

For: July through October 2019

The recent and upcoming openings of several new luxury resorts have left the Maldives with more rooms than travelers. Though in July and September you might experience an hour-long afternoon or evening rain shower a few times a week, this is prime surfing season and the best time for spotting manta rays and whale sharks.

Why book in July? The island’s hoteliers will eventually balance out supply and demand—but for now, there is a lot of availability at great rates. Flights have never been cheaper, either: We’ve seen round-trip airfare from the U.S. for less than $1,000 per person.

Ask about a trip to the Maldives

 You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this.

We’re here to help

If your goal is an extraordinary trip when the time is right, go to Ask Wendy. We know which trip-planning specialists have up-to-the-minute intel for your destination and can minimize your risk and maximize your experience. Check out Real Trips Right Now to see the difference that this makes.


Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

red case with red cross photo by peggy marco pixabay

How to Be Prepared for an Emergency When You Travel: Simple Steps

When you prepare for a trip, it’s smart to prepare for an emergency too. The threats of political unrest, natural disasters (hurricanes, wildfires, and earthquakes), and terrorist attacks—both at home and abroad—are not going away any time soon. But by all means don’t focus so much on highly unlikely, spectacular risks that you ignore the mundane risks that are far more likely to do you harm. For example, when I traveled to London, I optimized my family’s safety not by doing anything so extreme as avoiding the Tube (a target of past terrorist attacks) or abstaining from a cricket match at The Oval (another potential target, what with 24,000 spectators in a stadium), but by making sure that we looked both ways when crossing the street (it’s easy to look in the wrong direction in countries where people drive on the left) and that we used a bathmat in our rental apartment so we would not slip and fall in an unfamiliar shower.

In addition to keeping risks in perspective, here’s what I do to be prepared for emergencies when I travel:

Before Your Trip

1. Enroll in STEP.
Signing up for the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program makes it easier for the U.S. embassy to send you important information about safety conditions, contact you in an emergency, and help family and friends get in touch with you. Enrolling is easy and quick.

2. Activate your phone for overseas use so that, at a minimum, you can send and receive text messages.
That way you can communicate with others in your traveling party via text message, receive STEP security updates and Twitter Alerts (see #14) via text message, etc.

3. Depending on how remote or risky your destination is, consider carrying a satellite phone or satellite text-messaging device.
In an emergency, you could lose your ability to communicate by cell phone. Internet access could be unavailable as well. Satellite devices do not depend on cell-phone or Internet technology and are much less expensive to rent than they used to be. In countries where satellite phones are illegal—India and China, for instance—you can rent a local mobile phone.

4. Whatever your communication device is, carry extra battery power for it.
If you’re using a smartphone, attach a Mophie or carry a charging block; if you’re using a satellite phone, have an additional battery.

5. Choose a hotel in the right neighborhood, with the right TV news channels and high-speed Internet access.
If you’ve got CNN, BBC, Al-Jazeera, and fast Wi-Fi, you can easily monitor the news and check local English-language websites for news and help. Pick a hotel that is not located close to a symbolic plaza where protests and traffic jams occur (e.g., Taksim Square in Istanbul, or Tahrir Square in Cairo).

6. Book your trip through the right destination specialist.
This gives you a local fixer, advocate, problem solver. The travel specialists on my WOW List know which areas of their destination are safe and which aren’t, and arrange trips based on the latest on-the-ground intel. They connect you with the savviest drivers and “guides” — more expediters and strategists than traditional tour guides — who have the background and credentials to keep you safe and have access to key people in the country who will take care of you. I know this based not only on personal experience, having traveled under their vigilance, but also based on years of feedback from travelers. For example, when Nepal specialist Toni Neubauer had WendyPerrin.com travelers in Nepal during the 2015 quake, she quickly got them on a flight out of the country. (Read the review of Toni that the travelers, Joe and Rowena Burke, posted on Toni’s reviews page.) At dicey moments, Israel specialist Joe Yudin has kept WendyPerrin.com travelers safe (read Nadika Wignarajan’s review here), Turkey specialist Earl Starkey has as well (read reports from his travelers here). WOW Listers also provide you with the physical tools to stay safe: India specialist Sanjay Saxena, for instance, gives you an in-country mobile phone pre-programmed with numbers for local staff, hotels, emergency services, etc. Of course, his in-country and U.S. staff are available 24/7 as well.

7. Pack certain medicines.
Bring a prescription antibiotic and prescription pain reliever that you know work for you, in case you end up needing to be your own doctor. Bring iodine tablets (or one of the newer technologies) to purify dirty water too, since, in an emergency, bottled water supplies quickly run out.

8. Plot on a paper map where the local embassy, consulate, and best hospitals are.
In an emergency you won’t want to rely on your smartphone or Google Maps app to get you there; you’ll want to save your battery for calls to loved ones, doctors, etc. Know where the best hospitals are—not just for the capital city, which could be hours away from where you are when a crisis strikes, but for other cities too.

9. Purchase an emergency assistance plan.
A MedjetHorizon membership can get you safely out of a crisis situation 24/7 and can also get you out of a foreign hospital and back home to a hospital you know and trust. They can come to the rescue in the event of a terrorist or political threat, violent crime, or if you need a ground ambulance, specialty hospital transfer, or cash advance.

During Your Trip

10. Program your cell phone with emergency numbers.
Remember that 911 does not work for countries outside the USA and Canada. Here’s one list of local emergency numbers, but also ask your hotel concierge for the best numbers for the police, medical emergencies, and someone at your hotel who can help.

11. Carry a mini-flashlight.
You don’t want to get caught in the dark.

12. Carry your hotel’s business card, in the local language.
You can show it to police or taxi drivers to get back to safety quickly.

13. Carry a photocopy of your passport photo page and any visas.

Keep it on your person during the trip, in case the original is back at your hotel (usually the smartest place to keep it) or gets lost in the emergency.

14. Follow relevant Twitter feeds that can provide reliable, accurate updates and potentially life-saving alerts.
Such Twitter feeds will vary by destination and type of emergency. Usually, though, you’ll want to follow the U.S. embassy feed in the country you’re visiting, as well as the U.S. State Department’s feed, @travelgov. The @RedCross and Google’s Crisis Response Team, @GoogleCR, are also worth following, as are the local airport’s feed, which may post updates about airport delays and shutdowns, and the feeds of local hotels, which usually have an emergency action plan and may be offering help or a landline. You can also turn on Twitter Alerts for the feeds relevant to the destination you’re headed to.

15. Know that Google has a person finder and Facebook has a Safety Check feature.
In natural and humanitarian disasters, Google helps track missing persons. When a crisis occurs, Facebook activates its Safety Check feature: If you’re in an affected area, use it to alert friends and family that you’re okay; if you’re at home, you can use it to search for travelers and confirm their status.

If You Have a Trip Booked to an Area Perceived as Risky

* Don’t overreact: Realize that the geographic area affected is limited.

So often, when a crisis strikes a country, U.S. travelers unnecessarily cancel trips to a huge swath of the world surrounding that country. They avoid regions that have not been affected in the least—which would be like Europeans deciding against a trip to New York because there was an earthquake in San Francisco or a terror attack in Orlando. The Italy earthquake was no reason to cancel a trip to Tuscany, the same way the Nice attack was no reason to cancel a trip to the Dordogne.

* Don’t confuse the probability of an incident with the probability of becoming the victim of that incident.
Is it virtually certain that there will be another terrorist attack in Europe this year?  Yes.  Does that translate into a high degree of risk for the individual traveler to Europe?  No.

* Understand the psychological reasons why your fear of a terrorist attack is out of proportion to the risk—and why you fear a terrorist attack more than an earthquake.
I explain it in my article 7 Keys to Traveling Without Fear Despite Terrorist Attacks.

* Know where the real dangers lie.
Remember that the single biggest cause of death for Americans traveling overseas is motor vehicle accidents.


Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Michelin-starred restaurant La Leggenda dei Frati in Florence, Italy

This Traveler Has Used The WOW List to Plan 15 Trips: How and Why

What sort of traveler uses The WOW List?  You might assume it’s travelers who can’t plan their own trips, but you’d be wrong. It’s people who have planned so many trips so well that they have an exhaustive grasp of just how much you miss out on when you don’t utilize the best local expertise and connections—and a deep appreciation of just how much time and effort such meticulous planning takes.

Jeff Bernfield, for instance. He’s a physician from the Chicago area who has used Wendy’s recommended Trusted Travel Experts (TTEs) more than anyone else—a whopping 15 times. With his wife, and sometimes with the rest of his family, he’s been all over the globe on trips arranged by these destination specialists, including Italy, Africa, England, Japan, Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands, Norway, even Disney World. As you’d expect, he’s got a lot of tips to share when it comes to collaborating with travel specialists. So, in a phone call after a trip to Florence, Italy (where Wendy surprised him with a WOW Moment loyalty reward), we asked Dr. Bernfield to share his advice for how to get the best trip possible.

You’re more than capable of arranging your own travel. Why do you use The WOW List?

I could plan each trip myself—I’m a voracious researcher—but it’s so much easier to let one of these experts plan the whole thing for you and not worry about what could go wrong and what you’d do if something went wrong. I never ever have to worry because, even if something might go wrong, they fix it. They always fix it. It doesn’t happen very often, but it’s like having an insurance policy.

How do you choose which travel specialist to use for each trip?

What I usually do, I email Wendy. Wendy knows me by now, so I tell her where we’re going, and she’ll recommend the right one for me.

Do you read the reviews posted about each travel specialist on WendyPerrin.com?

I read all of the TTE’s reviews on Wendy’s site before contacting that TTE. I want to find out what that travel expert has planned and whether they’ve done something special—like, say, getting a traveler into Downton Abbey. I’ve never been able to get that; my wife is an obsessed Downtown Abbey fan but I couldn’t pull it off. My point is: If I read something in a review, that might tip my hand.

What’s most important to you in a travel planner?

I’m pretty big on communication and being accessible. Some Trusted Travel Experts are just incredible and if you shoot them an email, you get a response in ten minutes.

Do you prefer email or phone?

I definitely like the phone call. I always like to talk to somebody and know who I’m dealing with before I do business with them. And I like to have a back-and-forth discussion. I’m not the kind of person who says give me an itinerary for Southeast Asia and then I just do that itinerary. That’s not my nature. I like to pick people’s brains. I ask them: Why are you recommending this over this? I do a lot of reading, so maybe I’m on somebody’s dartboard somewhere [Laughs], but I like to have discussions about the itinerary.

In that first phone call, what should a traveler tell the Trusted Travel Expert?

I’ll tell them from the start what I’m looking for, and I’ll ask what are some of the things you offer, and then I’ll listen. I also ask about private experiences, since we like to dig into the culture and history. I always tell the TTEs: Let’s do something different, something that other people won’t do, don’t know to do. When we planned our trip to Japan, the Trusted Travel Expert sent us a list of 20 private experiences and told me to pick from them. I picked them all. I’m not saying everyone can or should do that, but I think if you like doing things different, that’s one of the advantages of having these experts plan your itinerary. So you’re not just going to the Louvre, not just doing the things any travelers can do; you’re going to someone’s home, taking a cooking lesson, taking a samurai sword lesson, meeting a priest at a high temple. In Italy we got to go to a dairy farm and see how they make Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. If you like doing different cultural experiences, there are a lot of assets that people on Wendy’s list have that I would try to find out about.

What are some of the questions travelers should ask?

I start with: What do you offer that’s different from the average tourist things? What cultural experiences can you access? Example: My wife is a picky eater. It so happens that she loves pizza, but in northern Italy pizza is not as common as in southern Italy. I told our Italy travel specialist, Maria, that my wife loves pizza, and would it be possible to take a pizza-making lesson?  At first she said, “Huh, I don’t know, pizza’s not that popular in northern Italy.” But she called me back a couple hours later and she said, “I got it!” She had arranged for us to meet a chef who would give us a pizza lesson. I asked the question, I didn’t know what kind of answer I would get, but if you have something specific in mind, ask for it—because even if they don’t normally do it, unless you ask for something impossible, they’re going to try really hard to accommodate your request. That’s important.

What else is important to communicate to your Trusted Travel Expert?

You have to know what you are and what you want. We don’t like beaches. We don’t like to sit around and do nothing. Some travel specialists will schedule you starting at 11am, but we get up at 7am. So you need to know what you want and ask the questions. Then we can figure out if they can handle my needs. It’s like anything else: You talk to somebody. Some are easier to talk to, more communicative, have an easy-going personality—but you figure that out quickly. That’s why a phone call is so important.

Thinking about reaching out to a WOW List travel specialist? Wendy’s got key advice for you too: How To Get The Best Possible Trip.

Wendy Perrin on a cruise ship

Watch: How to Choose the Right Cruise

People who say they wouldn’t be caught dead on a cruise have either never tried one or chose the wrong ship. There is an enormous variety of vessels and itineraries (including expedition ships, freighters, and yacht charters), but it’s vital to choose the right one for you, the first time. In this video, shot during my latest cruise, I lay out key factors to consider, as well as the pros and cons of different ship sizes and itineraries.

If you’ve got an additional savvy tip for picking the right cruise, by all means post it in the comments below. I may include the tip in an upcoming article featuring your advice! And if you’d like me to personally recommend the right cruise for your specific travel goals and needs, click to Ask Wendy.

Transparency disclosure: Our sponsor, MedjetAssist, provided the financial support that made it possible to bring you these travel tips.

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

road trip on a winding desert road

Don’t Take a Road Trip Without Packing These

Some road-trip packing essentials are no-brainers: rocking music, tasty snacks, and a whole lot of patience. But there are plenty of additional items that you might not realize you need…until you need them. Luckily, we’ve got your essential road-trip packing list right here. These items will help you save money, stay healthy, and stay sane during those long hours on the road. (You can also click over to TripAdvisor to see Wendy’s full list.)

Save money with a cooler

Pack your own water and snacks to save money and calories. The cooler (either the old-school kind that you fill with ice from the hotel, or the electric kind that you plug into your cigarette lighter) will also come in handy for picnic lunches. Which reminds us: Toss a picnic blanket in the back seat.

Save your skin with sun protection

For you and for your car. For you and the kids, we’re talking about the SPF kind, and not only for the times when you get out to stretch your legs. If you’re riding with the windows open, slather some on arms and faces—especially the driver’s left arm. Wendy also recommends bringing a windshield sun blocker; the steering wheel and seats can get very hot after a few hours in the sun while you’re all off hiking or seeing the country’s largest peach pit. A blocker will keep the car cooler and cut down on how much you need to blast the A/C once you pile back in.

Save your sanity with emergency kits

You’ll need three kinds to be prepared for just about anything: a first-aid kit, a roadside emergency kit, and a roadside assistance plan, either through an automotive club or an insurance company.

Save your back

In addition to regular stops to stretch your legs, Wendy likes to take along a lumbar support pillow to help prevent back pain from long stretches of driving. (Pro tip: a rolled up towel works in a pinch too.) Then each night at the hotel she likes to use rubber massage balls called T Spheres to roll out cramps and kinks.

Stay on track

Getting lost can be maddening, especially if everyone is tired or hungry and ready to get out of the car. If you’re using the GPS on your phone, be sure to bring a USB car charger so that you always have power (better yet, get a charger with multiple ports so other passengers can charge their devices too). Don’t forget a smartphone mount for your dashboard either, as they make looking at the phone for directions and playlist changes much easier—remember both of these tasks are for your copilot, not the driver! Wendy also recommends a paper map for road trips. Not only are they handy if your devices do run out of juice, but they provide a big-picture overview of the trip and can be used as a roadside-stop journal and kept as a memento of your adventures.

Stay connected

Whether you have to work during your road trip or just want to post pictures of your trip on Facebook, you’ll need to bring a few pieces of tech gear if you want to get online on the road. A portable Wi-Fi hot spot can be invaluable; or you can talk to your cell phone carrier about turning your phone into a hot spot (sometimes this incurs fees, so be sure to check). Finally, pack a voltage inverter; these are special chargers that plug into the car’s cigarette lighter one end and have a three-prong A/C outlet and USB ports on the other.

See Wendy’s full list of road-trip essentials and her tips for how to plan the ultimate road trip itinerary on TripAdvisor, where she’s TripAdvisor’s Travel Advocate, and follow her on Instagram for postcards from the California road trip she’s on right now.

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

how to plan a road trip

The Keys to Planning the Perfect Road Trip

Road trips are the great American summer vacation: wind in your hair, rocking tunes on the radio, kids/friends smiling in the back seat. But the magic doesn’t happen, well, magically. All road trips roll a lot smoother if they’re planned well: No one wants to be driving endlessly at 3 a.m. still looking for somewhere to eat or sleep. And no one wants to be bored in the back seat.

With some easy pre-trip thinking, you can ensure that everyone in your car stays happy and even has a meaningful, memorable trip. This summer Wendy’s sharing her hard-earned road-trip wisdom, culled from countless drives across America, in a series of articles on TripAdvisor. First up: How to plan the ultimate itinerary. I’ve summarized a few of the tips, but click here to read the full article on TripAdvisor, and we’ll see you on the road!

Get everyone on the same page before you ever step foot in the car.

What are your fellow road-trippers expecting from this vacation? Ask everyone to share their trip goals—and likes and dislikes—early in the planning stages. If one person is expecting mountains and outdoor activities but another was planning on stuffing their pie hole with a different pie in every state, you could end up with some road-trip rage. If you can all agree on a few things ahead of time, you’re going to be a lot happier when you’re on Hour 15 of Day 6.

Throw a map-planning party.

Grab an old-school map and plot out where you want to go and how you want to get there. Be sure to think about how far you really want to drive each day, and how long you want to stay in various stops. College towns can be fun and affordable overnight stops, with plenty going on whether you arrive early or late.

Give everyone a day to own.

If every person in the car gets to choose one part of the trip to be in charge of, then everyone’s wish list is more likely to get met. You can set this up so that each road tripper picks something to do, see, or eat each day—or you can give over a whole day to each passenger.

Consider whether you want to go back the same way you came.

A round-trip route could be boring at the end: The home stretch could feel like your vacation has already ended. Or it could give you the opportunity to see things you couldn’t fit in on the first leg. If you’re flying to a destination and renting a car, you might want to opt for a loop route so that you can save money by flying into and out of the same airport..

If your route is one-way, decide which direction is best.

At first glance, driving from here to there might seem the same as driving from there to here—but direction can affect a lot on a road trip. One way might mean amazing sunsets every night, or better weather, or views that don’t require you gazing across a lane of oncoming traffic in order to see the ocean. Bonus tip from science: Studies show that it’s the end of the trip that leaves the most lasting impression, so pick a route that ends with a memorable grand finale.

Seek out the small stuff—and leave time for kismet.

Small towns are packed with fun events during the summer: state fairs are full of quirky competitions and food on sticks; parades and festivals pop up all season; and off-the-beaten-path spots sometimes have surprising or quirky attractions. When you do stop, be sure to ask the locals for recommendations—they may help you discover a gem that’s not on your map.

See Wendy’s Guide to Planning the Ultimate Road Trip on TripAdvisor, where she’s TripAdvisor’s Travel Advocate, and follow her on Instagram for postcards from the California road trip she’s on right now.


Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

old fashioned cameras by Vladimir Morozov/Flickr

Passport Photos Are Expensive, But They Don’t Have to Be

Passport photos are some of the ugliest photos we ever take. And ironically, they are some of the most expensive too—you have to buy them in pairs that can cost as much as $15. And if you need more, you have to fork over another $15.

I was very frustrated by this recently because I’m preparing for a three-month trip in Asia and I needed to renew my passport and get photos for several visas (I also like to carry a few extra in my luggage just in case I need one at the last minute). And then I read about ePassportPhoto.com. The site offers a few solutions to the problems mentioned above.

First, take your own photo.

ePassportPhoto.com lets you take your own photo, and then sends you multiples for cheap.

ePassportPhoto.com lets you take your own photo, and then sends you multiples for cheap.

There’s no reason to pay so much money to have a bad photographer take a bad picture of you in front of a white screen. Seriously, so bad. I went to a local drugstore and the employee used a fish-eye lens, arguing that it was the best way to get the right proportions. I would argue differently.

Luckily, anyone who has a phone or a digital camera can take their own photo these days (and keep taking it until they get a good one). The State Department even provides very detailed directions on its site so that you can be sure you take one that will be acceptable for passport use. Just stand against a white wall, look directly at the camera, try not to smile, and snap away. If you use ePassportPhoto.com you have even less to worry about: They’ll let you know if the one you took is acceptable and then size it for you.

Or upload an existing one you already have.

If you prefer to have your photo taken professionally, or if you have a leftover professional passport photo (and since they usually come in pairs, that’s likely), you can still use ePassportPhoto.com to save some money on multiples. Just scan in the one you have and continue with the next step.

Next, print it for cheap…or free.

Go online to ePassportPhoto.com and choose the country for which you need a passport or visa photo. Next, decide whether you want the final result mailed to you at home; printed at a CVS, Walmart, or Walgreens; or if you want to print them at home yourself. Then just upload the photo that you took (or scan in the professional one you had taken), and decide how you want to receive them.

If you choose the print-at-home option—which is free—the website has an easy-to-use cropping tool to help you tailor your photo to the passport or visa you specified. Then you’ll just click download and voila! You have a single sheet of four images, which you can print out as many times as you need.

Four of my mug shots, tiled on one easily printable sheet by ePassportPhoto.com. I could print this at home, have it mailed to me, or have it printed at a local drugstore.

Four of my mug shots, tiled on one easily printable sheet by ePassportPhoto.com. I could print this at home, have it mailed to me, or have it printed at a local drugstore.

If you don’t have a quality photo printer (I don’t), you can opt to have a drugstore or ePassportPhoto.com do the printing for you. In those cases, the website will take care of sizing the image, and then it will create a tiled sheet of the photo—meaning it’ll fit four passport photos on a regular-sized 4×6 photo sheet (you’ll get two sheets total).

I chose to have my order routed to a local CVS for printing. When they’d been sent on to CVS, I got an email from one of the ePassportPhoto.com staffers, who reminded me not to mention the words “passport photo” when I picked them up. As far as CVS knows, you ordered regular 4×6 prints online, and they’ll treat your order the same way as if you’d ordered pictures of your dog.

The ePassportPhoto.com order of eight pictures—eight!—cost me just $8.99, plus about 20 cents that I paid when I picked them up at CVS, for the actual printing. That’s less than I would’ve paid for two passport photos at CVS if I’d used the traditional route. And if I’d printed them out myself at home, they would’ve been completely free.

The final step: Grab a pair of scissors and cut the sheet into separate little passport photos…and use the money you saved to buy yourself a little something for your trip.


Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.