MINNEAPOLIS -- As Minnesota stands on the brink of summer, the thoughts of Minnesotans turn to time off. Particularly in these tough economic times, the quest continues for fun and/or relaxing spots to visit that so not flatten one's wallet.
That would seem to leave out the long driving vacation as gasoline prices range from $3.50 to close to $4.00 per gallon. However, Pam Lehan, President and CEO of the Women's Club of Minneapolis, has chosen to hit the road, rather than the airport. Pam is planning to drive to visit family back East, although she knows that will take numerous fill-ups.
"I feel like the airlines are passing that fuel charge, they are getting, on to the consumer. We also want to see where we are going," said Lehan. "We did comparative shopping. We looked at what the flight would cost and our baggage fees and the upcharge on the seat prices. We would have to rent a car when we got there. So, we thought, let's take the car and see the sights."
Lehan admits that she does usually fly but says the costs are really comparable. She is driving "a small-medium car, not an SUV" that gets about 26 miles per gallon on the highway. "I feel that we are not spending any more than if we had flown."
We turned to Renata Faeth of the downtown Minneapolis office of AAA for trip advice. She insisted that it is a matter of cost and desired destination for Minnesotans.
The main vacation driving destination for Gopher Staters is the Rapid City/Black Hills area of South Dakota. Attractions there include Mount Rushmore and the under-construction Crazy Horse Memorial. She did not describe it as "cheap", but very popular. "Prices vary, but lots of my customers describe these destinations as the trips that gave their families the most lasting memories for the money spent," commented Faeth.
For farther trips by air, Faeth suggested trying some traditional summer vacation spots, especially Orlando. "The air is affordable, much more affordable than in the winter and hotels are maybe 40% off. You can easily get something for under $100 a night near the theme parks," said Faeth.
She said hotels across the country are running some "great bargains", even offering some reimbursements on gas money for those who are driving. Faeth said she priced flights to some U.S. cities and found "reasonable" round-trip fares as follows:
The lower fares often require flexibility on travel days (many are mid-week to mid-week).
She said fares are reasonable this summer to New York City as well. However, cost-wise, avoid the downtowns of big cities. "If you want to save a few bucks,we recommend that you stay on the fringes of the city, use public transportation, stay in a more moderately priced hotel with one of the big chains," said Faeth.
Getting there and back is one thing. The cost of staying there is another. She noted that most of the major chains such as Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott and Best Western have moderately priced accommodations "just outside the core of the city."
For a more exotic destination, Faeth recommended "Alaska cruises" and patience. "Every year, about June or July, we start to see the cruise lines coming out with some deals, especially for mid-week travel, late August, early September," she said.
Alaska cruises that begin and end in Seattle offer the best deals, according to Faeth. She also likes the cost of some foreign travel this summer. 7-day cruises from Barcelona, Spain or Rome, Italy can be had for under $1,000 per person if one can find cheap air fare to get there. She notes that some people have enough frequent flyer points, for example.
South America can be economical, since summer in Minnesota is winter south of the equator. Buenos Aires is one city that gets good reviews for price and appeal.
Minnesotans can always choose to vacation in their own state, hiking, camping or fishing at the numerous resorts within easy driving distance. Internet discount sites like Livingsocial.com offer discounts at local and international resorts.
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