Tips for winter travel

Tuesday, January 3, 2012
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Though summer seems synonymous with vacations, winter can be a great time to travel. For one thing, you can escape the winter chill in Southeast Missouri for a few days, or more if you like. It can also be more affordable to travel in winter, with hotels and resorts offering off-season deals and prices.

Carolyn Kempf of Elite Travel in Cape Girardeau says when most people are planning a winter vacation, they look for "affordability, close proximity, good roads, good driving. And they're looking for places that give good value."

DRIVE TIME

Kempf says the Gulf Coast from Gulf Shores, Ala., to Destin, Fla., is the most frequently requested winter vacation spot.

"It's an easy drive," she says. "About eight to 10 hours, depending on the person driving. And it's good, solid roads going to those two destinations."

Driving also saves the cost of an airline ticket, and because it isn't peak season, lots of homes and condos offer deals, too. "We get awesome promos for the fourth night free or a one-bedroom for $99," Kempf says.

She says a lot of people also choose to drive to New Orleans, a departure point for many cruise ships. Cruises provide a lot of value, Kempf says, because all meals are included.

Whatever the destination, if you're making a road trip, you need to be prepared.

"We have had people ask us to map out gas on the route," Kempf says. "We get a lot of requests for road trips with pet-friendly hotels. You need to plan ahead of time if you're taking dog."

You also need to make sure your car is prepared. Have it serviced a week or so before departing, asking the mechanic to make sure everything is in good shape. Make sure your tires are properly inflated before hitting the road. Tires should be inflated to the vehicle manufacturer recommendations printed on the vehicle door placard or in the glove box and should be checked at least monthly. Over-inflation can lead to premature or irregular tire wear and under-inflation reduces a vehicle's fuel efficiency by an average of 3.3 percent.

You also need to have a survival kit handy. A flashlight with fresh batteries, a blanket, water bottles, cellphone charger, jumper cables, flares, a "help" sign and a first aid kit will prepare you for emergency situations or unexpected breakdowns.

FLY AWAY

Las Vegas is also a popular place to escape the cold. "Vegas is inexpensive to get to, and you're in the desert in winter, so there's nice weather," she says Kempf.

And, if you're on a budget, there are good deals to be had vacationing in Las Vegas.

"Air tickets to Vegas cost a couple hundred bucks, and if you stay Monday through Thursday you can get half-price rates for hotels," Kempf says.

The city also is a smorgasbord of good food and good entertainment.

For people planning a longer get-away, Kempf says Hawaii is good option to escape winter weather.

"People usually stay (in Hawaii) for three weeks," she says. "In the winter, people book an extended stay -- 10 days is a pretty good average."

If budget isn't a concern, Kempf says the Mediterranean is an upscale destination. You can also escape winter completely by heading to the South Pacific, where it is summer now.

Kempf says flying in winter requires some extra attention and planning to avoid potential weather-related delays.

"If they're flying, we try to route them through southern hubs," she says. "You very rarely out of St. Louis can get nonstop to many places. If you were going to Los Angeles, and you were in Cape, we would suggest you drive to Memphis and fly nonstop. If going to Honolulu, go from Memphis to L.A. You're not going to have a weather delay."

Kempf says other southern hubs to consider are Phoenix and Dallas.

She also suggests traveling in January if you have the flexibility. "January is less expensive and we don't tend to get big snows and ice storms in January," she says.

Kempf also highly recommends travel insurance in case you find yourself stranded in an airport or can't make it to your destination.

"A weather delay is considered an act of God, and airlines are not responsible for compensation," she says. Travel insurance will compensate you for your loss and also cover costs for a hotel room if you're stranded somewhere between home and your destination.

Travel tips

Carolyn Kempf of Elite Travel suggests doing the following things before leaving on vacation.

1: Reconfirm your flight. "Most cancellations happen last minute," she says.

2: Pack accordingly. "Check the weather for your destination. If you're going to North Dakota and it's 45 below, you need the right gear."

3: Stay on top of technology. "If you're going to be traveling, you need to be able to have email, cellphone, ways to communicate," she says. That way you can know about cancellations or delays as soon as possible.

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