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Ask the Patch Pro: Local Experts Answer Questions About Planning Your Vacation

Our panel of experts are waiting in the comments to answer all your questions about planning your vacation in the latest installment of Ask the Patch Pro.

It's time for another edition of Ask the Patch Pro, where each week we tackle a different topic and open up the comments section for questions. Our team of experts stop in to help you out and answer your questions.

This week we're talking about vacation planning. We still have a few months before it's time to get out the flip-flops and beach towels, but it's not too early to start planning your spring and summer vacations.

Patch wants to help you get your questions answered. But we needed some help.

We've compiled a team of experts to help us out. Meet the experts:

  • Ken Curfman: Certified Travel Consultant 
  • April Windmann: TravelPlex Travel & Cruise-St.Peters
  • Leona Greeves: Cruise Planners and More-Your Travel Connection-
  • Sarah Bernard: Owner/Manager of Vacation Properties at Innsbrook Resort
  • Sue McCarthy: Co-host Travel Planners Radio Show/Travel Freelance Writer.
  • Cassie Wasem: Travel Agent/Disney Specialist
  • Brittnay Holt: Travel Consultant Five Star Travel & Cruises
  • Nancy Luechtefeld: Unique Journeys LLC
  • Elizabeth Hollman: Owner/Travel Specialist Me and The Mouse Travel
  • Barbara Bowling, CTC: Mid Rivers Travel

Have a question for our experts? Ask below!

Jordan Lanham February 07, 2013 at 03:15 PM
If you want to plan a vacation for July, when is the best time to start?
Barbara Bowling February 07, 2013 at 03:31 PM
Hi Jordan, Alot would depend on where you are planning to travel to. For instance to Europe it is high season and you should be in the planning stages now. Even though it can be hot in destinations like Florida, summer is also a time for alot of families to travel, so again, to find the best availability, I would be booking now. Some people will wait until the last minute looking for that great "deal", but just beware that this can often backfire on you as there is no longer a way to predict travel booking patterns and you may just find things sold out! The best thing would be to contact a travel agent and get more particulars on your desired destination. Hope this helps!
Denise Bertacchi February 07, 2013 at 03:37 PM
We want to take the kids to DC this summer. Is it possible to find airfare for four that's under $1200 for all of us?
Barbara Bowling February 07, 2013 at 03:43 PM
Just to start the conversations rolling, March 9th (Saturday) the US Passport Service is having "Passport Day in the USA". Traveling Internationally from the US (with a few exceptions where a "passport card" is ok) requires everyone of all ages to have a valid passport. So if you need a first time passport or renewal and don't want to take off work during the week, this is a your chance! For more information here is the link to the goverment passport site. http://travel.state.gov/passport/passport_5535.html Did you know that brides, you can get your passport name changed to your married name for "FREE" as long as you do it withing 1 year from date of issue. Barb Bowling Mid Rivers Travel
Sue McCarthy February 07, 2013 at 04:23 PM
If your July vacation falls over a holiday then you need to start planning sooner. Start by checking out the various websites for airfare (if flying) and hotel packages. It's never to early to start planning. Sue McCarthy, Travel Planners Radio
Ken Curfman February 07, 2013 at 04:33 PM
Jordan, It is never too early! There are a great deal od specials and bonuses out there that you can take part in. Also, keep in mind that airfare continues to climb and that a vacation package can not guarantee the airfare until paid in full, so better off getting it booked early. Hope this helps with your vacation planning Ken Curfman Prime America Travel 314-472-3620
Sue McCarthy February 07, 2013 at 04:40 PM
Denise, What are the ages of the kids? This will make a difference on the price of tickets. What month do you plan on going? Take into consideration August is hot & humid in August, just like St. Louis.
Lisa February 07, 2013 at 04:48 PM
Do you have any tips on getting the best airfare prices? Do the prices drop on certain days, or certain weeks or months before the date? I am planning for a trip 5 months away and the airfare seems high right now. Should I hold off for a better deal?
Brittnay February 07, 2013 at 05:07 PM
Hi Denise! Yes it is possible. The first place I like to look is Southwest.com. They usually will have the lowest fare. I just looked for you and if you were available to go June 1 - 7 the total cost for all four of you would be around $800. Southwest always has deals going on specially the "wanna get away" prices. If you need any help or want more information i'd love to help you and your family get to DC. Hope this information helps! Brittnay, 5 Star Travel & Cruises
Barbara Bowling February 07, 2013 at 05:13 PM
Hi Lisa, The long and short answer again is "it depends"! It's too long to post here, but I'll give you a link to a very good article that helps break down booking trends and gives some tips for both Intl and domestic air travel. Keep in mind however, with all of the consolidation in the airline industry over the past few years, planes are fuller than ever. If you absolutely must have certain times and/or dates, I wouldn't play the waiting game. It often backfires. If you need more than just airfare and are looking for accommodations, car rental, shows etc, there are often "packages" available that a travel agent has access to. Often the package fares are negotiated fares that are exclusive to a certain Tour Operator and they are generally good rates. If your travel dates are over a holiday or there is anything big happening in your destination, such as a convention or annual event, then don't wait! Here is the link to the article: http://www.denverpost.com/smart/ci_22063800/insider-tips-getting-best-airfare-deals Good Luck! Barb Bowling Mid Rivers Travel
Brittnay February 07, 2013 at 05:20 PM
Hi Lisa! If you can fly during the week, the rates will be a little lower. Business people tend to fly out on Mondays and come back Fridays, most people like to fly out on Fridays to get "extra" for the weekend and come back on Saturday or Sunday. Try looking at rates to leave on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. If you wait til the last minute, you might not have a good flight schedule, so the earlier you can book the better off you will be not only for prices but for schedule as well. Hope this helps! Brittnay, 5 Star Travel & Cruises
Sue McCarthy February 07, 2013 at 05:27 PM
Lisa, Several of the airlines and airline info sites (SW Airlines, Airfarewatchdog.com, BestFares.com) have deal alerts that you can sign up for (FREE) that will be a good start. Airlines post new sales on Monday night, release the info to the web Tuesday morning and if you go to the sites Tues. after 3pm Eastern you will find the lowest fares. The sales will disappear by Thursday night usually. Rates are higher a couple weeks before you plan on going. Take into consideration summer is peak travel time and winter rates drop. Wednesday is considered the cheapest day to fly. Suggested booking dates for airfare are: Domestic 3 - 4 months in advance. International 4 or 5 months in advance. Keep an eye on fluctuating fares. Hope this helps.
Sue McCarthy February 07, 2013 at 05:29 PM
Denise, Another thing to consider is baggage. SW Airlines has free baggage and other airlines will charge $25 and up per bag for checked baggage. Something to consider when you are adding up your airfare.
Barbara Bowling February 07, 2013 at 05:29 PM
Hi Denise, Possibly! How's that for a definite answer. See my response to Lisa below. Airfares change constantly. At last count I read that over 65,000 fare changes a day are made. Specials come and go based on capacity and booking cycles. Sometimes a fare special will be available for a limited window of purchase, for a limited number of specific allotment of seats on the flight and will have specified travel periods. For instance there are fares to DCA if purchased by today 2/7 for travel between 4/3 and completed by 6/8 for a base of $159.00 per person round-trip. What may be available tomorrow only a crystal ball may tell. You may also want to check remote airports such as BWI (Baltimore) where it is an easy commute into the capital. See my note to Lisa about travel packages. This may be the way to go for your family. Barb Bowling Mid Rivers Travel
Jennifer R. February 07, 2013 at 05:34 PM
I am planning a trip to Puerto Rico for myself and my husband for the end of April. Any recommendations for reasonable resorts and airfare? Which online website is best for booking packages online?
Mike K February 07, 2013 at 05:50 PM
@Jennifer: If you're asking a travel agent for their expertise and knowledge and ability about setting up a travel package to your destination, why not use one? Do you work for free? Just sayin'.
Cassie Eckhart February 07, 2013 at 05:51 PM
The tourism website of Huatulco, Mexico states that the tap water of Huatulco is safe to drink. I'm skeptical. What say you?
Brittnay February 07, 2013 at 05:53 PM
Hi Jennifer! I would recommend contacting a Travel agency to help you with your vacation package. You will know that you get personalized service to help you with your travel needs and find you the right place to go whether it be in Puerto Rico or somewhere else. My job as a travel consultants is to help you find the best price out there for you and find something that will suite your needs for your vacation. If you book something online, you are on your own. With a travel agent you have security to know that they will be there to help you before, during, and after your trip. As far as planning for something in April for Puerto Rico, the price is going to depend on what your looking for and what you expect to get out of your vacation. Everyone has different needs. I would highly suggest you contact an agency to help you so you know your getting the best price and you get the customer service you deserve. Hope this helps!
Barbara Bowling February 07, 2013 at 06:30 PM
Hi Jennifer, Booking online can be a drain on your time,confusing and are you sure you are getting what you really want or the best value for your hard earned dollar? A travel agent can guide you through the whole process. Travel agents work on a regular basis with the tour operators who package vacations for best pricing. If things go wrong, a Travel agent is also your advocate and will help with emergencies and follow up! We are there for you before, during and after your trip. A good travel agent is focused on your needs and desires and this translates into delivering the experience you are looking for at the best value. If you book online, keep in mind the old adage,” You get what you pay for” Most Travel agents are compensated in the form of commission from the Tour operators, cruise lines, etc.Typically there isn't added cost to you,and often there are added benefits,such as upgrades or credits on board cruises. Puerto Rico has several hotel areas, I would want to speak to you and learn more about what your "vacation style" is before recommending a particular property. Unlike many other destinations, Puerto Rico doesn't have all-inclusive properties. Some may offer meal plans, others will have casinos and sports facilities on site. Working with an agent can benefit you in getting the right price, schedule, and experience. P.S. Puerto Rico is a US territory, US citizens do not require a passport. barb@midriverstravel.com
Barbara Bowling February 07, 2013 at 07:04 PM
Heard of "Montezuma's Revenge" or I like this one better, the "Aztec 2 Step" Both refer to maladies that travelers encounter when eating and drinking patterns change from what they are accustomed to. This isn't just Mexico either! I don't drink tap water at home so I'm not about to in a foreign country. Don't rinse a toothbrush in tap water or open your mouth in a shower.Just because water has been filtered or treated, doesn't mean it isn't going to upset your system. Cholera, typhoid and hepatitis A can be contracted from contaminated food and water. Some tips for staying healthy: Always wash your hands after going to the toilet, before handling food and before eating. 2 words, Hand Sanitizer Drink only bottled water and check the seals are unbroken Boil water or filter it using a water 'purifier' Eat fresh, thoroughly cooked food that is still piping hot Avoid food that has been kept warm You should avoid ice used in drinks and used to keep food cool, unless you’re sure it is made from treated or chlorinated water Uncooked fruit and vegetables, unless you can peel them yourself Food exposed to flies Ice cream from unreliable sources, such as kiosks or mobile traders Milk, cheese and other dairy products unless they are pasteurised and have been properly refrigerated Under cooked or raw seafood or shellfish Excessive amounts of alcohol Always pack an emergency pack, (another topic) but have Antidiarrheal medication and antacids.
Sue McCarthy February 07, 2013 at 10:54 PM
Cassie, Thanks for your question. You don't mention which hotel/resort you will be visiting. From my research on Huatulco (Wha Tool Co) it states that there are nine bays and four of those are in eco preserves where there is no development permitted. This would make you think that the drinking water would be safer to drink. The area is serviced by modern water and sewage treatment systems. The site said it would be safe to drink the water from the tap and this is unheard of in most Mexican resorts. I also spoke with a couple who just returned from an all-inclusive resort in Huatulco and on the bus to the resort someone told them not to drink the tap water. He had ice cubes in his drinks and she drank wine most of the time. Bottled water was not available. They both got sick with the old familar lower intestinal sickness. Several years ago when I visited Mexico the PR person told me to have a yogurt every day for breakfast to help combat the intestinal problem. Always clean or peel any fruit and stay away from ice cubes and tap water, use only bottled water when possible. Take meds with you in case you need them.
Sue McCarthy February 07, 2013 at 11:01 PM
Cassie, I also wanted to add my favorite travel tip wherever you travel. Take a rubber band and attach your toothbrush to a bottle of water. This way, you will wet your toothbrush and rinse your mouth with bottled water and not accidently use tap water.
Sue McCarthy February 07, 2013 at 11:30 PM
Jennifer, I will recommend a website we have used and it is the one we talk about on our Travel Planners Radio Show,the weekly special Deals n Steals on www.bestfares.com They offer airline, hotel, car info and packages. I would also like to suggest to check out some of the hotels/resorts on TripAdvisor.com for guest comments and recommendations. Another site would be www.lonelyplanet.com Check out www.PuertoRico.com for island info. April temperatures in San Juan range 74-86 degrees, if you plan on going into the mountains they will have cooler temps and rainy.
Jordan Lanham February 08, 2013 at 01:36 AM
Thanks to all of our experts for sharing these great tips!
Ken Curfman February 08, 2013 at 02:45 PM
Jennifer: I like either Funjet or GoGo Vacations. I personally like using packages as you usually can get better rates. I am a PR expert so would be happy to assist. Ken Curfman Prime America Travel 314-472-3620
Ken Curfman February 08, 2013 at 02:50 PM
here is a website to check out and see what's out there.. http://www.funjet.com/default.aspx?pLCode=71753630C3

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