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Summer Vacation 2001: Making the Best of a Bad Situation

As Americans gear up for summer travel, National Geographic Traveler editor Keith Bellows predicts a less than stellar season. In an interview aired on the television news show National Geographic Today, Bellows talks to Tom Foreman about making the best of a bad situation during the 2001 summer travel season.

Keith, first of all, how bad is it?

Well I hate to be a naysayer, but this could be the worst summer in probably a decade.

There is the situation in California, Oregon, and some of the western states where the energy crisis has pushed the hotels into a mode to putting a little tariff on every room—two dollars here, three dollars there.

You have problems with the airline system, inevitable problems. It's going to be a nasty summer out there from that point of view. You've got rising gas prices. We don't know where they are going to go, but you're looking at at least two dollars a gallon probably. It's not a great situation.

For driving, flying, no matter what you are going to do there's got to be something good about this—a bright side to all of this. What do you see?

Well there is. Obviously as a travel editor, I don't want you to stay home.

Where should I go and how do I get there?

First of all Amtrak, for instance, if you want to get a family fare. Jump on it right now, all the way through June.

Continental Airlines has some specials that are going on. And what we are seeing are some cities, New York for instance, pretty much the most expensive city, [along with] San Francisco in the country, you are starting to see the room rates come down. Philadelphia is another great deal.

What you are going to see in the next month is the economy, especially in the travel sector, react to us. And we are going to say, "This is getting expensive." It is going to be hard to take the family out on the road.

You are going to see more and more deals. The airlines that are not on strike—and there will be some of them—they are going to be really competitive. They are going to be giving great fares.

How do you find these things?

Again, the Internet, [and] look at our magazine.

I think you really just have to be flexible. This is sort of the headline for the summer. Usually most of us say, "Okay, we are going to plan for June, plan for July, plan for August," and we do it ahead of time. I think what you have to do this summer is be a little more flexible. Because it is going to be difficult to count on, say, Delta Airlines flying to the destination that you want at the time you want. We don't know if they are going to be flying.

So you think it's more a matter of getting your vacation timed planned but then being wide open to possibilities—looking for the deal and then nailing it quick?

That's exactly right. I think that most Americans in the summertime like to stay fairly close to home. But I think the idea of blocking out the time and basically saying to the family and everybody, "We don't know where we are going but we are prepared to get there in the most economical way possible." That's actually kind of fun.

Well I hope it works out for all of us.

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