An unwritten rule requires that we writers start each year with a "what will happen" column. And, for the most part, I hate the way so many of my fellow writers approach the subject. All too often, they zero in on predictions of changes that you either don't care about or can't avoid. To me, the only useful predictions are those that help you make better travel choices regardless of what others might do. So, in that context, here are three thoughts that might actually help you plan your 2012 travels.
Get Wired for Short-Fuse Sales
If you want to catch the best deals in 2012, you have to be wired. And you have to ask for the deals by signing up for various notifications. Purchase windows are getting shorter all the time. Last year saw the rapid growth of online "flash sale" agencies; now both established, large online travel agencies and major suppliers are bypassing specialist outlets and running their own flash sales. I keep getting press releases about one-day and other very short promotions—and they often provide some of the best deals of the year.
No mere mortal can possibly keep up with all these deals. The only way for an average traveler to stay in the loop and still have a life is to sign up for one or more of the many (almost entirely electronic) travel newsletters and deal bulletins. Some, including those issued by SmarterTravel, cover a broad spectrum of airfare, hotel, cruise, and tour deals; those from individual airlines, hotel chains, and others highlight their own promotions, and the big online travel agencies notify you when airfares drop to someplace you have specified. Notifications can be by email, Twitter, smartphone app, or RSS feed, through some combination of your computer, smartphone, and tablet.
Use the New Tech
I believe that 2012 will be a breakout year for VoIP calls by international travelers. Currently, MagicJack Plus is promoting no-charge calls to/from overseas locations over the Internet with its small, portable device. I've seen a number of smartphone apps that come close to the ideal that will come to fruition in 2012: allowing you to access the Internet and make calls to/from anywhere in the world without using the wireless phone networks at all, thus not using any expensive online voice or data minutes. Finally, you can forget about outrageous roaming charges or having to buy or rent a special overseas wireless phone.
If you don't already have a Kindle, tablet, or other e-reader, get one. Then you can forget about schlepping a pile of paperbacks for a trip or paying inflated prices at airport bookstores. A special advantage: If you've ever used up your stack of English language paperbacks while overseas, you'll appreciate the ability simply to download as many more books as you want anywhere you are.
Travel for Yourself, not 'Travelers'
If you're wondering about where to go or what to do next year, those lists of where everybody else is going are really no help at all. The most useful destination lists are those that identify where something special will take place or something new will open in 2012—SmarterTravel's Christine Sarkis prepared a good list last month—including places featuring a special interest you'd like to take in (such as the Netherlands' Floriade) and those hosting events you'd like to avoid (London Olympics).
Ignore those predictions of what "travelers" will do next year and where they'll go. Do you really care what destinations are "hot" or "hip," whatever the writers mean in those vaporous terms? The truth is that the destinations don't change much from year to year; what changes is mostly hype.
Ditto those solemn pronouncements about whether fares and rates will go up or down. You can't change what happens in the broad marketplace, so your focus should be on finding the best possible deals at whatever the prevailing price levels might be.
Ed Perkins on Travel is copyright (c) 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
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