If you put off your summer vacation until now, don’t worry — there’s still time to get away. It may already be late summer, but you still have options. Lots of options.
Don’t take my word for it. Just ask Scott Kubly, who helps thousands of Seattle-area residents plan their vacations.
“When it comes to an end-of-summer or early fall getaway in the Pacific Northwest, you have choices,” says Kubly, the CEO of Cabana, a luxury camper van rental company based in Seattle.
It’s a good time to travel, too. According to property-management platform Guesty, reservations for fall travel in the Pacific Northwest remain stable. Booking volume is up only 2% from last year, so there’s plenty of availability. But it’ll be more expensive. The average vacation rental in the area costs $315 per night, up 27% from last year.
This summer has been different for travel: Gas prices have soared along with hotel rates. And then there’s air travel, with its cancellations, sky-high fares and comically awful customer service.
Will things finally improve as summer ends? Experts think so, but no one knows. For Seattle-area residents, there are three late-summer and early-fall vacation strategies that might work. It all depends on how far you’re willing to go.
One of the best ways to avoid the hassle of travel is not to travel far. Fortunately, the Pacific Northwest has some of the best destinations for a late-summer vacation. Among Kubly’s favorites are places you can explore while the weather is still warm, such as Mount Rainier, the North Cascades or Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. Also high on his list is a kayak tour of Bellingham Bay to catch the tail end of bioluminescence season, which runs until the end of September.
“I’m planning to take an early fall trip to Olympic National Park for beachcombing on Shi Shi Beach and hiking along Cape Flattery,” Kubly says. “I also plan to explore Sol Duc and the Hoh Rainforest. That’s what I love about the Olympics — you’re able to capture so many stunning landscapes and become completely immersed in nature, all in one trip.”
But a local trip isn’t without its hazards. Kubly is advising his customers to monitor fire maps to avoid getting smoked out. He recommends they bookmark two government sites: InciWeb and AirNow, which track major fires and air quality, respectively.
Many of Washington’s best local destinations involve long stretches of travel along the Interstate 5 corridor. Many Seattle-area travel experts warned of traffic problems, even during the late summer and early fall.
“Expect heavy traffic going both north and south on weekends, especially in areas around Seattle, Bellingham, Olympia and Mount Rainier,” says Bryn Culbert, a longtime Seattle resident and travel expert for Wanderu, a bus and train booking site.
Wanderu has seen a 25% increase in train ticket sales this summer compared to last year. She says Amtrak’s Cascades and Coast Starlight train routes can often get you to your destination in the Pacific Northwest faster than a car.
Go a little farther
Some experts say that as travel slows down at the end of the summer, it’ll be the perfect time to travel around North America. Peggy Cleveland says fall is an ideal time for a road trip to Canada or a cruise of Alaska’s Inside Passage. “You can snag some great deals,” says Cleveland, author of “100 Things to Do in Tacoma Before You Die.”
She says discount-travel sites show multiple cruises marked 80% off or more. And for Seattle residents, these vacations make sense.
“There’s no flying, so you avoid the craziness,” she says. “And you’re on a ship, so your vacation starts as soon as you board.”
She’s taking her own advice and plans to book an Alaska cruise in early fall.
Dan Driscoll likes to head to Idaho to escape the crowds. His favorite destinations are Sandpoint and Coeur d’Alene, both in Idaho’s panhandle. “They have stunning golf courses, excellent fly-fishing — and you may even get to wear a fleece as the sun goes down,” says Driscoll, the co-founder of a vacation-rental company.
If you can’t make it all the way to Idaho, why not stop in Spokane? It’s only a 4 1/2-hour trip from Seattle, and offers terrific city parks with urban walks, restaurants and fall foliage. You’ll want to plan a trip in mid-October to see the most vibrant colors. (Disclosure: When I’m not traveling the world, I call Spokane home.)
Go the distance
You could also throw caution to the wind and get out of town — way out of town. This fall may be one of the best opportunities in years for an international trip. Earlier this summer travel season, Turkish Airlines began offering nonstop flights to Istanbul. That’s significant because the airline serves 120 countries, the most of any airline. It means you can get virtually anywhere from one of the world’s most modern airports.
Air Canada also added service from Seattle to Montreal, and Finnair added flights to Helsinki. In October, Air Tahiti Nui will start service to Tahiti. If you haven’t flown since the pandemic, there’s something new for you: Seattle-Tacoma International Airport opened its international-arrivals terminal earlier this year. It can handle twice as many passengers as the old concourse and speeds up connection times.
Air travel may be less of a hassle during late summer and fall, but don’t expect a normal flying experience. Many airlines remain short-staffed, so delays and cancellations could still be a problem. Experts predict the issues that plagued airlines this summer will continue into the busy holiday season and beyond.
The other issue with international travel is COVID-19. Cleveland, the author traveling to Alaska, almost made a rookie mistake on a recent trip to Canada. “I just assumed when a COVID test was no longer required that you just needed your passport to cross the border,” she says. “But you still need to upload your vaccination card and passport to the ArriveCAN app.”
Her advice? Make sure you double-check all coronavirus requirements because they’re constantly changing.
Whether you decide to stay in your neighborhood or fly halfway around the world, the next few weeks may be one of the best times to travel in a while. So even though time may be short this summer, there’s no shortage of late-summer vacation ideas.
Strategies for planning a late-summer or fall vacation
Don’t assume it’ll be empty
Late summer and early fall is back-to-school time, so if you’re visiting a college town, you might find that it’s busier than during the summer. “Make sure you’re not competing for hotels with visitors dropping off kids at the start of the semester or visiting for college football games,” advises Christina Tunnah, general manager for the Americas at travel insurance company World Nomads. Instead, consider midweek travel or lock in plans early if your trip includes attending a football game.
Have a plan B — and C
That was Jessica Schmit’s lesson when COVID caused her to cancel last year’s late-summer vacation. “I had to come up with a better strategy this year,” says Schmit, who publishes the travel advice blog Uprooted Traveler. She and her husband plan to drive up to Glacier National Park in Montana this fall. But they have a Plan B (Oregon) and C (California) just in case Montana doesn’t pan out.
“Demand continues to be higher than previous years for destinations in the Pacific Northwest,” says Stephen Fofanoff, general manager of Domaine Madeleine, a boutique hotel in Port Angeles. He says rates are falling after Labor Day, but availability remains tight for many properties in popular destinations. His recommendation: book as soon as possible.