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Summer travel made simple

It's almost summer and the kick-off to the 'lazy, hazy' season is just around the corner. With the Memorial Day holiday weekend fast approaching, the American Society of Travel Agents offers advice for travelers heading into the busy summer travel season.

"Whether you're driving to the beach or heading overseas, planning your next vacation with a travel agent is a smart move," said the American Society of Travel Agents President and Chair, Chris Russo.

"Travel agents are experts in deciphering all the travel information and codes out there. It's what they do every day, saving you a few hours in front of a computer screen.

"Instead of an impersonal voice thousands of miles away, they're your neighbors. They know what you want and what you value in your travel experience. And most importantly, they're there for you before, during and after your trips and when the unexpected happens. Using a travel agent is more than just travel sense, it's common sense."

As part of the American Society of Travel Agents' ongoing commitment to provide customers with useful travel tips, below are recommendations from its consumer Web site, TravelSense.org, to take the hassle out of summer travel:

Car Travel Tips:

- Plan itineraries and arrange accommodations well in advance.

Reservations for hotels, restaurants and rental cars get booked quickly during peak travel times. Your travel agent can help you get the lowest rate and make sure your rental car has room for your family, luggage and whatever souvenirs you bring home.

- Get a tune up.

Before any long-distance drive, make sure to have your oil changed and your brakes, fluids and tire pressure checked. The slightest deficiency in air pressure significantly reduces your car's gas mileage

- Get an early start to avoid holiday gridlock.

Traveling during late night/early morning hours helps. The worst times to travel are after meals since most travelers postpone leaving until they've eaten with their families.

- Choose public transportation.

Many U.S. cities now offer public transportation. Chances are, if you are visiting a city this summer, it will be your fastest and most convenient bet for getting around your destination quickly and at low cost. Plus, it's a positive step for the environment. Ask your travel agent about transportation options available at your destination.

- Buckle up.

Make sure all children weighing less than 80 lbs. are properly restrained in child safety seats at all times. Child seats should be placed in the back seat, and never in front of an airbag.

- Don't forget Fido.

Those who are traveling with pets should contact their local travel agent for pet-friendly hotels along the way. Pet owners should also be reminded never to leave pets waiting in parked cars- temperatures can soar quickly during the sizzling summer months.

Air Travel Tips:

- Book your ticket ASAP.

If you must book last minute, remember the key to securing the best deal is flexibility in travel dates. Ask your travel agent to check into fares or consider flying into an alternate airport and renting a car.

If your holiday vacation includes international travel, make sure you have appropriate travel documents. Travel agents can advise you on the new rules.

- Arrive early.

Difficult airport parking, long security checkpoint lines and the possibility of the airline overselling the flight and bumping passengers, should all be considered when deciding what time to arrive at the airport. Give yourself plenty of extra time.

Need some incentive? Keep in mind that those who arrive earliest for an overbooked flight stand the greatest chance of staying onboard.

- Keep a close eye on all your belongings.

Just as airports are extremely crowded during the peak period with travelers, they can also be fraught with thieves working the airports. Be aware of your surroundings and maintain a close watch over tickets, wallets, purses and other belongings at all times.

- Avoid getting bumped.

1) Get an advance seat assignment. Passengers with seat assignments are typically only bumped if they arrive late and their seat assignment is released.

2) Check-in online. Most airlines allow you to do so within 24 hours of departure. Seat assignments that were not available at the time of ticketing may be available when checking in online.

3) Don't be late. If all else fails, get to the airport early.

- Remember 3-1-1.

Regulations limit the amount of gels and liquids passengers can take through security in their carry-on luggage to travel-size toiletries of three (3) ounces or less that fit comfortably in one (1) quart-size, clear plastic zip-top bag and the one (1) bag per passenger must be placed in the screening bin.

- Know your limits.

Pack light and know baggage limits. You cannot carry sports equipment that could be used as a weapon, such as golf clubs and baseball bats. All electronic items are subject to additional screening. Be prepared to remove your laptop from its travel case to be X-rayed separately.

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