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Plan Now for Your Best Summer Vacation Ever

Find out 9 reasons why experts say now is the best time to start researching, saving money and locking in great rates.

The winter holidays are over, and you’re bracing for the cold months ahead. Sounds like a perfect time to think about ... that big summer vacation getaway?

Yep! Travel and consumer experts say that now is the very best time to start researching and booking your dream trip to an exotic island paradise … or Europe … or on a cruise ship. Whatever your destination, you should start your planning now to discover great deals, sock away funds and ensure that you’ve made all the required arrangements so you can enjoy a memorable summer break in a locale you’ve always wanted to visit.

This is especially true if one of your New Year’s resolutions is to stop procrastinating and missing out on great opportunities. “You can never start too soon in researching discounts and deals for your next summer trip,” says Andrew Schrage, co-founder of MoneyCrashers.com, a personal finance site. Some destinations require booking months advance, “so it’s important to stay informed,” he says.

Here are nine reasons why you should wipe the frost off your computer screen, unthaw your library card and start planning your summer vacation right now.

Early birds get the deals. When you sign up for emails from travel-deal aggregators such as BookingBuddy or TripAdvisor, you’ll have plenty of time to wait for that just-right bargain to land into your inbox. “Airfare deals and hotel discounts go on all year, and you never know when the next deal will come,” Schrage says. Some resorts and destinations offer early-bird discounts, up 55% off, he says: “For certain popular places, you have to start sooner than later or you’ll miss out entirely.” Also, be sure to check NEA Click & Save, which sells discounted airfare, hotel reservations, cruises and more.

It’s smart to start saving early. By now, holiday shopping is over, so the accompanying financial stress should be behind you soon. Thinking about summer now will help you create a vacation budget and start saving up. “You’ll do less damage to your overall financial picture if you do this,” Schrage says. “You save gradually through the year to stay ahead of the curve. The last thing you want after an amazing summer experience is to get nagged by a credit-card balance that you can’t pay off in time.”

Some destinations let you pay in early installments. Another way to pay piecemeal is through layaway plans, which some resorts and destinations offer. But you can’t do this if you procrastinate. “You can put a small deposit to confirm the reservation and pay the remainder over time, interest-free,” says travel planner Christine Hardenberger, aka “The Vacation Architect,” who specializes in Disney/Universal Studios getaways and cruises. “The earlier you book, the more time you have to pay.”

You’ll have a good shot at using frequent-flyer miles. U.S. airlines are known to start filling up frequent-flyer seats more than 300 days before a particular first day of travel. “Each flight has a very limited number of seats for frequent flyers,” says travel expert Lisa Shusterman, author of Around the World in Easy Ways. “If you intend to use those miles, the sooner you decide where you’re going, the sooner you can reserve a ticket.”

You’ll be able to travel together with loved ones. If you’re heading out with family and/or friends, you’ll have a better chance of being seated with them by securing flight arrangements early. This is especially important if young children are involved. “Finding seats that are all together becomes more difficult the closer to departure that you get started,” says Lissa Poirot, editor of FamilyVacationCritic.com.

You can save on lodging. Apartment/home rentals are a fine alternative to hefty hotel rates, and they offer home-style conveniences such as kitchens that’ll help you avoid multiple restaurant bills. “There are far fewer homes or apartments available than hotels in a destination, and the good ones go fast,” Shusterman says. “Working ahead will give you the best chance of not only getting one, but getting your first choice.”

You’ll have time to arrange pet-care services. Keeping a dog at a kennel can cost $50 a day, but a quid-pro-quo arrangement is free. Act now to see if you can work out a deal with a friend or neighbor so you can avoid pet-boarding and/or sitting services entirely. “Offer to pet-sit for someone you trust in return for them doing it for you,” Schrage says.

You’ll get the most out of your experience. There’s so much to learn about any destination, so it’s best to do in-depth research at a relaxed pace in order to discover everything you need to know before your trip. “You also can find out about cost-saving information this way,” Shusterman says. “This can include free days at museums, city passes that offer discounts and alternative modes of transportation that are cheaper than taxis.”

You’ll have something to look forward to. Think of this approach as a survival guide for the remainder of the school year. It’s a way to channel soothing, summery thoughts during the big chill of winter. “Being in a warm house while reading a travel guide or calling up all of these exotic destination photos online is a great way to spend a cold, dreary day,” Shusterman says. “Besides, anticipation is half the enjoyment. The sooner you plan, the longer you have to look forward to your trip.”

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