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Last Minute Summer Getaways


It happened again. You meant to plan a summer vacation. But it seemed like you had plenty of time, and there was always something else to do. Now, somehow, you're staring down July. No worries: We've gathered tactics for pulling it off, on the double!

Stay flexible

You may assume that you'll have to be totally open on the dates to be able to take a trip before Labor Day. But it's actually more important to have wiggle room with the place. Sure, your heart may be set on an iconic dream destination, but a lot of other people's hearts are, too. "I'll hear 'I want to go to Hawaii' at the last minute," says Jennifer Gaines, a contributing editor at Travelocity, "but that's not the best idea." Pick a date range, define the type of vacation you're hankering for--say, beach, hiking, or city wandering--and then hunt through that wider lens. Even then, keep an open mind. Saudia Nagamootoo, a mom of two in Coral Springs, FL, often finds out when her husband can take time off only a week in advance. They always go somewhere, even if it's a road trip nearby.

Go to extremes

Focus your search on under-the-radar places?or where everybody goes. "For the very last minute, I like what I call the 'central coast' of California, Carmel through Santa Barbara," says Amie O'Shaughnessy, editor of, a travel site that rates family-friendly properties. She says the relatively unknown beach towns can be a little kitschy and there's a summer fog pattern that rolls in ("There's always a trade-off"), but in places like Avila Beach, you open your condo door to a quiet beach and a playground. Yes, please! Or flip this script completely by taking a chance on a mega-popular family destination like Orlando, FL, or San Diego. Due to the sheer number of guests they expect in the summer, last-minute cancellations can be scavenged. Places you probably won't have any luck? Well-loved but small-scale spots, such as Cape Cod, MA, and Lake Tahoe, CA.

Tie it up in a package

An obstacle that procrastinating travelers face is finding one component of their trip but not the other: snagging cheap air but coming up empty on rooms that suit the crew, or vice versa. Check sites like and, which collect the leftovers from car-rental companies, airlines, and hotels, then package them for you. Amber Hanford, a mom in Van Horne, IA, has bid on package deals on, with impressive results: "We got a round-trip flight from Chicago to Houston for $185 and rooms in mid-tier national chains for less than $50."

Elevate your mind (and your family) at a ski resort

"Winter" resorts, like Breckenridge, CO (, and Stowe, VT (Go, make for refreshing summer escapes: They're cooler than a sweltering amusement park, full of adventure sports like mountain biking and kayaking, and relatively uncrowded. Jeanenne Tornatore, a spokesperson for, also recommends them because they host plenty of activities, festivals, and concerts geared to families in order to attract more visitors during their downtime. That kind of no-plan-required fun works for us.

Migrate south

Resorts in Mexico ( and Puerto Rico ( are busiest during the colder months, so you'll find bargains and openings now. "Mexico is coming back from a tough year," says Gaines. "So everything will be in deep discount through the summer." Also, keep hurricane season in mind (June 1 to November 30, but most storms hit from late August to mid-October) and take advantage of the low rates during this time. A week in advance, you can get a pretty clear picture of the weather, then zero in on super-cheap places.

Land a short-notice cruise

Cruise lines get desperate to fill their beds about a month before setting sail. How desperate? A rate of $100 a night per person is not uncommon. "I'm also noticing a lot of on-board promotions," says Gaines, like $200 credits. Check out or