NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Summer is the right time for a family vacation or a dream trip, but it is also the busiest and trickiest travel season.
That is especially true this summer, when rising airfares, summer surcharges and airline baggage fees, plus new federal rules governing flight delays, are certain to combine with heaving crowds and hot, stormy weather to test travelers.
The full-proof way to avoid the travails of summer travel is by staying home; go in the shoulder seasons -- fall and spring. But if that's not what you want to do, these seven rules of summer travel will help:
1. Work the Internet hard before you leave.
Sounds obvious, but the Web is a shape-shifter, so tuning into the latest changes is essential. Make full use of sites such as airfarecompare.com, airfarewatchdog.com, priceline.com and airline Web sites to get the best fares.
Check flightstats.com to see how well flights fare with on-time arrivals and departures; this can make a big difference, especially when you need to catch connecting flights. Sign up for bargain-alert services such as travelzoo.com's weekly top 20 deals. If you're flying, save time at the airport by printing your boarding pass before you leave home, after scanning seatguru.com for the best seat. Sign up for flight-change alerts with your airline so you can get the latest information on your handheld device or laptop, and draw on this info to rebook a flight if necessary. Review security do's and don'ts at tsa.gov.
2. Think tires, batteries and emergencies for long summer road trips.
If you're driving, check your tire pressure, as it affects safety and fuel economy. Extreme heat stresses car batteries; if your battery is more than three years old, think about getting a new one. Have a highway emergency kit with, among other things, a flashlight, water and first-aid kit.
3. Don't want to do the heavy lifting yourself? Get a travel agent.
Once dismissed as dinosaurs, smart travel agents have reinvented themselves as concierges for nomads. A good one can save you time and money. The
site can help you find one in your area.
4. Pack smart.
This is as true for a family road trip or cruise-ship vacation as for air travel, but it is especially important when you fly and bump up against weight limits and limited space. Take only what you really need. Really. Packing smart means packing light.
5. Know the drill.
Summertime is when road-warriors share the highways and skies with people who travel only occasionally. If you're a premium traveler and can go right to the front of the airport security line, great. If you're with the seething masses, have a government-issued photo I.D. in hand, be ready to whip off your shoes and belt, and make sure you put electronic devices, metal jewelry and bagged liquids on top, so you can remove and repack them quickly. Don't hold up the line.
6. Show me the money.
Bumped from your flight? Just say no to airline vouchers, with their thickets of restrictions on future use. Take the money the airline is required to give you.
7. Be patient.
These are times that try travelers' souls, but losing your cool in hot weather and summer congestion can induce road-rage. On board airplanes, keep things moving by stowing your carry-ons directly overhead. If you're flying economy, recline your seat slowly; you don't want to crush a laptop or spill drinks on the equally cramped person behind you.
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David Armstrong is a San Francisco Bay Area-based writer. He covers airlines and airports, hotels and resorts, food and wine, and writes travel destination features.