Seven Rules of Summer Travel

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 American Society of Travel Agents 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.