150104_travel

With chilly temperatures settling over the Midwest, now is the right time to start dreaming of warmer lands.

Chad Cotter of Cotter Travel says January through March is the travel industry’s busy season. The early months are the best time of the year to make summer vacation plans, and people have a little extra money to spend when they recover from the holidays and receive tax refunds.

He doesn’t predict many drastic changes in travel destinations for the year ahead, since one place has been a client favorite for more than a decade.

“Mexico has always been our biggest seller. It continues to be our biggest seller year after year,” Mr. Cotter says.

The Caribbean and Hawaii are a close second and third after that. In the continental United States, Las Vegas and Disney are the most popular destinations. He says he also has noticed more people booking trips to California in 2015, specifically in southern California near San Diego.

When preparing to make travel plans, Mr. Cotter says it’s best to keep an open mind. The more flexible you are in your travel dates, flight times and destinations, the more likely you are to score good deals. While most teachers and families with school-age children can only vacation in the summer, off-season dates mean lower prices and smaller crowds.

“For top destinations ... September, October, November and the first part of December are the off-seasons. Stay away from the holidays, of course,” he says. “... That’s storm season, and that’s why it’s the off-season, but you can get really good rates. And don’t let storm season scare you, because you can get travel insurance.”

May is another good month to travel if your time is flexible, because it’s after winter and spring break but before the busy summer months.

Before you make firm plans to go anywhere, consider talking to a travel agent who can find discounts and value packages that fit your preferences, especially if you don’t have a concrete idea of where you want to go yet. Not only will they help book airfare and hotel rooms, they can suggest specials that are offered at certain locations and activities to do in the region you’ll be visiting.

Once you’re ready to book, Mr. Cotter says sooner is better than later. Many travelers mistakenly believe that if they wait until the last minute, they can get good deals. While this is sometimes true, he says that more often than not, everything is booked and you’re left without a plan. Instead, get things lined up early and allow for some wiggle room.

“Have a few dates in mind rather than just an outbound and return date. Have one or two days on either side (of your proposed vacation date) to find better fares,” he says.

If you’re going abroad, make sure you have all your passports in order and that the information on them is up to date, because he says airlines are getting much more strict about overseas travel regulations.

Brooke Wilson can be reached at brooke.wilson@newspressnow.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SJNPWilson.