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Ready for summer travel? Get started with these vacation ideas

Even if you're not ready to fly, there are plenty of great travel options to consider.
/ Source: TODAY

Now that travel restrictions have started to ease up and multiple states have lifted mask mandates, you may be daydreaming about booking a vacation. With the unofficial start of summer, Memorial Day, in sight, now is a great time to start planning your next getaway.

"Travel Genius" podcast host Mark Ellwood shared some great tips on when to book, where to go and how to make the most of summer on Weekend TODAY.

If you're just starting to think about summer travel plans, Ellwood said there are three key things to consider.

1. Be flexible

"Things are in flux: the airline schedules, you might need to change plans. So when you book, read the small print, and make sure you can change or cancel without penalty," Ellwood told Weekend TODAY co-anchors Kristen Welker and Peter Alexander.

2. Book ASAP

"Don't leave it. You need to book now," Ellwood recommended, adding that demand is high right now. "Americans saved 2 1/4 trillion dollars and loads of vacation days during the pandemic. Everyone needs a vacation so those bookings are ramping up."

3. Plan ahead

"People are also booking much closer to travel because they know things are in flux so you're going to see fewer last-minute deals," Ellwood said. "Plan ahead but be flexible, bit of both."

Think local

For those not ready to board an airplane or go too far from home, there are still plenty of road trip options.

"Most people live within a drive of an amazing national park," suggested Ellwood. "You can go hiking. There's terrific accommodations at most of those.

"I would also say think about camping or glamping. There's an amazing company called Collective Retreats, which lets you camp in New York City on Governor's Island. There's one near Austin and Vail as well. So camping doesn't have to be roughing it."

If hiking and camping aren't your favorites, how about boating? Ellwood also recommends a lake or boat trip. "There's a company called GetMyBoat.com which is a bit like the Uber of boats so if you don't have a boat, but this year, you want to get out on the water as a bit of a vacation, you can probably find one that way."

Where to go

If you are ready to fly the friendly skies, consider forgoing the big cities and spending time in nature instead.

The Finger Lakes region

New York's Finger Lakes region includes the area surrounding Canandaigua, Cayuga, Keuka, Owasco, Seneca, Skaneateles, and several smaller lakes.Walter Bibikow / Getty Images

"I think it's one of the most beautiful parts of the country. Often overlooked," Ellwood gushed. It's a "gourmet getaway," as Ellwood put it, when you consider the region offers dozens of creameries and boasts approximately 100 wineries and cideries.

A unique place to stay is the historic Belhurst Castle. At $195 per night for two people, it's been voted one of the most romantic places in the state.

Lexington, Kentucky

Lexington, Kentucky is also known as the "horse capital of the world."Davel5957 / Getty Images

For bourbon lovers, there's no better spot than Kentucky for a summer sojourn.

"(Lexington is) bourbon central," said Ellwood. "You can see 14 distilleries ... great place to try all of those. If you love horses, there are more than 400 horse farms in the area. You can ride, go and see them. And again, down to the urban part of Lexington, there's an amazing Greyline, which is a converted bus station with a farmer's market, cafes, shops, really Lexington's got everything. "

In Lexington, Ellwood recommends staying at the Origin Hotel located in Fritz Farm, a bustling retail and entertainment hub. This 120-room boutique hotel has rates starting at $103 per night for two people.

Eugene, Oregon

Eugene, Oregon is about 110 miles south of Portland. Oregon.Sean Pavone / Getty Images

If you're a fan of the Olympics, look no further than Eugene, Oregon or TrackTown, USA.

"The track and field trials for the U.S. will take place in Eugene, Oregon, because of course, this is where Nike started, it is TrackTown. It's a fitness town, 42 miles of trails downtown, and there is a Nike Live store, which is basically its ultimate flagship. There's one in New York, one in L.A., one in Tokyo, and one in Eugene, Oregon, so really well worth going there," noted Ellwood.

For lodging, one option is the Gordon Hotel at $199 per night. It's an art-centric boutique hotel that just opened its doors and is located adjacent to the new Nike store in the newly expanded 5th Street Public Market. Bonus: You'll be offered complimentary wine, beer or local ice cream at check in.

The only way you can go wrong is to delay making plans as prices are likely to rise as more people continue to book. Need more inspiration? Check out these great deals by region:

Northeast

  • Kennebunkport, Maine: This coastal town is celebrating its bicentennial anniversary in 2021 and this summer, actor Alan Cummings will bring his New York cabaret bar to the Kennebunkport Inn. Rates start at $189 a night in June.
  • Roosevelt Island, New York City: Located just east of Manhattan, Roosevelt Island is perfect for history buffs and park lovers and offers beautiful views of New York City. The Graduate Roosevelt Island Hotel opens June 1 and is the first hotel on the storied island and one of the first new hotels to open in the Big Apple since the pandemic began. Rates start at $219 for two people and every room has a river view of New York City.

Midwest

  • Chicago, Illinois: Home to institutions like The Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the city is a museum lover's paradise. 21c Museum Hotel Chicago is one of nine 21c locations in the U.S. that form North America's only multi-venue museum dedicated to collecting and exhibiting 21st century art. Room rates start at $129 per night.

South

  • Miami, Florida: Stylish, playful and cosmopolitan, Miami Beach is a great summer destination. Moxy South Beach has rates starting at $159 from mid-July through August.
  • Fort Worth, Texas: Cowtown is going through a major development boom this summer and The Harper Hotel is part of it. This trendy hotel will feature local art and seasonal book recommendations and has rates starting at $168 a night.

West

  • Las Vegas, Nevada: Home to the Raiders and Golden Knights, Las Vegas is eager to welcome back sports fans again. Ellwood recommends Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa, which has rates starting at $103 per night.
  • Portland, Oregon: If you're a fan of bikes and flowers, you'll love Portland in the summer. The Hoxton has rates from $150 a night and be sure not to miss their rooftop restaurant featuring the best spicy margarita.
  • Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado: Mesa Verde National Park is the seventh oldest park in the National Park System and is only open late May, June, July and August (closes in September). Far View Lodge is situated in the park and offers guests 360-degree views into the "Four Corners" region of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. Rates starting at $176 for two people.

CORRECTION (May 25, 2021, 9:14 a.m.): An earlier version of this article misstated the location of Belhurst Castle. It is in the Finger Lakes region, not in Lexington, Kentucky.