Though we are a nation of summer travelers, that season isn't necessarily the best time to explore.
"I would argue Europe is better in the shoulder seasons," said Amy Farley, news editor at Travel + Leisure and author of the magazine's "Trip Doctor" column. "I was in Florence in October, and it was extraordinary. That said, if you have children and want the ideal weather, summer it is."
And for good reason: The weather warms, lakes and oceans become more inviting, academic calendars take a holiday and workplaces become a little more relaxed. It leads to the question of what's summer without a summer vacation?
Though it might seem unreasonable to start considering warm-weather travel so early into 2013, the time to start planning is now for the tickets and rooms that will disappear by the end of spring.
"You still have time, but you should gear up, especially if you want the prime places," Farley said.
Vacation rentals are shaping up to be a particularly hot trend this year, she said.
"There have always been vacation rentals, but Airbnb (airbnb.com) has opened the idea even more of having your own space," Farley said. "Having your own kitchen is a nice thing and a great way to save money, especially for families."
Here are some suggestions on summer events to book now or at least soon.
Half Dome (and for that matter, all state and national parks): Permits are required to hike to the top of the legendary peak at Yosemite National Park, with a maximum of 300 hikers allowed per day. Permits will be distributed via a preseason lottery March 1-31. That makes planning a must. Half Dome's lesson, however, applies to state and national parks across the country. Permits and lodging in such parks are disappearing quickly, and by early summer, the pickings will be slim. More information: tinyurl.com/ydj96cl
The 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech: Aug. 28 is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s most renowned oratory, which was given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. Events marking the anniversary will occur throughout the summer in the nation's capital, but hotel rooms could be particularly tough to come by on and around the speech's anniversary.
Anything near the water: OK, that's a bit hyperbolic, but when summer arrives, we flock to the oceans and to the lakes in between. Whether a beach house in the Outer Banks or a Mississippi River houseboat is in your plans, lodging and activities by the water often book quickly, and our pull toward the liquid is nearly universal. "There is definitely the urge for a lot of people to be near the water, and having a private house is a huge fantasy of a lot of travelers," Farley said.
The 100th Tour de France: The world's most famous bicycle race (letour.fr), which runs June 29 to July 21, is turning 100. Beginning on the island of Corsica and ending along Paris' Champs Elysees, there are ample opportunities to watch the two-wheelers speed by. Between the stench of performance enhancement now (presumably) lifting and being such a regal birthday, this year's event could be very popular.
Major League Baseball's All-Star Game: The New York Mets host this year's event in Queens, which is perfect for people who love world-class dining, architecture and shopping in addition to their baseball. New York's ample hotel landscape and subway system make staying close to the stadium unnecessary, if not unwise. Fans can register for ticket packages that include the game itself, the home run derby and other events, through March 29. After that, prices will get ugly. More information: tinyurl.com/bplqr2b
Music festivals: There are dozens of them every summer around the globe, and most seem to be selling out faster than ever. Stateside options include Tennessee's Bonnaroo (June 13-16; bonnaroo.com) and Seattle's Bumbershoot (Aug. 31-Sept. 2; bumbershoot.org). Should you want to cross the seas, consider the 40-plus-year-old Danish Roskilde Festival (June 29-July 7; roskilde-festival.dk). Even if the festival of your choice is sold out (the Seattle area's Sasquatch, May 24-27, is about there; sasquatchfestival.com), the secondary market usually is robust and more affordable than, say, baseball's All-Star Game.
Disney dining: No joke: Disney World takes dining reservations 180 days in advance, a whopping six months, which means the time to ensure that you get that meal with Goofy is now. More information: disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining
Tee time: Pinehurst (pinehurst.com) will host the 2014 men's and women's U.S. Opens on its fabled course No. 2, which means curiosity-driven golfers already are lining up to get their taste of the course. Spring and fall are the North Carolina resort's biggest seasons, but this summer has shown unusually brisk bookings, said Pinehurst spokeswoman Kerry Andrews. Bonus: Summer at Pinehurst is a bit cheaper than spring and fall. If any of the world's great courses are in your summer plans — be it Pebble Beach, St. Andrews or other — look into booking now.
Cumberland Island, Ga.: There isn't a single paved road on this island off Georgia's coast, but amid wild horses and pristine seashore, that's part of the appeal. Most visitors camp, but Cumberland is home to one hotel, the Greyfield Inn (greyfieldinn.com), which books up months in advance. Summer rates range from $425 to $635, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and access to bicycles, kayaks, fishing and beach equipment and tours of the island.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun