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7 ways to save on your next national park trip

The Free Press WV


America’s national parks are brimming with natural wonders: cascading waterfalls, towering redwoods, white sand beaches. But visiting these gems can cost money and soon will get a little pricier: Many national parks will increase their entrance fees by $5 beginning June 1.

In honor of National Park Week April 21-29, here are seven ways to plan a cheaper national park trip.

1. TRAVEL OFF-PEAK

Mikah Meyer, 32, wants to become the youngest person to visit all 417 National Park Service sites. In the past two years, the Nebraska native has crossed more than 300 off the list while living out of his trusty 2014 Ram ProMaster, a white, windowless cargo van he’s dubbed “Vanny McVanface.”

He’s just one of the more than 330 million people who visited the national park system in 2017. Rooms and campsites fill up fast during weekends, spring break and summer. Meyer suggests visiting offseason to save money and avoid crowds. But there are trade-offs.

“Sometimes you’ll go to parks like Yosemite where certain trails and waterfalls are closed because they’re snowed in,” Meyer says.

Research seasonal conditions to prevent surprises, and note that some destinations have atypical high seasons. Warm-weather parks such as Death Valley and Everglades are busiest in winter.

2. VISIT FOR FREE

More than two-thirds of national parks are free year-round. The others waive entrance fees on certain dates. The remaining fee-free days in 2018 are:

—First day of National Park Week: April 21

—National Public Lands Day: Sept. 22

—Veterans Day: Nov. 11

With free days dwindling — down from 10 in 2017 to four in 2018 — and potential fee hikes looming, take advantage.

3. ANNUAL PASSES AND DISCOUNTS

An annual pass costs $80 and can pay for itself if you plan to visit multiple parks in a 12-month period.

U.S. military members can get the annual pass for free, as can fourth-grade students and certain volunteers.

For seniors, annual passes cost $20 and lifetime passes $80. Lifetime passes are free for those with permanent disabilities.

Travelers can also leverage perks offered by wholesale clubs, frequent flyer programs and other memberships, such as AAA.

4. SKIP THE EXPENSIVE LODGE

Camp by tent or vehicle to cut costs. Backcountry campsites, which are generally in remote areas accessible only on foot, are usually cheaper than developed campsites, says Kathy Kupper, public affairs specialist for the National Park Service. Campsites at Glacier National Park cost a maximum of $23 per night during peak season, for example, compared with the hundreds of dollars a night you might pay to stay in a lodge.

To avoid camping fees outright, Meyer parks in Walmart or hotel parking lots that allow it. He also camps free in U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management areas near national parks.

“Sometimes they have actual campsites with running water and bathrooms, and other times it’s just wherever you can fit your car, there you go,” Meyer says. Contact your local agency offices for details.

If roughing it doesn’t appeal to you, try hotels or rentals in gateway communities. Neighboring towns typically have more rooms and are less expensive than park lodges.

5. BUY SUPPLIES BEFOREHAND

Don’t wait until you’re near or inside the park to stock up on food, gas and other essentials.

“The closer you get to these places, especially when they’re out in the wilderness, there’s going to be that convenience charge,” Meyer says. “Something you might buy for $3 at your local grocery store could be $7 or $8 in the middle of nowhere.”

6. EXPLORE YOUR BACKYARD

Every state has at least one national park site, so you don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of money to travel to one.

“It’s not always saving up for that once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Grand Canyon. You can go for a day or a weekend to a park near you,” Kupper says.

7. LOOK FOR FREE ACTIVITIES

National Park Service programming, with very few exceptions, is free, Kupper says. That includes activities like ranger-led hikes, snowshoe walks and kayak tours.

You can see potential itineraries and book tours at the National Park Service website. Once in the park, stop by a visitor center for more information.

“Spending time in nature is good for body and soul,” Kupper says. Doing it cheaply can be good for your wallet, too.

Report Raises Safety Questions About Allegiant Air

The Free Press WV

In the summer of 2015, Allegiant Air had a number of in-flight breakdowns—on one day in particular, there were five such problems. Between the beginning of 2016 and the end of October 2017, a 60 Minutes investigation uncovered more than 100 serious mechanical incidents the airline experienced: from hydraulic leaks and air pressure loss in the cabin to rapid descents, aborted takeoffs, and more—including 60 unscheduled landings. The airline has just 99 planes, yet experienced 25 engine failures or malfunctions in two years, and its planes are three and a half times more likely than those of other carriers to experience “serious in-flight mechanical failures,“ per the report. But Allegiant Air, a budget carrier based in Las Vegas, is one of the most profitable airlines in the US, even if most customers are unaware of those problems.

A former member of the National Transportation Safety Board says he won’t fly the airline and encourages his family and friends not to fly it, either. The aviation experts 60 Minutes spoke to during its 7-month investigation believe the problems stem from Allegiant’s ultra-low-cost fares; in order to keep them so affordable, the airline must keep its own costs down—and keep its planes flying as long as possible. Almost 30% of its planes are McDonnell-Douglas MD-80s, which are old and difficult to find parts for. Those planes, nearly all of which were bought secondhand from foreign airlines, are responsible for most of the problems the investigation uncovered. Some also fault the FAA for being too lax in its oversight of the airline. Allegiant is calling the story a “false narrative,“ while the AP reports shares of its parent company were down in early trading. See CBS News for more.

Dreamliner Just Landed a Historic Flight

The Free Press WV

The maiden flight of a new nonstop regular passenger service between Australia and Britain has touched down at London’s Heathrow Airport, reports the AP. The Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, operated by Qantas Airways, arrived Sunday in London just over 17 hours after setting off from the western Australian city of Perth. The new link with Perth—a 9,009-mile journey, about 20 miles short of the world’s longest route between Auckland and Doha, notes the Telegraph—is around three hours quicker than routes that involve stopovers in the Middle East to change planes or refuel. It is also set to shorten journeys from London to Sydney or Melbourne, compared with flying via Dubai. The route is about a quarter more than Britain’s previous longest service—7,275 miles—which was flying between London and Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. For tips on surviving a 17-hour flight, head to Sky News.

The World’s Greatest Hitchhiker and His ‘Wandering Princess’

The Free Press WV

It takes more than a durable thumb and the stomach for strangers to be a top-notch vagabond. Take it from Juan Villarino, dubbed the “world’s best hitchhiker” by Wes Enzinna for the New York Times, which profiles Villarino and picks his brain for how he’s become the “king of the ride.“ And he’s nabbed quite a few: 2,350, by his count, with more than 100,000 miles of hitched rides through 90 or so countries. Villarino describes his penchant for flagging down cars, starting at the crack of dawn, as a way to fend off life’s ennui, as well as to protest a more reined-in and capitalistic way of life. “The 12-hour workday is more dangerous than hitchhiking,“ he once wrote. Villarino has got his “trade” down to a science, and like any decent researcher, he documents in tiny notebooks how long he waits for rides in various locales; he once got stranded two days in Tibet.

Villarino (who’s around 40, based on Enzinna’s timeline) also has other best practices, including staying away from hats and sunglasses (it may make drivers wary if they can’t see your eyes); staking out a post near an obstacle that causes drivers to slow, like a pothole; and to keep smiling, even if the car passes by, as “the driver might notice him in the rearview mirror and, seeing his genial countenance, decide to reconsider.“ He travels the world with his “wandering princess,“ Laura Lazzarino, with whom he fell in love and co-authored a 2014 book, the sales of which help fund their travels. They spend about $7 each a day in their nomadic lifestyles, “leading a life almost entirely on the highway, without a fixed address or jobs or bills.“ Read the full story, including what happened when Enzinna shadowed him on a 1,000-mile journey from Namibia to Cape Town.

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