How to Make or Break a Great Vacation

Here are some simple ways to turn an OK vacation into a great one.

— -- Winning the Powerball lottery would be a great way to "make" your summer vacation but since that's about as likely as the airlines saying, "Let's drop all these fees of ours," here are some simple ways to turn an okay vacation into a great one. A make or break list.

It may help you nip some problems in the bud and maybe even save you a buck or two.

6 Ways to Make or Break a Vacation

Except for the first, not all these strategies will work for every vacation traveler; just use the ones that suit your style.

1. Make it: Shop for airfare earlier

As I always say, shop for airfare at least a day earlier than you originally planned. Most of us buy airline tickets on the late side, and even 30 days in advance it cutting it fine for summer vacation season (though it's better than 29 days before departure when prices really start to jump). If you haven't bought summer tickets yet, get moving.

2. Break it: Ignore the possibility of delays

If you think you only have to worry about delayed and canceled flights in winter, think again; summer thunder and lightning storms can be just as bad in June as January, and often much worse. Have a Plan B ready to go, especially if your destination doesn't have much air service or if you're connecting to a big U.S. hub before heading off to an international destination.

If you will be connecting, give yourself plenty of time (and no, an hour is not "plenty"). I typically fly to one coast or the other and stay overnight before heading off to Europe or Asia. Another thing you can do is see what other carriers fly to your destination in case your airline's next flight out isn't soon enough to make that wedding or wherever you're going.

Above all, contact your airline immediately the moment a problem crops up, be it delay or cancellation because he who is first gets the next available seat.

3. Make it: Don't pay full price for natural wonders if you don't have to

A friend and her husband recently toured of southern Utah, visiting Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks plus Cedar Breaks National Monument. Normally this would have cost $58 ($25 per car for the parks, and $4 per person for the monument) but all they paid was ten dollars. A friendly but discreet park ranger said, "Say, is anyone in this car 62 or older?" and after handing over $10, they got one senior lifetime pass which means as long as they travel in the same car, neither will ever again pay a national park entrance fee. Or a fee to visit 2,000 other federal recreation sites.

Not a senior? There are discounted passes for the disabled, for members of the military and for volunteers, plus the regular lifetime pass is $80 which means if you only see four national parks in your life, you still come out ahead. A very sweet deal.

4. Break it: Skipping the Wi-Fi fees

I'm sure we've all heard this before: Leave the smartphone, the tablet, the laptop at home so you don't stress out on days off. Unfortunately, that's not how the real world works anymore; most of us would stress out more without these connections to email and entertainment, especially if traveling with kids. So this will cost you but the Wi-Fi fee is usually modest for planes and hotels and it's one fee many agree is worth paying.

5. Make it: Using a carry-on

It's not just a way to avoid a fairly costly checked-bag fee, it's all about freedom: Freedom from worry (your bag stays with you), freedom from tedious waiting (no need to hand out at the baggage carousel) and even freedom from wardrobe decisions (since you can't pack much more than you'll actually need). A woman from Utah sounded pretty proud of herself recently when she told one of my employees that she's going on a ten day trip to Bermuda with just a carry-on. You can do it, too.

6. Break it: Forgetting the food

On a short flight, this is no big deal but when you're stuck on a plane for two hours or more and suddenly remember domestic flights no longer serve meals (and some airlines don't even give you a bag of peanuts), snacks become important. I for one and not above bribery when it comes to taming cranky little ones (candy is handy) and food also works well for soothing cranky grown-ups.