Chicago is a fun, fun place to be.
It's popular with conventioneers, families, students, girlfriend groups and couples on a romantic getaway. Everyone wants to join the festive mobs at Millennium Park, Navy Pier and, at Christmas, the Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza.
There are nearly 40,000 hotel rooms downtown, which you'd think would be enough. Except in summer, when vacationers from around the world flood in. And whenever there's a big convention or event.
In the Upper Midwest, travel can be competitive.
Many festivals are so big and so fun that everyone wants to go. If you do, too, you'll have to act fast to stay ahead of the crowds.
And sometimes, you also need to know when not to visit a certain area. Planning to take the kids on a field trip to Chicago's famous museums? If you settle on Aug. 3-8, when 300,000 music fans will be in town for the rock festival Lollapalooza, you won't be able to find a hotel.
So this year, you got a great campsite in your favorite state park. Or maybe you didn't.
A lot of people vie for places in the most popular parks Peninsula and Devil's Lake in Wisconsin, Split Rock and Itasca in Minnesota, all of the beach parks in Michigan.
The people who get them know how to work the angles. Mainly, that means knowing when to reserve.
If you're planning a vacation, remember this: The people have spoken.
They've spoken about the meals they ate, hotels they slept in, tours they took, attractions they visited and people they met. They've gone on and on about beaches and bars and bathrooms and what they had for breakfast.
It's the kind of thing that bores their friends to death and yet strangers around the world are eating it up.
If you've ever been shocked by the price of a hotel room, join the club.
You may have barely heard of Duluth, Minnesota, but rooms there will cost you at least $200 on summer and fall weekends, $350 if you wait until the last minute. Don't forget to add nearly 14 percent in taxes.
Hotel rooms cost about the same in Chicago, except tax is 16.4 percent. And in both towns, you'll pay closer to $500 during big events.
We get a lot of questions at MidwestWeekends from people planning vacations.
Were glad to help, because we believe in planning. Spontaneity is a wonderful thing, but its risky in summer, when the rest of the world also is on vacation.
People in other states and countries usually have no clue what the Upper Midwest is really like, though they've heard about our 20-foot snowfalls and two-ton mosquitoes.
Believe it or not, many of them still want to vacation here in summer. But they have a few questions about those mosquitoes and about humidity and crowds. Mostly they want to know, "When's the best time to visit?''
Here's what we tell them.
It's high time to plan for summer, if you haven't already.
Do you know where you want to go? Remember that MidwestWeekends is not just a newsletter, but a travel library with more than 800 stories about destinations and fun things to do.
We keep them updated, and you can read them any time. To find what you want, go to our Plan a Trip page. Each of the categories and all of the destinations on the map are clickable.
When reserving a hotel room, there are deals, and then theres Priceline.
Five years ago, I tried the on-line bidding service, which has a big catch: You dont know what hotel youve reserved until youve paid for the room. We got a hotel in Miamis South Beach that had a decent location but was noisy, had an unfriendly staff and charged an extra "resort fee.''
After that, Id had it with Priceline until friends made me reconsider.
Long before Chaucer wrote "The Canterbury Tales,'' inns were a place to meet interesting people. They still are. When travelers gather for breakfast, or for evening drinks and hors d'oeuvres, they tell stories and trade tips that pave the way for the next day's travel.
If you're on vacation and you want to get to know an area, staying at a B&B gives you a big head start. Supplying information and personal service is how B&B proprietors set themselves apart from hotels.
They've certainly helped me over the years. Sometimes, I feel like the Blanche DuBois of travel journalism: Wherever I go, I depend on the kindness of strangers.