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□ GO AHEAD, BE WOWED BY THE CROWD

Go on, follow everyone to the beach this week. Turns out that avoiding the crowds — which the world’s so-called travel “experts” recommend this time of year — isn’t just a yawner of a cliche. It can be flat-out wrong, too. Read the details in my USA Today column.

□ WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Admit it, you love TripAdvisor and Yelp!
If you’re like me, you used to be a skeptic about user-generated reviews on sites like Google, Yelp and TripAdvisor. But you also consult them from time to time — and you’ve found a good recommendation for a hotel or restaurant. Haven’t you? I’d like to hear your story about good recommendations from one of these sites. As always, don’t forget include your full name, city and occupation.

Greetings from Mendocino, Calif.
We’re here a few more days before heading north — look for full coverage soon on our family travel blog. In the meantime, we have a full report on our misadventures in San Diego, the video you missed from our Hoover Dam encounter — you won’t want to miss this one — and here’s why I met up with my friends from Hertz while I was in Southern California. I also have a wrap-up of our San Diego trip right here.

Wanna become the world’s smartest traveler?
I know you do. Then do this now: Pre-order my new book, How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money, and Hassle). It’ll help you navigate the ins and outs of the travel industry and save lots of time and money. Details are right here. By the way, if you’re heading out somewhere on a trip and need help with something, I’d be happy to email you a draft of a chapter, whether you order the book or not.

Let’s talk!
The stories you see in this newsletter are just a starting point. I hope you’ll take a minute to leave a comment, whether you agree or disagree with something I’ve written. Let’s continue the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Google. I’m listening. And of course, I’m also here if you need me.

□ POSTS YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS

Should You Hire a Consumer Advocate?
Here’s a familiar come-on: If you have an intractable problem with a business, you can “utilize our years of experience fighting fraud” to get a fast refund. But there’s a catch. Find out what it is in my Mint.com column.

VIDEO: Should you buy travel insurance?
Here’s the latest in my latest USA Today video series. By the way, the Christopher Elliott show is taking a break until I can find a fast broadband connect to live-stream. Stay tuned.

Tipping lies cruise lines like to tell
If you thought tipping was out of control in the United States, try heading out to sea. That’s where Jane Greene discovered the tipping economy isn’t just alive and well, it apparently sustains the crew of major cruise ships. That’s a particularly interesting revelation in light of the U.S. government’s plans to regulate the cruise industry. Read the details.

Blocking this airline mega-merger is good for travelers
The Justice Department’s surprise lawsuit to block the proposed $11 billion consolidation of American Airlines and US Airways appears to doom the latest airline mega-merger, at least in its current form. But for airline passengers, the prospect of two stand-alone airlines is mostly good news. Read the details in the Washington Post.

Do I deserve a refund for this LivingSocial deal?
Teri Rustmann’s Living Social voucher for a Caribbean vacation isn’t worth the money it’s printed on — or so he thinks. Why won’t the company refund it? Find out.

A Territory Ahead gift certificate left behind
When Ed Probst tries to redeem an 11-year-old gift certificate, the company stonewalls him. How do you get a business to honor a debt from 2001? Here’s the answer.

□ MY PARTING SHOT

The next leg of our trip takes us up to Oregon, Washington and possibly as far north as Canada. And I have to tell you, each stop is more fascinating than the next. (As a bonus, I’m also collecting a lot of great information for my columns!) See you on the road, my friends.