Christopher Elliott

of National Geographic Traveler

Christopher Elliott serves as resident consumer advocate for National Geographic Traveler and writes the "Problem Solved" column for the magazine.

Follow Christopher's story on Twitter @elliottdotorg, on Linked In, and on his personal website.

It’s become a rite of summer on local news programs: a hysteria-inducing hotel bedbug epidemic story. The teary tales of vacations ruined, the zooms on the red welts, and the infographic of the life cycle of the tiny invaders makes them sound like villains in a summer blockbuster. It makes for must-see TV, but what to believe? Christopher Elliott exterminates some of the common misconceptions.

The American family vacation needs an overhaul. Once the best opportunity for enrichment and education as well as much needed R&R, today it’s often a dysfunctional, unhealthy, sense-dulling waste of time and money, typically enabled and abetted by an unimaginative travel industry. Here’s how to bring back the good.

Flying can feel like torture. Flash points include seat territory disputes, scuffles over luggage space, and arguments about unruly kids.

Here’s how to short-circuit five common midair melees…

If you think pulling together a complex trip is the kind of organizational nightmare that’ll make you feel like you’re in a bad remake of a “National Lampoon’s Vacation” movie — don’t worry.

Here are a few strategies we picked up along the way…

Family. Travel.

Those two words are enough to make the average reader click away. But they shouldn’t be.

If you close your eyes and imagine Kauai, you might see jagged peaks plunging into hidden rainforest valleys, beaches with impossibly blue waves thundering ashore, and of course, endless summer weather.

But that’s not all there is to it. Behind that postcard facade there’s a funky island that your kids can connect with. Ours did.

Maui is for honeymooners. And, let’s be honest: the last thing these newlyweds want is for everything to be ruined by someone else’s kids. But there’s a whole other side to this luxe island waiting to be discovered — if you pay close attention.

If you associate Hawaii with Mai Tais, luaus, and colorful shirts, you’ve probably never been to the Big Island. None of those cliches resonate on what we like to call the real Hawaii. Even though it’s one of the least-visited islands in the Aloha State, the Big Island (also known as Hawaiʻi Island) is far more exciting, and, at times, more dangerous.

Congratulations, sir. Surely you’ve got plenty on your plate. But I’d like to say something on behalf of travelers. Though we may not have a huge army of lobbyists on K Street, we could still use a little love during your upcoming term. We are the underappreciated engine that drives a $1.9 trillion business in…

Which place is better, Maui or the North Shore of Oahu? You tell us.

When it comes to fall foliage drives, New England gets all the attention – some of it undeserved. And if you’re traveling with children who are easily distracted (like we are), a simple trip along Vermont’s winding roads just won’t cut it. A never-ending chorus of “oohs” and “ahhs” from the adults will only reinforce your kids’ belief that foliage tours are for fuddy-duddies. That’s why we turned our sights on the great American West.

Staying in an older vacation rental can be a real adventure. And we know, because we’ve lived in a few of them during our year-long trip across the United States. A historical home can bring you closer to a city’s traditional downtown area, or to real residents. It can even help you feel like you’re a local.

But historical homes have, well…histories.

How far can you go on a tank of gas? If you said 12,665 miles, then you must own a record-breaking concept car. The rest of us mere mortals have to contend with whatever’s commercially available, right? But as my family discovered on a recent road trip, there are some great non-hybrid options out there right now.

If you’re willing to go diesel.

North Carolina’s Outer Banks may be known for surf fishing, over-the-top vacation homes, o — if you obsessively watch the Weather Channel this time of year — hurricanes, but after just a day on the ground in these barrier islands, you’ll see them in a completely different light.

At the world-famous aquarium in Monterey (where Curious Traveler Shannon Switzer is passing through right about now), jellyfish are the star attractions. Varieties you never imagined existed float silently in tanks flooded in blue light. It’s spectacular. In Atlanta’s aquarium, it’s the whale sharks. You never expected to see these enormous creatures outside a TV documentary, yet there they are in front of you. And they’re amazing. Which one’s better? Or is there a better one out there? Tell us your opinion by leaving a comment!

If you have children, and you want to take a cruise, it’s gotta be with Disney. Right?

That conventional wisdom is strongly reinforced when you sail on Uncle Walt’s newest ship, the gleaming, year-round, 4,000-passenger Fantasy. But Disney doesn’t rule the seven seas in the growing market for family cruises. There is another.

Drop in to Helen, Georgia from Highway 17, a winding two-lane road that descends from the Peach State’s famous Blue Ridge Mountains, and you’ll think you’ve arrived on the wrong continent. Just as you cross the city limits, the understated southern architecture that defines the farms and cabins in Georgia’s northwest corner gives way to something…

Mention the Smoky Mountains, especially Gatlinburg, Tenn., and bears are probably the first thing that you’ll hear about. Black bears, to be exact. The nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the last remaining places in the eastern United States where they can be found in the wild. But this Tennessee tourist town, where images, wood…

Manhattan’s hyper-competitive luxury hotels are always trying to outdo each other. But they’ve been taking it to a new level lately. How else would you describe a museum-quality art collection, a 3D movie theater, or the finest indoor pool this side of Central Park? At the Peninsula New York, that’s what hotel guests find when…

Savannah is known for its sultry weather, legendary squares and TV chefs with oversized personalities. But take the kids to America’s first planned city, and you’ll see this place from a completely different perspective. It helps to visit during a cold snap in early February. The last time we’d been in town, before kids, it…

St. George Island, Fla., is in the middle of nowhere. And that’s the way they like it. Why else would they call this area, along the northeastern part of Florida’s panhandle, the “forgotten” coast? It is remote, undeveloped and, at this time of year, no one’s here. Oh, wait. I should have said, no tourists.…

Even though Walt Disney World Resort offers a one-day “park hopper” pass that gives you unlimited access to Animal Kingdom, Disney Studios, Epcot and the Magic Kingdom, visiting all of them on the same day is almost impossible. But not entirely. Seeing it all requires careful planning, triathlete-like endurance and the kind of determination not…

Our tandem kayaks slid quietly into the shallow waters of Palma Sola Bay, and with a wave, our handler bid us farewell. Now, this would seem like a perfectly normal “bon voyage” for two solo adventurers setting out on a five-mile trek through the mangrove flats of Robinson Preserve, but there were five of us,…

Too far from Orlando’s theme parks and not nearly as sexy as the Kennedy Space Center,  St. Augustine is one of Florida’s forgotten destinations.  What’s it got worth seeing? Lots of history. We’ve been taking the family to the nation’s oldest continuously occupied city of European origin since they were babies and, yes, we chose…

Florida’s newest theme park looks kind of familiar. Some of the attractions, from the Island in the Sky elevator that offers a panoramic view of this quiet part of the Sunshine State, to the rickety wooden roller coaster called Triple Hurricane, remind you of a place you experienced long ago. The Southern belles, looking as…