Becoming a smart traveler, a savvy traveler, a contrarian traveler means seeing what the big trends are and how they affect your travels. Unless you have more money than you know what to do with and just can’t decide where to spend it all, you need to find deals and bargains where you can. What worked before may not work in the new environment.

Here are some big picture news trends happening this year and what impact they should have on your plans.

Higher Travel Costs from Oil at $100 a barrel

Thanks to chaos in the Middle East and Libya, faltering production in Venezuela, insatiable demand from China, and all kinds of other factors, oil/gas/petrol/jet fuel is getting more and more expensive. It’s happening just as we get geared up for the big summer travel season. What this means is, flying is going to get more expensive, especially on airlines that have gotten addicted to fuel surcharges: the U.S. and European ones especially. We could see fuel surcharges this summer to Europe that are as high as the ticket itself.

You can play this one of several ways: 1) Buy a package deal with airfare included and lock in rates. 2) Buy a ticket now, as in today, instead of waiting for it to go up even more. This includes trains. 3) Stay close to home or fly on an airline with no surcharges. 4) Learn to love “slow travel” and don’t be on the move every few days. 5) Say “screw it” and fly as far as you possibly can since you’re paying so much anyway.

Content Farms Are Overwhelming Us with Bad Information

I’ve heard the argument over and over again that we don’t need guidebooks because you can find what you need for free on the web. The problem is, much of what’s on the web is pure garbage cranked out by media conglomerates just tossing out linkbait every hour. Take this article from TripAdvisor-owned SmarterTravel – Top 5 Bargain Destinations for Spring 2011. Wow, let’s click on that! Oh wait, #1 and #2 are Montreal and Australia—both more expensive now in dollar terms than they have ever been any time in history. Gee, think those destinations are advertising, or that some suit behind a desk read that an article with Australia in it would get more clicks? There’s no other feasible explanation for these and out-of-the-blue Santa Fe appearing in there.

(P.S. – I’ve been guilty of having my byline under crap like this too now and then, so I don’t hold it against the writer. The big media company will pay me to do a bargain destinations article, I’ll submit it, then they’ll switch out Indonesia and Ecuador for, say, New Zealand and South Africa. “But they’re not a bargain!” I’ll protest. “The editor says we have to include them” will be the reply. Sigh…)

In case you missed it, AOL—which also owns Gadling—just bought The Huffington Post for some $350 million. The Huffington Post mostly relies on volunteers for their articles. How much time do you think they put into researching articles when the amount they’ll get paid is zero? This deal has exposed the whole underbelly of content farms: companies who are cranking out content solely based on what will show up well in the search engines. Or get clicked on by people who just can’t help themselves when they see “Top 10″ in front of an article. (If you want good info on the web, first stop clicking on any manipulative article starting with that. Please?)

You can play this several ways: 1) Pay a little to get info that has been vetted—as it is with guidebooks, quality magazines, and apps put out by guidebook writers. 2) Find sites and blogs you can trust and be loyal to them. 3) Verify what you read with other sources. 4) Use null and Facebook groups that are filled with experts on a certain subject/area.

Brazil - booming economy means higher prices for travelers

A Recession Here is not a Recession There

This recession—which is ending in some parts of the world and still dragging on in others—has not been consistent around the world. The economies that were on a tear have barely seen a blip. So don’t expect any great discounts in Brazil, Chile, Peru, China, India, or Canada. These countries have lots of natural resources and the price of commodities has gone nowhere but up: copper, oil, gold, platinum, phosphorus, you name it. If it comes out of the ground and is getting used a lot, the countries that have it are doing well.

On the other hand, the U.S. has lots of natural resources but is still taking a while to shake off the effects of this housing crisis and Wall Street/banking clusterf&%k, so domestic travel ┬áis still a good value. Hotels are still not filled back up with business travelers and most are still struggling to get past 50% occupancy. Parts of Europe are hurting badly as well, especially the crisis countries of Ireland, Spain, and Portugal. (Italy’s in big trouble too, but from a tourism standpoint they’re bulletproof. So no bargains there.)

Mexico’s economy is actually doing quite well, but the media’s relentless focus on the narco border violence there has put a damper on tourism growth. Tourism is still chugging along okay and a steadily richer domestic crowd is traveling more, but it’s a buyer’s market for sure. Every week I see incredible bargains on package deals and where I am in Central Mexico, I’m finding plenty of great deals when I take weekend trips with my family.

If you’re feeling brave, Egypt will be a screaming bargain for the rest of the year no matter what happens and you won’t have to try very hard to take a photo with no tourists in it. Same with Jordan just because they’re in the neighborhood.

How to play this: 1) Know where the deals are and plan your trips accordingly. 2) Take advantage of auction sites that clear out hotel inventory (SkyAuction, Priceline, Hotwire). 3) Look at which places people are avoiding and see if the fear is overblown. If so, go!