Saving Money While on Vacation +

Americans have always been travelers. If that weren’t true, there wouldn’t be a United States. Life has changed dramatically over the centuries, but Americans still have the need to conquer new territory–at least during vacation time. Vacation travel no longer involves dirty rides in horse-driven carriages or coal-fired trains. It no longer requires a lot of money, either–not if you follow these tips:

Comparison shop. Compare prices of transportation, lodging, attractions, and eateries by utilizing online travel and tourism Websites. Then you won’t have a fit when you find out your neighbor traveled to the same location at the same time as you–but at a much lower price. Be sure to manually input your travel dates into the online forms; don’t leave the default dates. The time of travel can make a big difference in price.

Try to vacation during “off-peak season.” The time may not be as “off” as you may think. For example, if peak season begins November 20, then start your vacation November 12. Eight days won’t make much difference in the weather. You’ll also avoid the “in” crowds and get more time to enjoy the museums and mountains without people hurrying you past the paintings and panoramas.

Make a budget based on your research and make trade-offs. If you’ll be staying in an expensive locality, you may have to stay in a two- or three-star hotel instead of a four-star hotel. When budgeting, include every expense you can think of, such as food, parking, and souvenirs. Get everyone in the family on board. Then stick to your budget. Give your kids stickers or inexpensive trinkets for cost-conscious behavior.

Vacation in locations that are big on views but small on the wallet. There are plenty of Websites and books about the beauties of “off-the-beaten track” localities. The fact that a destination doesn’t receive 200,000 visitors per day doesn’t mean it isn’t a gem. In fact, the lack of crowds is an advantage.

Consider alternative lodging. If you think hostels are just for the under-30 gang, think again. Hostels have no age limit. The natural beauty of the mountains, lakes, and deserts can be enjoyed from hostels as well as hotels. Look in the classified ads for people renting their guest rooms by the week. If you don’t see anything short-term enough, call the renter to inquire who else in the area may want to rent a room, with a generous advance deposit, of course. Also talk to friends and co-workers. You could wind up staying with a friend-of-a-friend who will give you insider tips along with a room. Consider a campground or RV park. A tent or trailer is not required, since many offer large rental trailers and deluxe cabins for less than the price of a good hotel room. As a bonus, you’ll get to enjoy the wonderful sights and sounds of nature.

Go online to decide which attractions to visit. First view Websites of various attractions for the latest on admission prices, hours, special events, etc. Then peruse travel advice sites for reviews left by past visitors. Be sure to make two lists of places to see. Make one list for “must-sees” and one for “wanna-sees.” Some locales have more attractions than anyone can possibly see without staying a month and/or going bankrupt (despite being cost-conscious), so focus the trip only on the “must-sees.”

Seek discounts. Look on dedicated coupon Websites, sites for area tourism, and on individual attraction sites. Print coupons for both the “must-see” and “wanna-see” attractions, remembering that even discounted tickets still cost money. Purchase advance tickets from the Website if you know which day you’ll be visiting, since these tickets are often discounted. If you don’t know, then wait until you’re at your destination. Fast-food franchises and stores in the area usually will have coupons at the counter. It’s hard to go to a hotel without seeing stacks of brochures containing coupons. Take one of those free events newspapers awaiting you along the sidewalks. Getting to a theme park late can save you money, since tickets will be discounted when visitors enter after a certain hour. Keep your eyes and ears open. You never know when the people ahead of you in line are going to have an extra coupon to give away.

Whenever possible, don’t drive. Instead, take the subway, shuttle, or trolley. You’ll save big on car rental fees, gas, and/or parking fees. You’ll also save yourself the trouble of driving in a strange city, with other drivers honking at you for hesitating in the traffic circle/rotary/round-about.

Don’t pay for an overpriced meal. If picnic facilities are available, pack a lunch. If not, discreetly carry small snacks to tide over appetites until you can reach a reasonably priced restaurant. Find out where the locals go by researching restaurants on travel advice and “where to eat” review sites. At a restaurant, have kids split an adult meal; it may be cheaper than ordering separate kids’ meals. Don’t order appetizers; eat the free bread rolls instead. Save calories as well as money by foregoing desserts–or share them. Ask any locals you meet at your destination--lodging staff, bus drivers, park guides, restaurant servers, etc.–which affordable eateries they recommend.

Whip out your card. Wherever you go, ask the ticket person or reservations taker whether discounts are given to members of your auto club, social club, union, association, etc. Be honest about your age if it means saving money on a “senior” ticket. Being a member could mean a savings of 10 percent or more. If you don’t get a discount, don’t give up. Sweetly ask if an upgrade is available. You may be pleasantly surprised.

These tips will help you plan the best vacation you can possibly have without paying for this year’s vacation until you take next year’s. Creativity and foresight make a little money go a long way, even far away.

About the Author: Ardent traveler Anne Verville delights in planning affordable vacations as much as taking them.

“Saving Money on While on Vacation” is an original article by Anne Verville. Copyright 2010 by Canville Communications. Photo image by Dan C. Rinnert.

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