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10 Ways to Save Money on Your Next Family Vacation

By Aaron Schulman

Going on a family vacation should be relaxing and create lasting memories. Those memories shouldn’t be marred by worries about how you are going to finance the trip or how you are going to pay the bills once you are home again. A well-researched, planned out trip does not have to break the bank. You can create those wonderful memories even on a small budget. The bottom line is, whether you travel once every few years, or whether you vacation frequently as part of a discount vacation club, there are often more ways to save money if you do a little more research and preparation. Here are a few practical tips on how to do just that:

1. Save, Save, Save.

Don’t wait until the last minute to budget. Http://www.smartypig.com/ is a site that offers a place to do some online saving for a big trip or event. Better yet, friends and family can make contributions if they would like to. So instead of a bad necktie for Christmas or droopy flowers for your birthday, ask friends and relatives to make a contribution to your vacation fund. It is more practical and it is something you really will be able to enjoy. If you are uncomfortable with that, ask for gas cards or gift cards that can be used while on vacation.

2. Pick The Right Place At The Right Time.

There are many times of the year, and even days of the week, when airfare and hotel rates are cheaper. You may actually save money this Christmas by taking extra time off of work to get to Grandma’s house before the season rush. Farecast.com offers information on how to book the right dates for your flight. Also, you can avoid the crowds (and the added expense) by traveling overseas in the fall instead of summer to those top tourist sites. Most schools will work with families who want to take a vacation during the start of the school year. If planned enough in advance, your child can get his or her homework assignments and finish them before the trip. And where would you rather be– floating in the gondolas of Venice or gym class?

3. Keep It Simple.

Can’t afford Venice this year? In this economy, you are certainly not alone. A simple camping trip may be just the thing your family needs to get away from it all. It makes for great family bonding time, and a chance to learn about nature. To make the trip less expensive, and maybe even more exciting, take tents and camping gear to the home of an out-of-state friend or relative (with their permission, of course.) You get the chance to do some catching up without actually invading anyone’s home. Offer space in your yard for them the next year. Or, if you are comfortable with the idea, you can always try a house swap. There are several places online where you can find house swappers, or ask a friend or relative if they are interested in a vacation trade by swapping houses.

4. Know Before You Go.

Once you have your destination in mind, it’s time to get to work. Check out the best deals you can get online. Call places and see if you can get a better deal. Make them compete for your business. And if you find a better deal after you book, don’t hesitate to call and try to get that rate. Most places will work with you. After all, if they don’t give you a good deal and a great experience, they know they can’t expect your repeat business. You call the shots here. As long as you know how to deal, you are still in the game. Some hotels will even offer “layaway” financing; allowing the customer to pay ahead in installments for a future trip. This may be a great option for a tight budget. In all, you’ll never know unless you ask. A simple 30 second question could save an additional $15 per night. If that becomes the case, and you end up staying for a week, you just made $95 additional in travel savings just for asking.

5. If You’ve Got It, Use It.

If you are an AARP or AAA member, let them know where you are going and ask what discounts you can receive there. According to recent studies, only about 4% of AAA members use their card for discounts at retail stores, and many people don’t use their travel advantages at all. The discounts are there, you just have to ask for them. You can also sign up in advance for mass online group discounters like Groupon, Living Social or Google Offers for the destination city (even if you don’t live there). You will be able to get many attraction and restaurant discounts (often up to 50% or more) for the area to which you will be traveling.

6. Getting There.

Even with gas prices on the rise, it is usually cheaper to drive than fly ? especially if you have a large family or are traveling with others. If traveling in groups, you can always split the cost of gas and lodging. Pack snacks and light meals to cut down on food expenses. Split the cost of a vacation house or condo. You have separate rooms that way and it will more than likely be cheaper than hotel rooms for all. Also, do some research online for unused timeshare inventory. You can try to find out how to get a timeshare at a discount. There are some sites and services that offer unused inventory because the real estate companies would rather cover maintenance costs than to have the units sit empty. A little research or even a small investment in a membership may save hundreds or thousands of dollars.

7. Let’s Eat!

Going out to eat is a big part of vacation. And an expensive one. If you are staying in a hotel, ask if you can get a room with a refrigerator and a microwave. Hit the local grocery store instead of an overpriced restaurant. A few meals in your room will make a big difference in your budget. And when you do go out to eat, opt for lunch sizes instead of dinner. Prices are usually much more reasonable on the lunch menu.

8. Get to Know the Natives.

Tourist areas offer a variety of – very overpriced – fun and food opportunities referred to as tourist traps. It’s their business to get you to pay more, and they are good at what they do. Instead of falling into the tourist traps, ask around or check out Chowhound online for local opinions on dining. The locals know the best and cheapest places to eat. And it can be fun to find a few quaint little places off the beaten path.

9. Get the Freebies.

Look for places that offer times when kids eat free. You can save a lot just by keeping your “eyes out” for good deals like this. Some hotels will also offer free meals for kids when adults pay for theirs. Ask before booking if your hotel has this, or even free breakfast. You’re paying enough for everything else. Take a break where you can get one. Also, don’t forget to take advantage of what your hotel has to offer. Swimming pools, spas, and gyms are often included in your package. Take time to enjoy the extras without the added expense.

10. Shop Around.

We all want those fun souvenirs to take home with us occasionaly. Once in a while, it’s okay to splurge. But first, find out if you can get those items cheaper. Often you can find items online for much less, even with the cost of shipping. And have the kids budget too. If your children are older, it is a great way to teach them responsibility and self control with money. Have a set amount they can spend for the trip. Help them divide it up according to how long you will be on your vacation. Also, model for them how to spend responsibly. You are not only saving some cash on things that would have ended up in the back of a closet, but you are teaching your children to become responsible with their own finances in the future. It’s great to have teachable moments wherever you go.

All in all, it really is possible to have a great vacation without ending up with a mountain of debt. Simply using your common sense, some research and your resources will help you to come out ahead of the game. Now it’s time to relax and enjoy the trip, knowing that you got the best leisure and travel value for your money!

About the author:

Aaron Schulman is an avid web developer, publisher, and writer. He enjoys time with his wife and 3 girls, traveling, cooking, playing guitar and golf. He enjoys writing articles, and product reviews on quality topics, like a recent entry for a traveler guitar model: the Baby Taylor guitar review. He also enjoys helping people learn and improve their quality of life.