There's nothing like a good chunk of rest and relaxation after a hard nine months or more of work and school. It can be rejuvenating to get away from your routine and spend some precious time with your family. But vacations do cost money, and no one wants to drain their savings account to take a summer vacation.
Start by setting a budget and plan to stick with it. Then you can decide how you'll get there, where you'll stay and what you'll do about food and entertainment. Make savings a breeze by setting up automatic transfers into a targeted online savings account with the best savings account rates well ahead of your planned escape.
Here are 10 tips on how to get started on an economical vacation:
1. Check into travel packages - This can include train travel with meals, tours and some hotel stays. All the major travel sites like Expedia.com and Orbitz.com book air, hotel and rental car combinations, as do some of the airlines.
2. Try alternative lodging - You can stay on a farm and teach your children about where their food comes from. You can even work with organic farmers if you're so inclined. How about exchanging homes with another family who lives at your desired destination? Renting a cabin or cottage on a lake or in the mountains lets you save by doing your own cooking.
3. Get out the tent - Camping saves money while creating lifetime memories. If you don't already have the necessary equipment, shop around at the weekend yard sales to see what you can pick up. Campground fees are usually quite reasonable, and who doesn't like s'mores made around the nightly campfire.
4. Go in the off season - If summer is the only time available for your vacation, search for places that don't get much business during warm months, like ski resorts. Look for deals on travel during the low season and stay away from any place during their major events or holidays. You'll find the lowest prices and the fewest crowds, but the trade-off may be less-than-ideal weather or some closed attractions.
5. Opt for a road trip - Even with fairly high gas prices, driving works better than flying if you are cost-conscious. Make your road trip a themed one and search for roadside oddities like the Human Chess Board in Morro Bay, Calif., or the Gum Wall in Seattle. Get out your portable GPS or use your smartphone and look for geocaching sites. Check to see if the location offers a city pass where you pay a flat fee and have your choice of several different activities.
6. Look for discounts and coupons - Troll state and local tourism bureau sites for deals and coupons for everything from hotels to restaurants to activities and attractions. Buy a local newspaper when you arrive and look for discounts in it. Follow the city, lodgings and restaurants at your destination on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to get first crack at those discounts. Cash in your credit card reward points.
7. Eat on the cheap - Book a place with a kitchen or kitchenette and do your own cooking instead of going out for every meal. Treat lunch as your big meal of the day as it's less expensive than restaurant dinners. Pick up provisions at the local grocery or deli so you can eat breakfast and lunch in, then you only have one restaurant meal a day.
8. Walk or take public transportation - Instead of renting a car, visit everywhere you can on foot or via the bus. Besides saving money in rental, insurance, gas, tolls and parking, you'll get a better feel and a more in-depth view of the city or town you're visiting.
9. Visit free attractions - Many cities offer free admission to certain museums on certain days. Lots of great museums don't charge admission at all. Ask the locals about their favorite attractions that are free or low-cost.
10. Take precautions to prevent theft - Don't carry large amounts of cash. Instead take just two credit cards, but try to use only one. The second is a backup in case something happens to the first. Using just one makes it easier to reconcile your budget. Always let the credit card company know you'll be traveling and where. Otherwise they may flag your account and not let you charge.
With the above tips in mind, have fun planning your next vacation, and leave room in your schedule for "down time"--which is free, of course!