vacation on a budget

*Planning a vacation can be expensive and challenging, especially when you are talking about taking the whole family. Nevertheless, with a little time and creativity, you can stretch your travel buying power and stay within your budget. The key is to start early in order to get the best deals.

Before you begin, decide on a budget and what you want to get out of your vacation.  Are you interested in a cruise, a trip abroad, a relaxing all-inclusive family resort vacation in the Caribbean, or a fun-filled excursion through a rainforest, an amusement park or a specialty destination?  Or, maybe you want to hit the streets of Paris, Italy or South Africa.  Whatever your heart desires, staying within your budget is possible with proper planning and minimal web-surfing skills.

Tips to help you book a budget-friendly vacation…

  • Extend your travel buying power by purchasing vacation packages at sites such as www.priceline.com or www.hotwire.com. You can save money by booking your airline tickets along with a hotel room or a rental car. If flying, airline tickets are cheaper February through May and September through December (except the week before Thanksgiving and two weeks before Christmas).
  • Instead of stressing over high airline ticket prices, try packing the family up and, consider taking the scenic route — and yes, that means a road trip (www.roadtripamerica.com). Road trips can be fun because you have control of when you stop, how long you stop and you can enjoy your surroundings. However, be prepared for your kids to ask you repeatedly, “Are we there yet?” Pack your picnic basket with your favorite food, music, books, and games for the road.
  •  The key to saving dollars is to be flexible about when you travel. Plan your vacation for the off-peak season. Peak and off-peak seasons vary depending on where you are going and the time of year. If you want to avoid the crowds and save a few bucks, ask the hotel about the best time to travel.
  • When making hotel reservations (try www.travelweb.com or www.hoteldiscount.com), be sure to ask for the lowest rate available for corporate, senior, AAA, AARP, and military members. Hotels are typically more expensive the closer you get to a major attraction. Also, consider staying at a hotel that offers a complimentary breakfast.  Talk to the concierge where you are staying. Ask them where to find the deals.
  • America’s best-kept secret may very well be their great national and state parks. Take advantage of a trip to a national or state park (www.nps.gov or www.reserveamerica.com). Rates are cheaper and there is a lot to do, including visiting beaches and lakes or going swimming, hiking biking and horseback riding. Many of the state parks offer cabins, and camping even cheaper.
  • Spend a few extra dollars and purchase a protection plan from your travel agent or credit card provider. For a small fee, purchase insurance in case of trip delays, unpredictable weather, medical emergencies and baggage delay or loss.

TOP 10 VALUE DESTINATION SPOTS IN THE U.S.

 (Ranked for their low rates, discounts, affordable entertainment, and overall appeal.)

1. Orlando,FL

2. Atlanta, GA

3. Tampa, FL

4. Dallas-Fort Worth, TX

5. Phoenix, AZ

6. Raleigh-Durham, NC

7. Charlotte, NC

8. Houston, TX

9. Saint Louis, MO

10. Sacramento, CA

SOURCE: HOTWIRE.COM

NOTE: The Hotwire travel index ranking is based on each destinations score in three categories (on a 100 point scale).  Low rates on Air, Rental, Car and Hotel and affordable entertainment and overall appeal.