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This summer’s travel forecast calls for high airfares and newly increased fees from major airlines. Groan if you must, but don’t give up on your summer vacation just yet. The key to planning an affordable family vacation this summer, and every summer, is making common-sense choices that keep costs under control. Here are six time-honored strategies for getting away on a dime.
1. Be a backyard explorer. Don’t assume that the grass is always greener, or the water bluer, a thousand miles away from home. No matter where you live, there are national and state parks, gorgeous lakes, vibrant cities, and idyllic summer resort towns within a day’s drive. Make a point of discovering a few nearby treasures this summer and you’ll find yourself in excellent company. In the recent MiniTime Family Vacation Planning Survey, 88 percent of parents said their families were taking at least one vacation within a six-hour drive of home.
2. Time it right. Hotel rates fluctuate with supply and demand, so it really pays to go against the flow. In many popular summer resort destinations, prices peak between July 4 and mid-August. Consequently, vacationing in June or late-August can translate into significant savings. You’ll typically get more bang from your buck at summer resorts if you visit midweek, but the opposite can hold true for city breaks. During the summertime in the Big Apple, for example, when business travel slows and locals flee to the hinterlands, hotels have been known to drop their rates by 15 to 20 percent midweek and up to 30 percent for Sunday night stays.
3. Focus on extras. When it comes to finding a bargain hotel, don’t automatically assume you get what you pay for. When you look beyond nightly rates, you’ll discover that dozens of economy chains offer free breakfast, wi-fi, and parking, while their mid- and high-end counterparts are more likely to charge for those amenities.
4. Arrive armed with deals. Before you leave home, order the Entertainment Book or another coupon book for your destination. These popular editions are so stuffed with discounts on dining and attractions that you’ll likely recoup your investment within the first two days of your visit. (See also: 6 Ways to Save on Kid-Friendly Attractions.)
5. Keep meals cheap and cheerful. Sit-down meals for a family can add up astonishingly fast, so make restaurant visits the exception rather than the rule. Keep a cooler in your car and restock it with snacks and drinks bought at local grocery stores. Stay at a hotel that offers a free breakfast (see above), and plan to picnic at least once a day. When you treat yourselves to a restaurant, do it at lunch time, when menus are less expensive.
6. Mix in free fun. Nothing takes the sting out of vacation sticker shock like a few good freebies. So after you visit LEGOLAND and SeaWorld, give your wallet a break with these free things to do with kids in San Diego. Once you’ve been to the National Aquarium, check out these five freebies in Baltimore. Consult your destination’s tourism organization to find local parks, nature trails, playgrounds, and farmer’s markets—all go-to stops for free fun. And don’t forget the joy of simply hanging out at your hotel pool.
Suzanne Rowan Kelleher contributed this article to Minitime.com.