Stretching Your Vacation Dollars

Stretching Your Vacation Dollars

We all look forward to vacations — the precious time to recharge our batteries and spend care-free days and fun-filled nights with family and friends. But visions of vacations may change this year with the economy falling and basics like food and housing at a premium. Many Americans are on tight budgets that are affecting their travel plans.

General vacation costs were up 3.7 percent in 2007 and those who have traveled in 2008 know it's not getting better. Americans are being forced to look at ways to cut back on their travel expenses, while still planning something fun for everyone in their party.

These tough economic times mean travelers need to become creative and discover destinations closer to home where their dollar goes further. More Americans are turning to the Internet to plan affordable vacations and get new travel ideas. With access to dedicated travel sites, online coupons, and booking sites that offer discounted packages for hotels and flights, the Web has opened up a whole new world for travelers to plan within their budgets.

But it's a double-edged advantage. "There are hundreds of different prices out there," says Chuck Brook, owner of Express Travel, Inc. in Medford, that take time to sort through. "It's confusing unless you've done it before."

"The Internet is a great resource center," adds Becky Lonctot, regional manager for AAA in Medford but adds, "Once you've narrowed it down, go to someone who has stayed there or traveled there."

Start your travel planning on a travel-specific search Web site that will help you narrow your favorite activities, destinations and types of lodging accommodations. To help make affordable travel decisions, sites currently offer access to information on the largest collection of affordable hotels and free or cheap activities from around the Web, including parks, museums, campgrounds and beaches. Frugal-minded travelers can plan their trip by simply going to such sites as and selecting an activity or lodging for the destination of their choice, and then click on the "Feelin' Broke" button, to get a list of free, affordable and fun suggestions. Web sites like these take travelers' preferences into consideration and help guide you to places and activities that interest you and are within your budget.

But make sure you understand what you are comparing when looking at the price, says Brook. "Find out the details of the trip," he reminds. Flight times, stopovers, room categories, taxes, service fees or car classifications are all factors that may change the final price you pay. "You have to read the fine print."

*Get discounts

Once you have narrowed your top choices of where you'd like to go and what you'd like to do, it's time to look for coupons and discounts. For example, families can lower the expense of visiting a theme park in several ways — by purchasing discount tickets in advance on the Internet, by downloading coupons that can be redeemed at the gate or by using memberships in associations such as AAA or AARP to get discounts at the facility. Travel agents, too, often have additional vendor amenities they can offer customers, reminds Lonctot.

If you're planning on traveling further from home, you should comparison shop the many popular online travel booking sites that offer discounted packages for flights, hotel and car rentals. Debbie Anderson of Let's Go! Travel in Medford says, "Generally you're going to get a better deal," with package offers, a savings that Brook estimates is usually between 10 and 20 percent.

*Plan ahead

Extra planning time usually equals savings for travelers, says Anderson. "They can be sitting beside someone that paid half what they did. Just because [the other person] planned ahead."

*Explore many options

But always remember that no matter where you decide to go, taking a fun vacation does not mean that you have to spend a lot of money. Exploring nearby museums and art galleries, camping and hiking in a local state park, and taking tours through landmark or historical districts can create relaxing, fun experiences for everyone in your party.

ARA content and Valerie Coulman

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