Saving Money: The Lebanese Recipes Kitchen (The home of delicious Lebanese Recipes and Middle Eastern food recipes) presents this video about how to save Save on Your Next Family Vacation. Good Houseskeeping has some great tips on how to take a fun family vacation without breaking the bank.
Clever moms (just like you) reveal how they make their travel memorable while saving major cash.
Even if today's tight-fisted economy has you hoarding coupons and attempting to make cappuccinos at home, you can still have a family vacation that's not a guilt trip. Here are tips from budget-smart travelers (including the GH team) that show you how to spend less money — without sacrificing an ounce of fun.
Hit the Pricey Spots Off-Season
You may dream of an island escape in frigid winter, but Vanessa Druckman, a Columbus, OH, food blogger and mother of three, has been heading to the Caribbean in sultry August for years. She and her husband, Steve — who were turned off by winter's crowds and high prices — join his family in luxe hotels like the Ritz-Carlton in Grand Cayman, happily lopping 20 to 30 percent off in-season rates. Druckman's own family usually needs just one room with two double beds and a crib. "Not only do we save a lot on hotel and airfare, but we love how secluded it feels. Nothing's crowded if you travel just before hurricane season starts in mid-August. It's hot, but no hotter than the East Coast or Southwest, and there's no better place to cool down than in that turquoise water," she says. "And we enjoy having snorkeling boats to ourselves instead of being wedged in like sardines." The family also shops for "pay for, say, three nights, get one free" hotel deals to stretch their dollars.
Tip to try: When searching hotel sites online (say, starwoodhotels.com, hilton.com, hyatt.com, and marriott.com), scan for what are called hotel specials or packages: These deals often include extras like museum tickets, airport transportation, and room taxes for free or a very small charge.
Try a House Swap
Kim Orlando, of Greenwich, CT, mother of three and the founder of travelingmom.com, is all about her annual two-week summer house swap with a family in Hermosa Beach, CA. She and her husband, Romano, and their kids head back to the Los Angeles area, where Kim and Romano used to live, to spend time at the beach and see old friends — and their swappers get to be a train ride away from New York City and its attractions. This past summer, the Orlandos booked a second swap with a new family through homeexchange.com, which charges about $120 for yearly membership. Beyond that, the stay is (delight-) fully free, and about half the swappers on the site also offer use of a car. "My husband was a reluctant house-swapper. He's a real Felix Unger type — he has a collection of pocketknives, which he hid before we left. But by the last house swap, he was saying, 'Here's the key, here's the car,'" says Orlando. "I always say the best thing about house swaps is that the ketchup, mustard, and beach toys are already there. And nobody wants to pay 40 or 50 bucks for breakfast. With a swap, you have a kitchen, and the kids have their own bedrooms, so there's less bickering."
Orlando recommends having several get-to-know-you phone chats with the swappers before you leave, and paying for your house to be cleaned at the beginning of your visitors' stay (so you don't have to mop while you pack) as well as at the end so everything will be shipshape for your return. Also, check with your own insurance company, but many policies cover exchange partners as invited guests and perhaps even as permitted drivers, and offer coverage as such. Another way to go: List your home on Vacation Rentals by Owner (vrbo.com), and when someone bites at your offer, scan the site for what's available out of town for a similar price and rent it for the same time period.
Tip to try: Want to list your home but don't live, say, by the beach or in a glamorous city? Play up your area's selling points: Being surrounded by woods, or being just a stroll from a historical society, may be precisely what thrills another homeowner.
Just Say No to Hotel Bills
...and camp under the stars instead. Unplugging from our high-tech world gives kids a memorable time communing with nature. Granted, it's not for everyone (it's a tad awkward to change a diaper in a tent), but those who are game will find themselves in a gorgeous setting, bonding over life's simple pleasures. And it's one of the best bargains in America. Instead of paying $200 or more per night in season at the Bar Harbor Inn in Bar Harbor, ME, you could stay in stunning Acadia National Park for about $20 per night — saving enough for at least a car payment! Beware, though: Popular parks, like Yosemite, can fill up months ahead of time in peak season. If you want to camp there between July 15 and August 14, for example, reservations open online or by phone on March 15 at 10 a.m. ET.
Tip to try: For guidance on how to pick a specific park, we asked Alexander Altvater, a ranger for the National Park Service at Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, NJ, for his advice; he suggests checking out your local state parks as well as national ones. His favorites: Villanueva in New Mexico, Dead Horse Point in Utah, and Custer State Park in the South Dakota Black Hills. Go to nps.gov for genuine National Park Service campsites, and check out stateparks.com, too.
If you're renting a condo or cottage on vacation, cooking in is cheaper and cozier than dining out, and is a better way to share family time. Jean and Terry Rose, parents of six from Montclair, NJ, head to Bethany Beach, DE, for a week every summer with extended family, and each branch of the clan takes control of the kitchen for one night of the week, using favorite recipes they've brought along. "Shopping together at farmstands is also part of the fun for us," says Jean. Plus, at the dinner table you won't hear that "ka-ching!" in your head when the kids ask for another soda the way you would if you were dining out.
Tip to try: Prior to your trip, ask pals for favorite "new" dishes they've made recently, or visit our meal types for ideas:
Let Someone Else Do the Driving
It may not be as comfy as your car, but Greyhound offers reasonable fares — much cheaper than flying — and kids who travel with adults get 25 percent off; check greyhound.com for details. (Newer buses in the Northeast now have Wi-Fi.) Or take Amtrak, which posts Weekly Specials in the Deals section on its Website (amtrak.com) that can be booked online from Tuesday through Friday; we saw fares of up to 25 percent off.
Ask for a Concierge Floor
When booking a hotel room, "concierge floors often cost a little more, but sometimes a hotel will upgrade you just because you've asked. Either way, it's worth it," says Jean Chatzky, Today's financial editor and the author of The Difference: How Anyone Can Prosper in Even the Toughest Times. "These floors have lounges where you can get free breakfast, snacks, and sodas, plus hors d'oeuvres at night. They save my family a lot on food." (At Hilton hotels, ask for the Executive Floor.) Rates and restrictions vary by location, but the extra charge (from $30 up) can be well worth it if you're feeding a family.
Don't Leave Home Without...
...your ID cards. Students, people in the military, seniors, and even AAA members can get discounts on fares and even entrance fees at museums, theme parks, and more. Check out the Websites of your destination to see what kinds of discounts are possible before you visit for the biggest savings with the least disappointment.
3 More $mart Moves
You could save big on your next trip to some favorite destinations.
1. Disney Parks
Book a five-night, six-day Magic Your Way vacation package to stay at a Disney Resort hotel and get a $750 Disney gift card free to use during your vacation. And with "Give a Day, Get a Disney Day," if you volunteer with a participating organization, you get a free theme park day pass.
Stay three nights at either The Hotel Hershey or Hershey Lodge in Hershey, PA, and get the fourth night free, along with complimentary passes for that day to Hersheypark and all of its rides.
3. JW Marriott
Book two nights at the new JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa in Texas (it includes a six-acre "river experience" water park), and get the third night free — plus, kids under 12 eat free.
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