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By Marie Anderson
MoneyMix Contributor

You're daydreaming about a few days away from work or school: relaxing on the beach, doing some scuba diving, or maybe seeing a show. Then you snap back to reality: You can't afford a trip like that. 

Or can you?

If you sacrifice a few nights out to save some cash, plan ahead, and remain flexible, you might be surprised at what a great trip you can have. Here are some money-saving ideas to help you plan for five different kinds of vacations.

1. the romantic getaway

Don't let your busy weeks get in the way of a romantic weekend. Romantic getaways don't have to be elaborate, planned trips. For a budget-friendly alternative, choose destinations that are close to home or within a short driving distance. Check local newspapers and regional Web sites to find flea markets, festivals, or free live entertainment. To save money on meals, bring a cooler to provide a few picnic lunches, or, opt for a bed and breakfast or a hotel that offers a continental breakfast.



Travel Resources:

 Enter your travel details at Bing.com and receive an e-mail update whenever airline prices fall.

 Book your hotel with Hotwire.com.

 Bid on hotel rooms at Priceline.com for even more savings.

 Discover the best time to visit a certain destination by using Weather2Travel.com.

 Use BudgetTravel.com for ideas about where and how to travel on a budget.

 Search for flights using Expedia.com.

 Search for cheap cruises with SmallShipCruises.com.

 LastMinute.com gives you information about last-minute deals in the U.S. and U.K.

But if you're looking to put a little more distance between you and home base, here are some other ideas:

  • Consider going to Las Vegas, where you easily can find deals on plane tickets and hotel rooms. While in Vegas you could visit the famous Hoover Dam. You also could detour to the Grand Canyon. Or, blend a trip to San Francisco with a visit to California's wine country.
  • Visit Solomons Island, Md., for a quiet place to bike or just relax. You also can drive a short distance to Annapolis or Baltimore if you're looking for exciting nightlife. 

2. the family vacation

If you're a parent, you might already know the difficulties of planning a trip under a budget. But cutting back on just a few everyday things can help you save enough money for a trip. One idea is to use only what is in your cupboard to make dinner one night each week instead of buying extra groceries or going out. Find new and creative ways to pinch pennies, and you soon could be planning one of these fun, family-friendly getaways:

  • Camp at a state or national park. Typically, you need only one family pass a year, and many parks have rental bikes and kayaks on site.
  • Rent a house on the beach with another family in Gulf Shores, Ala. Splitting the cost will leave some extra money for activities, like a dolphin-watch cruise or an afternoon at a water park.
  • Relax in West Michigan along the shore of Lake Michigan. Visit the area's various music and film festivals throughout the year.

3. the international trip

If you're planning a trip overseas, travel in the off-season, or "shoulder season"—the time tucked between the high prices of peak season and the potentially lousy weather of low season—to get the best prices. This usually is winter in Europe, but you also can catch deals in early spring. Before you leave, check your credit card details to see what kind of exchange rate it offers. Some credit cards now tack on extra fees for foreign travel, so if possible, carry a credit card with you that has a better rate. Pack light (really light) so you can use public transit easily instead of paying for cabs. Limit shoes, go mini on cosmetic items, and pack clothes you can mix and match. You also can get "passes" in countries like Britain that will save you money in the long run.  For example, "The London Pass" gives you free entry to your choice of more than 55 attractions as well as opportunities to avoid lines and secure public transportation. You can find great deals all over the world:

  • Britain offers several opportunities for saving money, including many free museums.
  • Visit South Africa to explore game reserves and wine country. Visit FlySAAVacations.com to buy a package and save more.
  • Buenos Aires is a cheaper destination than Europe, but with similar perks, including hiking, kayaking, and fly-fishing.
  • Book tickets to Ireland and travel in the fall, when airline prices are low. Sometimes, booking separate one-way tickets can help cut costs.

4. the adventure excursion

Are you someone who includes mountain-climbing and daredevil-skiing in your vacation daydream? If you are, you already may have invested in your own equipment. If not, plan ahead and look for local sales on skis and other equipment to cut costs on renting. Use your own transportation to get to your destination so you can bring your own food and supplies. Also, booking a house or condo, or sharing a hotel room, with a group of friends is a sure-fire way to trim your lodging bill.

  • Book a hiking trip in Europe and stay in hostels instead of hotels.
  • Visit KEAdventure.com for information on packages for adventure trips all around the world.

5. the cruise

The best time to book a cruise is as soon as you decide to take one. "In general, the earlier you book, the cheaper the price you get," says Ed Mani, President of Burkhalter Travel in Madison, Wis. However, there are exceptions to this rule. You could wait to get a cheaper package if the ship isn't full, but remember to take into account your travel plans to get to the cruise ship. "If you can drive to the port, that is an appropriate time to gamble on the cruise availability," Mani says.

If you sacrifice a few nights out, plan ahead, and remain flexible, you might be surprised at what a great trip you can have.

  • Take two trips in one: Cruise to Europe using American cruise lines. Cruising is cheaper than paying for airline tickets and hotels—plus you can pay for everything with U.S. dollars.
  • Check interactive, online cruise ship guides such as Cruisemates and All Things Cruise to make planning your cruise easy.

tips for all travelers

If you travel a lot, sign up for a frequent flier miles program. Or, consider getting a credit card that offers rewards on hotels if you're sure you'll be able to pay off the balance when the bill comes.

One of the most important travel tips is to plan and budget for everything—not only transportation and food, but souvenirs, museum visits, and extras like snacks in the airport. You also can use your iPhone or iTouch to add travel-friendly apps. And if you're overwhelmed by the planning process, and have a little extra money to spend, you could consider booking with a travel agent. "Travel agents can search for the best deals for you, and they also have better resources that may not be available to you," says Mani.

So the best rule of thumb? Plan ahead, and you'll be on your way to a fabulous and frugal vacation. Happy traveling!

Published July 22, 2010

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