10 Ways Families Can Vacation for Less

Plan ahead to save on travel costs for your next family vacation.

By Marcy Black

Family travel doesn't have to cost a lot when you follow these tips for finding bargains while planning a getaway.

Before you go ...

1. House-hunt.
Bypass pricey hotels and look for a vacation rental of a house or condo, which can offer more room for more people at a lower cost. House swapping is another free, or low-fee, way to sample residential life in a nearby resort area. As long as you are willing to cook and pick up after yourself, you can save on restaurant meals and enjoy more privacy.

2. Check for bargains on your destination's website.
Savvy travelers check for online deals at resorts and attractions. Some resorts and visitor's bureaus regularly e-mail newsletters to keep travelers posted on the latest bargains.

3. Travel off-season.
Avoid the crowds and save money by vacationing during the off-season. Think of vacationing to Europe in the winter or hitting ski areas in the summer. One-day lift tickets this season at Colorado's Copper Mountain are only $70 (if ordered in advance); summer season passes are only $69 (in advance). Included in the fee are bungee, mini golf, scenic chair lift rides, lake activities, climbing wall, 30 minutes of paddle-boating, and one session per day on the go-kart track. You'll find hotels and resorts eager to fill empty rooms when the weather is less than perfect. A queen room at the Refuge Inn in Chincoteague Island, Va., costs up to $165 during the high season (mid-June through Labor Day) but as little as $89 in the low season. They also offer a 10% discount to all individuals 65 years of age and older.

4. Seek flight discounts.
Before you purchase an airline ticket, compare flight options online. Yapta.com tracks airfares and will notify you when they drop so you can jump on a good deal. If ticket prices decline after you've booked a flight, the site will let you know how to claim a refund. And Orbitz.com's flight assurance will automatically send you a refund for the difference if another customer later books the same itinerary for less than you paid.

5. Travel by RV.
When airplane and train costs for parties of three, four, or more start to mount, consider driving to your destination instead. If you're planning to drive overnight, an RV rental can help you save on hotel and restaurant charges. Hook up at a low-cost campground — and pack plenty of marshmallows, chocolate bars, and graham crackers for s'mores.

Once you arrive ...

6. Sign up for package deals.
Sometimes you can do more for less. The CityPass program, for one, offers discounts of up to 46 percent on attractions and amenities in more than 10 major cities. Just one example.

7. Eat breakfast in.
Grandkids who are used to having Cheerios every morning may find the familiar taste comforting when they're away from home. Bringing along a box of cereal and asking the hotel for a minifridge to store milk can save you the cost of buying an expensive breakfast every morning. Or seek out hotels that provide a complimentary continental breakfast — kids 12 and under often eat free, as well.

8. Take public transit.
Learning a new bus or subway system can be an adventure all its own, and it can be a lot of fun for grandkids. Grandchildren can help plan your route using the big maps posted on station walls, and your family may discover an Andean pan flute player or a string quartet performing underground. Local buses afford close-up views of a city. No matter which way you go, you'll meet more locals when you take public transportation.

9. Study your guide book.
Many museums offer free admission on certain days or evenings. Out-of-the-way attractions may cost less and provide more-in-depth experiences. A comprehensive guide book will also alert you to reliable restaurants that combine tasty food with good value outside of the usual tourist districts.

10. Haggle for lower prices.
You may be able to get a discount from a tour operator trying to fill out a group at the last minute, or you might be able to bargain for a better rate from a hotel desk clerk trying to fill empty rooms late in the day. If you qualify, always ask about senior or AAA discounts. When you travel abroad, you discover that bargaining is integral to commerce in some cultures. There's no downside: Either you get a price break or you don't.

Tell us! What are some of the ways you save when traveling? Respond in the Comments area below.

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