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15 Money-Saving Travel Tips for Summer Family Vacations

By Nancy Schretter, Editor

Parents in the midst of planning this year's summer family vacation are looking for ways to stretch their travel budget. In this article, the Family Travel Network staff reveals some of their best money-saving travel tips for family vacations and trips. If you're busy planning your family's next getaway, these fifteen tips and insider secrets will save money on your family's next vacation.

1. Rent directly from an owner. Many highly desirable beach destinations and resort communities contain condominiums, villas, and vacation homes that are rented by their owners. In fact, some Marriott and Westin resorts contain timeshare properties that may often be rented directly from the owners for your desired weeks. Rates for these properties can be up to 20-50% less than those charged by nearby hotels, especially when owners put certain weeks on "sale" as the dates get closer. Properties are also available in many major cities throughout the world and can be a particularly good option for families touring Europe. The HomeAway family of websites (www.homeaway.com and www.vrbo.com) contain over 95,000 for rent by owner listings of properties across the country and around the world. Timeshare rentals direct by owner also offer additional moneysaving possibilities. Take a look at timeshare sites like RedWeek.com for listings.

2. Make an informed bid.  If you can't find the price you're looking for, consider bidding for your accommodations or setting a price and purchasing whatever is behind Door #1. Bidding sites like Priceline.com and Hotwire.com can yield huge bargains, but there are some pitfalls. If you choose to bid, you will often not know exactly what you're purchasing until you've already paid for it. For this reason, it makes sense to approach these sites very carefully. Families should be particularly careful when bidding on rooms, as the standard room offered is based on double occupancy and may not contain the bedding you require. Those who plan to purchase from Priceline.com should first visit www.biddingfortravel.com and www.betterbidding.com. These sites will help you to better understand the parameters for Priceline and Hotwire, research your options, and become an educated bidder. Sites such as Skyauction.com and LuxuryLink.com can also be excellent sources of family vacation bargains. Many resort family favorites such as The Homestead, the JW Marriott Ihilani, Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Loews Ventana Canyon Resort have been featured in auction packages on LuxuryLink. With these sites too, however, education and research are important. Make sure to know what comparable packages would cost when purchased on other travel sites or directly from the source, and read the fine print for additional costs and surcharges. Skyauction packages may contain restrictions, surcharges for flights from alternate cities, or service charges of as much as $195 which will be added to your winning bid. Even with all these caveats, you can still get some great travel steals.

3. Go by the book. Destination-specific coupon books provide a wide variety of discounts on lodging, meals, tours, rental cars, transportation, and other vacation expenditures. Some of the most well-known examples of these types of offerings are the Entertainment books, the Go Card, and the Alaska Toursaver 2-for-1 discount book. Entertainment books are available for such popular vacation destinations as Hawaii, Orlando, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Miami, New York City, Washington D.C., and Vancouver, British Columbia. The Alaska Toursaver book is particularly popular with families planning summer cruises or land trips in Alaska. Pick up coupon books and magazines in the hotel lobbies. Go Card attraction passes are offered for major cities and tourist destinations including Maui, Oahu, San Diego, Miami, Orlando, Los Angeles, Boston and San Francisco.

4. Consider a family-oriented bed & breakfast. Today's bed & breakfast inns are catering to families with spacious rooms and family suites, as well as special amenities for children. In addition to getting a free breakfast for each member of your family, many inns also offer family packages, discounts on second rooms, free afternoon and evening snacks, free meals for children, complimentary wi-fi access, free local phone calls, and special rates on nearby activities. Sites such as BnBFinder.com and BedandBreakfast.com are excellent source of bargains, package deals and information. Using the Advanced Search feature of the BedandBreakfast.com website will yield listings of family-friendly B&Bs and inns in your target area, as well as specials and sports-oriented options.

5. Discover what's available at state parks.  Parents often think of well-known national parks when planning summer family vacations, but many states offer parks with economically-priced lodges, swimming pools, golf courses, and other recreational facilities for family fun. Ten of West Virginia's state parks operate these types of family-friendly facilities, including as the Cacapon Resort and the Canaan Valley Resort. Henry Horton State Park in Chapel Hill, Tennessee, is well known for its 18-hole golf course, inn and cabins, as well as its trap and skeet range. Alabama operates six "resort" state parks and Kentucky offers seventeen state resort parks, more than any other state. All of Kentucky's park lodges have a swimming pool, a lakeside beach, or both. Island Adventure Arkansas operates four state parks in that state. Located in the foothills of Arkansas' Ouachita Mountains, DeGray Lake Resort State Park features a 13,800-acre lake with sandy beaches, a full-service marina and an 18-hole golf course.

6. Keep meal costs down.  Food costs can eat up a large portion of the family travel budget. Cut down on meal and snack costs by asking for a refrigerator in your hotel room. Many hotels will provide them upon request, either free of charge or for a small fee. For example, the Wyndham Rio Mar Resort in Puerto Rico provides free refrigerators in guest rooms upon request, allowing families to save money on breakfasts, sodas, bottled water and other expenses. Other options include staying at condominium or all-suites properties that provide free breakfasts and/or kitchen facilities and packing a picnic lunch in a backpack when you're out touring. All-inclusive packages, especially those offering kids stay free & eat free deals, can also be a great way to save. 

7. Think about camping resorts.  If the words "camping resort" bring to mind roughing it in a small tent, think again. Today's modern camping resorts offer rustic or luxury cabin rentals as well as swimming pools, game rooms, playgrounds, mini-golf courses, and all the other ingredients for family fun. Some of the most well-known of these are Jellystone Park Camp Resorts and KOA Kampgrounds, but many privately owned camping resorts exist throughout the United States. In Europe, Eurocamp has 182 holiday parcs in France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Holland, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Corsica and Luxembourg. Eurocamp guests can stay in luxury mobile homes and chalets with two or three bedrooms. Swimming pools and free children's activities are also included.

8. Stay across the river.  Family vacations to big cities, such as New York City and Washington, D.C., are popular during the summer months. Family friendly hotel rooms and other accommodations in nice areas of these cities can be quite expensive, however. To get around this problem, consider stay across the river in both of these cities. Transportation back into both cities is easy and convenient via the subway or train. In New York, bargain hunters may wish to stay in Hoboken, New Jersey. If you're taking a family vacation to Washington, DC, stay in hotels in Rosslyn, Arlington or Crystal City, Virginia.

9. Look at flights from alternative airports. A one-hour drive can often deliver savings of several hundred dollars per ticket. When looking for the best deals on airfare prices, make sure to check online with aggregator sites such as Kayak, Sidestep, Farecompare, and Farecast. Also take a look at sites like www.airfarewatchdog.com, Travelzoo and Cheapflights for information on airfare deals and specials from a variety of airports. You might want to subscribe to their free money-saving e-newsletters as well. In addition, make sure to check the websites of low-fare airlines such as Southwest, Spirit Airlines and JetBlue Airways. Be aware that these airlines will generally not show up on third-party provider sites such as Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz.

10. Enjoy the simple pleasures of a farm stay. If your kids love animals, consider a farm stay. In my experience, my children have enjoyed our farm vacations far more than some of our stays at fancy resorts. There's something about cuddling with kittens and feeding lambs that creates a lasting memory for young ones. This article on The Family Travel Network will give you some ideas. More options can be found at Agriturismo USA, which lists a wide variety of farm stays and rural tourism sites throughout the world. Other good destination specific sites for farm stays include www.pafarmstay.com (Pennsylvania), www.vtfarms.org (Vermont), and www.agadventures.org (California). 

11. Make memories at a summer family camp. Summer camp vacations aren't just for kids anymore. Family camps provide an action-packed, economical summer family vacation with lots of opportunities for bonding, education and outdoor adventure. Some camps cater to families all summer, while others only offer a few weekends or weeks of family camp each year. This article on The Family Travel Network reveals the inside scoop on 40 of the top family camps across the United States.

12. Beat the heat in the Caribbean.  Popular Atlantic coast beaches can be hot and muggy during the summer months, with prices often skyrocketing as high as the temperatures. Surprisingly enough, beaches on some Caribbean islands can be cooler during that time period, with temperatures in the mid-80's and balmy breezes from the tradewinds. Lodging prices are lower as well, with family-friendly specials offered by many resort chains. In addition, many Caribbean countries have currencies pegged to the U.S. dollar, giving U.S. families the buying power they need when traveling outside the country. For more information on top Caribbean family resorts that are easy on the wallet, see this article on The Family Travel Network. Sites such as Cheap Caribbean, Expedia, and Travelocity often provide good deals on Caribbean travel during the summer off-season and the Family Travel Network's Hot Deals area provides information on family-oriented specials. 

13. Vacation where the dollar is still strong. These include family-friendly places such as Mexico, many parts of the Caribbean, Costa Rica, Panama, Belize, and Ecuador. In the Caribbean, islands such as Aruba, Barbados, Bonaire, Curacao, Antigua, Barbuda, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Dominica and Grenada all have currencies that are tied or pegged to the U.S. dollar. The dollar also goes a long way in Mexico and in many Central American countries. If your family enjoys nature, adventure and exploration, consider visiting such spots as Gamboa Rainforest Resort in Panama or the Hotel Akumal Caribe in Mexico.

14. Cruises, home exchanges and family hostels help make Europe affordable.  Many families are very interested in vacationing in Europe this summer, but the weak dollar is making European vacations particularly expensive. Taking a cruise on a family-friendly line such as Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Princess, Holland America or Carnival is one of the easiest and most cost effective ways for American families to see Europe this summer. Payments for lodging and most meals are made in U.S. dollars, keeping exchange rate pain to a minimum. If your plans are limited to land-based European vacations, you may wish to consider the clean, family-sized rooms available in European family hostels, or renting a flat directly from the owner on sites like HomeAway and VRBO. Home exchanges facilitated through such sites as HomeExchange.com, Intervac International Home Exchange, the International Vacation Home Exchange, and HomeLink are another way to save money while living the life of a local in Europe.

15. Shop for family travel deals.  Scour the Internet for savings and check with your favorite travel agent to scoop up special family travel offers. Look for Kids Eat Free, Stay Free, and Play Free deals such as those commonly offered by hotels and resort chains such as Marriott, Westin, Holiday Inn, Wyndham, SuperClubs, Palace Resorts, FDR Resorts, Barcelo Resorts and Fiesta Americana hotels. Some cruise lines (such as MSC Cruises) and vacation packagers also offer similar packages during selected periods. Single parents should make sure to look for family travel deals that eliminate the single supplement, such as those offered by SuperClubs, FDR Resorts, and others. Check the Family Travel Network's Hot Deals area for summer family travel deals and single supplement specials. 

Still need to save more money? Get together with another family to plan your next vacation. Over the last few years, "togethering" on vacations with friends and family members has been one of the biggest travel trends. It also has a money-saving benefit as well. One way many families stretch their summer vacation budgets is by splitting the costs with another family with kids of similar ages. This works particularly well when splitting the cost of a vacation home, villa or houseboat rental.

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