Tips for Smart Saving – and Smart Spending – on Your Vacation

Family enjoying a picnic by the seaside

Ready to get serious about having fun? Let’s talk vacations.

A summer vacation can be the perfect way to recharge after a long, hard winter, all while creating priceless new memories. But memories may be the only “priceless” thing about that dream vacation.

If your mind says Hawaii but your budget says home, check out these travel experts’ tips for smart saving – and smart splurging – on your next vacation. Some can save you hundreds, and some just a few bucks here and there. But they all add up. And they can help you make the most of your hard-earned time off.

Think outside the weekend

Your vacation doesn't have to begin and end on a weekend. In her article on abcnews.go.com, Eight Surefire Ways to Save on a Summer Vacation, family travel expert Suzanne Rowan Kelleher offers the following advice. When you look for airfares online, play around with your travel dates. "Very often," she says, "adjusting your getaway to leave and return on a Monday or Tuesday can save your family hundreds of dollars." As an added bonus, airports are often less crowded during mid-week, which can make traveling less stressful.

Go where summer is the off-season

As Kelleher writes, "If it's high season somewhere, it's low season somewhere else." The best deals in the summer tend to be in places like Florida, Arizona, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Sure, it's hot, but who cares when you have air conditioning, a beach and a pool at a great price?

You can also find summertime fun where you might not expect it. Many ski towns become family playgrounds in the summer. They offer plenty of recreational activities like biking, hiking, horseback riding and more. And, as Kelleher says, "Lodging costs a fraction of what it does during ski season."

Stay on the "edges" of summer

Taking your vacation just before Memorial Day or right after Labor Day can mean big savings. If you're traveling without kids, or if your kids aren't yet in school, this could be a good choice for you.

Sign up online for cheap airfare alerts

Forbes.com offers good ideas in their article Where to Find the Best Travel Deals in 2016. Airlines are always changing their fares, and it can be hard to keep up. Try signing up for sites that will tell you when cheap fares come along.

How about a cruise?

Have you considered a floating vacation? Many people are within driving range of an ocean-going or river cruise departure site. Once onboard, prices include meals and entertainment. And it’s easy to shop around to find a cruise that suits your personal budget.

Compare rates

There are many online sites that can help you save on hotels, packages and airfares. There are also sites that make it easier to compare offers.

Stay closer to home

Check out your state's tourism website as well as those for nearby states. Kelleher suggests starting at SeeAmerica.com. "Not only will you find travel discounts and getaway packages, but you'll be surprised at how many terrific getaway spots are right in your backyard."

Limit eating out

Wherever you go, it's easy to eat up your budget if you visit restaurants for each breakfast, lunch and dinner. Plan ahead. Stock up on fruit, snacks, bread, and sandwich fixings for your hotel room. You can also look for a hotel where breakfast is included - or at least free for kids. And you may save money by spending a little more on a room with a small kitchen. That way, you can cook some meals in.

Of course, part of a great vacation can be trying local restaurants. Eating a few meals in can mean you'll have enough to enjoy some special meals out.

You know you want it, but do you need it?

All those charming local shops, kitschy souvenirs, and t-shirts! It can be hard to resist, but before you buy, ask yourself if you really need it. If you do, go ahead: Buy it and enjoy it. But just by asking the question, you'll weed out a lot of things. Too often, souvenirs just turn into clutter when you get home.

Know the fine line between saving money and missing the point

Don't get so caught up in saving money that you forget to have fun. Heather Levin, a blogger who posts on www.thegreenestdollar.com (Save Money. Save the Environment. Be Happy.), offers this cautionary tale, "I really, really wanted to sign up for this program where you could swim with dolphins. But the $200 price tag threw me. Yes, I had the money. But I didn't do it because I was trying to be frugal and 'smart.' That's a decision I regret. … To this day I can't remember where the money went. All I remember is not swimming with those dolphins." There are times when a splurge is worth every penny.

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