This was originally published on Monday, September 9, 2013, in the Pacific Daily News. Click here to subscribe to the PDN.
Family vacations are a great way to relax and create lasting memories.
They can carry a hefty price tag, but that dream vacation is not out of reach, even if you are on a tight budget. Once you have saved money, you want to make sure you get the most bang for your buck.
• Sooner the better. Book airlines, hotels, car rentals and amusement parks in advance, play around online with different dates to see how much you can save.
• Off-peak traveling. Most of us feel that summer is the time to travel, but you can pay much more during these busy travel months. Think about the week of spring break, the four days of Thanksgiving, or a few weeks before or after summer break. Talk to your children’s school. Schools are willing to work with you by giving your children’s schoolwork in advance or staying connected via emails. Schoolwork is a great way to keep kids busy on an airplane. The day of the week that you travel or stay also can affect your budget. Be flexible.
• Use your privileges. Use the discounts offered to you through your credit cards, airline or hotel memberships. Many vacation services and destinations partner up and offer discounts. If you belong to an organization such as American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), make sure you contact them for vacation offers and discounts.
If you are a military member or retiree, ask for discounts while you are traveling. You may be surprised how many locations offer military discounts to thank you for your service. Check with your recreation services on discounted tickets to amusement parks or museums. Many services offer lodging worldwide (http://www.dodlodging.net), and some even offer great destinations such as Kauai or Naples. If you are really flexible and would like an adventure, try flying space available (MAC Flights). You earn these privileges, so take advantage of them.
• Lodging. Hotels are expensive, but there are some other options. The most inexpensive option is staying with family or friends. You can satisfy the obligatory visit and save on lodging.
If you are staying in a location for a while, find an extended trip hotel that offers suites you can rent by the week or month. They are usually cheaper than hotels and offer all the amenities of a home, including a fully functioning kitchen.
You also could look for a hostel, a budget-oriented dorm room usually with shared amenities.
You also may try camping in our nation’s parks like the Grand Canyon or renting a home or condominium. Also, look for kid-friendly hotels that offer free lodging for children under a certain age.
• Eating. Food is one of the biggest expenses while traveling. If you booked lodging with a microwave and refrigerator or kitchen, prepare your meals in your room. Going to the grocery store can be just as exciting as trying products that you can’t find on island. I am always amazed at the availability and choices of fresh fruit and vegetables when I shop in the US. Some grocery stores even offer a deli with full meal choices. Look for a farmers’ market and get fresh produce.
• Remember the small stuff. Tips, fees and taxes all add up. Bring your children’s entertainment with you.
Don’t use the small stores in hotels or amusement destinations as they cost much more.
Travel light as baggage fees can be very costly.
You will gain clothes, toys and much more during your travels. It can be much less costly to mail them home.
Look for areas with free WiFi.
Also remember that if you take your cellphone, you may incur some hefty roaming charges. If you want to take your phone, have your data services suspended before you leave.
You also may want to consider purchasing a prepaid phone that you can purchase at any large chain retail store. Using the phone in a hotel can create a much larger bill.