Tuesday, May 11, 2010

10 creative ways to save money for more affordable vacations

My family is excited about going to Disney World again soon! Disney World is an easy trip for us because it's just a three-hour drive, it's kid-friendly and Florida residents get great discounts. We like to do weekend trips here and there throughout the year when we -- OK, my husband and I -- need a break from everyday life. What better place to do that than a fantasy world like Disney?

Here are ways my family saves money when we travel.

1. Stay local.
Well, this one's a no-brainer, but it's amazing how much you can save when you "travel" without really traveling. I know several families who book a resort on the beach when they get away -- and the beach is only miles away from us! It sure saves on airfare or vehicle gas, and getting there is often a huge chunk of the cost of a vacation. If there's a place not too far from you where you can get away, give it a try.

2. Look for or ask for discounts on your favorite places.
One of the reasons we return to Disney frequently is the great Florida resident discounts. The deal we're going to make use of this month gives you four days in the theme parks for $99 -- a superb deal when a single-day ticket costs around $84. Maybe you don't live in Florida, but there could be another theme park, water park, museum or other attraction that offers discounts or memberships. If you don't know of any discounts, contact your favorite places and ask.

3. Sign up for e-mails.
Almost every company has an e-mail newsletter for promotions like special deals. If you are interested in traveling to a certain area or staying at a specific resort, sign up for the e-mail. Most states have tourism boards that send out promotions from around the state -- Florida does, and each e-mail from my state is packed with travel ideas and discounts from hotels I wouldn't have known about otherwise.

4. Ask your friends.
Another large portion -- maybe the largest portion -- of a vacation cost is lodging. I know someone who used to work for a large hotel chain, and he offered his family and friends a discount code when booking rooms online. Maybe you have an "in" like this too. (Facebook makes it easy to ask when you're planning your trip!) Or maybe you can stay with someone (one of my brothers almost always stays with friends wherever he goes), use their empty vacation home, take their unused timeshare slot or even swap houses.

5. Take your own food.
Some people travel so they don't have to cook, and I hear ya! It's not exactly relaxing when you have to figure out meals and you're not even in your own kitchen. If you can prepare meals beforehand, though, or if you're allowed to, say, bring a picnic lunch to the place you're going to, you won't that that big restaurant bill. My family has found that if we even just do breakfast on our own, we save a lot of money. It's become a habit for us to take some quick, easy items for breakfast and eat in our hotel room before we head out for some fun. Which leads me to my next tip....

6. Take advantage of "free breakfast" hotels.
Many hotels now offer free breakfast in the lobby -- not just bed-and-breakfast inns. Chains like Hampton Inn, Jameson Inn and Holiday Inn Express serve free coffee, juice, pastries, fruit, cereal and more.

7. Go during the off season.
Disney World has regular seasons, peak seasons and value seasons at different times of the year. My family generally avoids going during the peak seasons -- it's too crowded anyway! We actually prefer going during the value seasons when it's not so busy, and we save money on top of it. Find out when the off season is where you want to go, and save big.

8. Go with a group.
Many hotels and attractions have group rates that are less expensive than their regular price. Call ahead to find out how many people you need to qualify for the group rate -- and then gather up your family and friends and get going!

9. Ask friends to help pets.
I admit, another one of our big expenses when traveling is boarding our pets. If you have kind neighbors or friends who can look after your dogs, cats, fish, birds, etc., this also saves money.

10. Search discount sites.
The Web is full of travel sites that exist to offer great deals on airfare, lodging, cruises, etc. There are some great deals out there online, and it's worth the time spent researching and planning.

If you're like me and think you just might die if you didn't get away from home once in a while, don't give up on going away because of the cost. There are lots of ways to save.

I wrote this blog post while participating in the Toyota Sienna and TwitterMoms blogging program for a chance to get a $30 gift card. For more information on how you can participate, click here.