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Money Mondays - Saving Money on Vacations

Summertime is the season of vacations. The kids are out of school, the weather is nice, and it just makes you feel ready to hit the road and explore the Wild West (or the beach, or another country!)

Summer vacations are great, memorable, family bonding times, but that doesn't mean that you have to throw your budget out the window in order to gain the experience. The following are some ways that I have found that help to keep a budget friendly vacation. If you have any more suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments section!

1) Ask around - from your family and friends, that is! Maybe someone's family has a beach house that they aren't able to use the whole summer, and they will rent it to you for a fraction of the cost that the resort would charge. Maybe you could house swap with someone that wants to come to your town - particularly nice if you live in a vacation destination. You never know who has a vacation house, or whose parents or family members have a vacation house until you start asking. Don't be shy!

2) Find discount hotel rates - If you aren't going to stay in someone's house that you know, try and find the best deal possible on hotel rates. You can usually find good ones through Expedia or Travelocity, and I've also heard good things about Priceline, although I have never used them myself. Hotels are having trouble keeping full with the economy the way that it is, so it might even behoove you to call the hotel and ask them for the best rate. Also - negotiate! I have a relative who swears he has never paid full price to stay anywhere just because he negotiates! I'm not sure exactly how he does it, but my best guess would be just to ask!

3) Stay in a hotel with a kitchen or kitchenette - I know that vacationing and spending all day cooking don't really mesh, but by staying in a suite or a hotel that has small kitchenettes in each room, you can save a fortune on meals that you would normally eat out. Even if you still eat dinner at a restaurant every night of your trip, you can cut costs by eating breakfast in your room, and something simple like sandwiches for lunch. Don't forget to treat yourself, but every meal doesn't have to be a treat.

4) Be flexible with travel dates - This can be a little harder if you have older children or a very strict work schedule, but try and be flexible at least with your leaving and returning dates. Sometimes airline prices can fluctuate wildly within just a few days, simply because of the day of the week  you are wanting to fly on. Same thing with hotel dates - often times in large cities hotels are actually cheaper on the weekends because they typically cater to business travelers, so by being flexible you can make sure you are getting the best deal possible.

5) Don't rent a car unless it is absolutely necessary - Rental cars are outrageously expensive, so buyer beware! It might even be cheaper to stay at a more centrally located but more expensive hotel, if you don't have to have a rental car on top of the hotel costs. Be sure you are looking at the big picture - staying in that cheap hotel that is 10 miles outside the city because less cheap when you have to drive everywhere, rent a car, and pay for gas (not to mention the inconvenience).

6) Consider "off season" vacations - Most warm weather vacations (think the Caribbean or Central America) are in season in the US winter time. US travelers want to escape the cold weather and head to paradise. However, when it is super hot in the summertime in the Caribbean, the rates dip drastically. Consider traveling in the locations "off season" for huge savings.

7) Consider "off the beaten path" vacations - Camping in St John USVI, touring US national parks, camping, etc. These less-luxurious-but-still-wonderful-experiences vacations can save you a bundle (especially if you are traveling with children) and can still offer what is truly important with vacation - a source of family time, a relief from the hustle and bustle of daily life, and a chance to spend quality time together doing something new.

Those are my best tips on saving money on vacations. I love to vacation just as much as the next guy (or girl!) but I definitely don't want to blow a budget when it isn't necessary. By following some of these vacation trips, we are actually able to save money and apply it towards our next vacation! Twice the fun in the sun = a happy Lauren!

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