Summer is a time for family reunions, barbeques in the backyard, and completing outdoor projects. Summer is also a season for vacations — tooling around the Grand Canyon, visiting grandparents in Maine, flying to Mexico, or taking a week to meander through a neighboring state. But in today's economy in which many families are raiding their savings accounts to meet mortgage payments, a vacation may seem an unaffordable luxury. Fortunately, with a little planning and ingenuity you can trim the cost of that summer getaway without cutting back on fun and relaxation. Here are a few ideas.

  • Budget for your vacation. Instead of financing your getaway with a credit card (then struggling to pay off the balance and accumulated interest later), plan ahead. Every month or every paycheck, set aside money in a separate R&R account. Make it a family activity. If everyone wants to visit Disneyland, research the best airfares and hotel rates on the Internet and let your kids do the math. The earlier you start, the more you'll be able to accumulate for that dream trip.
  • Consider package deals. By bundling airfare, hotel and car rental together, travel companies sometimes offer cheaper rates. Just be sure to read the fine print. Make sure that the "luxury hotel" isn't located in a bad part of town.
  • Eat in your room. Just because you're on vacation doesn't mean every meal needs to be a coat-and-tie affair. For some dinners, try buying a few fruits, vegetables, and baked goods at the local grocery store. Sleep late and reduce your food intake to a brunch and a dinner. You'll eat less and may avoid an after-vacation trip to the clothing store to upsize your wardrobe.
  • Travel in the off-season. Christmas in Mexico is great, but it's also more expensive. By choosing the days just before or just after the busy season, you'll often find cheaper rates without much difference in climate. You'll also avoid some of the hassles that result from too many tourists in too little space.
  • Buy a guidebook. For less than $40, you can get a paperback that provides information on local customs, authentic eateries, free events, and the best times to visit museums. Some also offer coupons.
  • Vacation nearby. Tourists visit your home state and marvel at its attractions. For a week, become one of them.
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