Escaping from the confines of a cubicle or a classroom and having a fun-filled vacation is something most people dream about. The good news is that you can enjoy your holiday without spending exorbitant amounts of money. Read on for tips on how to stretch your vacation budget.

1. Do Your Research
Think about it: What would you really like to do? Hit the beach? Go shopping? Climb a mountain? Visit a museum?

Once you've narrowed the field, it's time to dig into the details. Can you do these things locally? Do you know anyone who's done them before - and on a similar budget as you're planning? If you don't know where to begin, talk to friends who travel on a similar budget, contact a travel agency for educated opinions, or scour the internet for chat rooms and honest discussion on your vacation topic. A combination of these resources should give you a framework for your vacation itinerary and perhaps provide you with some tips on accommodations, places to dine and things to do.

Thorough research might also provide you with time-saving tips, help you avoid "tourist traps" and save you from miscellaneous hazards and hassles.

Online travel sites have lots of information and often can help would-be travelers find reasonable fares on hotels, cruises, flights and hotels. Major brick-and-mortar travel agencies should be considered as well. (For money-saving vacation tips, check out Travel Tips For Keeping You And Your Money Safe and Travel Smart By Planning Ahead.)

In Pictures: Vacation Savings Tips

2. Look for Deals or Coupons
As a vacation-goer, you should peruse newspapers, magazines and websites for advertised deals (or coupons) on items like hotels, rental cars or other methods of transportation you'll be using.

Major airlines offer some terrific money-saving packages. Also, many clubs or organizations offer discounts to certain demographics - being a veteran or a student might save you a few bucks. Finally, be sure to ask the travel agency, airline, cruise line, hotel or other vendor what discounts are available. That way you'll know if you qualify. Even booking online versus in person can save you up to 30% off the purchase price of some hotels and services. (To read more about cruises, check out Cruise Ships: Reining In Vacation Spending.)

3. Consider Multiple Sources for Pricing
Now you should know when, where and how you want to travel. The next step is to create a budget and price for it. Consider multiple sources in your price planning; don't just call the hotel and airline directly to make reservations. Call them to inquire about the price, but also determine if any of the travel websites enable you to plan, price and book the trip online. Remember that many travel websites direct travelers in bulk to certain destinations so often that the website can generally afford to offer you cheaper rates than you might be able to fetch on your own.

And don't forget to negotiate. Some travel organizations offer discounted rates to groups, when asked. If you don't ask, you might not get the discount. The lesson here is that when traveling (particularly with a large group), don't be afraid to ask for a deal. The same thing applies when dealing with a local vendor - negotiate! You've got nothing to lose by asking.

4. Pack a Lunch
Unless you are embarking on a cruise where meals are often included in the trip's price, the odds are that you will be spending a great deal of your money on dining. Instead of eating at restaurants every day while on your trip, consider packing a cooler with your favorite lunch items, or a good old-fashioned peanut butter and jelly sandwich if that's your thing. When on a longer trip, visit the local supermarket each day to shop for your meals. Both of these ideas have the potential to save you lots of money over the length of your trip.

5. Stay Close to Home, or Have a "Staycation"
It should go without saying, but a great way to save money is to find a destination that you and your family will enjoy that is within driving distance. That way you'll be able to avoid costly transportation, such as airfare.

In addition, due to increasing prices in travel expenses (like airfare, gas and food) many are opting to stay home in a "staycation". This is exactly like it sounds. You vacation from home and enjoy the local flavor of your area. The key here is to make staying home fun, so spend some of the money you are saving on a park pass, hotel pool party or spa day.

6. Consider Joining AAA
The American Automobile Association (AAA) is a group that offers roadside assistance if necessary (for a price), but it also provides some great travel deals. This is a large organization, so it can offer lower rates on hotels, cruises and other travel-related items. In addition, it can offer lower rates at many local merchants around your area, so you can take advantage of these lower prices even when you are not on vacation.

7. Find the Value in Non-Peak Seasons
Certain destinations and activities are in high demand during certain times of the year. For example, a trip to a major ski resort is more popular during the winter season. Conversely, a trip to the New Jersey shore is generally in demand during the summer season. However, traveling when everybody wants to travel can be quite expensive, because merchants generally ratchet up their prices during these peak seasons.

When conducting your research, determine the peak season for the destination you're considering, and then, if possible try to avoid going at that time. This can help you cut the cost of your trip by 10-50%.

Also, consider the time of day for doing certain activities. Some things cost more at different times of day. For example, golfing is less expensive at twilight than in the middle of the day and a theater matinée is cheaper than the price at night. The time of day can also affect the cost of air travel, so keep this in mind when you search for flight information. (For more insight, see Shoulder Season: Your Ticket To The Perfect Vacation.)

Bottom Line
It's a lot of fun to go out on the open road or to take to the skies or the seas and enjoy a well-deserved vacation. However, going on an adventure doesn't mean that you have to break your budget. By shopping around and planning ahead, you can make your vacation both fun and affordable.

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