Ten Ways to Save on Your Next Holiday

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When you're on vacation, devoting your days to some serious R&R, it's tempting to take a similarly relaxed attitude toward finances. But a few easy choices before--and during--your trip can make a big difference in that next credit card bill.

1) Start with the big picture. Instead of deciding you're going to Disney and then hunting for bargains, reverse the process. Begin by asking what activity you want on this trip. Swimming at a tropical beach? Riding roller coasters? Choose your kind of vacation activity, then hunt for the destination that offers the experience you want at the best price.

2) Be flexible. Traveling in the off season can save you big on hotels and airfare, with the added bonus of smaller crowds. Even a willingness to fly on different dates--say, Thursday to Tuesday instead of Sunday to Saturday--can result in significant savings.

3) Consider traveling before you travel. Different airports in the same region can offer vastly different airfares to the same destination. Before you book, check the prices from other airports within a hundred miles or so. Figuring in the cost of petrol and parking may not make this a bargain option for solo travel, but it could be a real money saver for families.

4) Skip the hotel and choose a rental. It's often possible to rent an apartment or even a house for the same or lower rate as a hotel. This is particularly economical for larger families that would need two hotel rooms. For example, the Orlando, Florida area, home to Walt Disney World, Epcot Center, Sea World and more, has a huge selection of vacation rental homes. Bonuses: there's often a private pool, you'll save money on meals by having your own kitchen, and the extra space can do wonders for family harmony.

5) Use public transportation. Car rentals can take a hefty bite out of your vacation budget. If the main activity on your agenda is getting to and from the beach or the park, consider using local buses or subways. Many areas offer special passes for tourists, entitling you to a week or so of unlimited travel for a flat fee.

6) Think small when renting a car. A compact or standard size vehicle will cost less than a minivan or SUV (and will save on gas). Check the mileage rates, particularly if you're planning any significant drives. Sometimes a moderate flat fee will be more economical than a low base with a high per-mile charge.

7) Make friends with the grocery store. Even if you're staying in a hotel, there's no need to visit a restaurant for every meal. A trip to the grocery will yield muffins and fruit for breakfast, muesli bars and trail mix for snacks. Many groceries have counters for sandwiches, pizza, or chicken, making a tasty lunch at a significant savings. Budget eating through the day can be healthier and makes it easier to indulge in that lobster at dinner.

8) Take advantage of special offers. Many vacation areas have web sites and/or tourist brochures that feature coupons for discounts on restaurants and attractions. Sometimes it's just a few dollars off, sometimes it's two-for-one deals. Check the fine print on these carefully. There may be restrictions on times or minimum purchase requirements. But if it's a place you wanted to visit anyway and the times and other requirements work for you, coupons can be very good for your budget.

9) Don't forget discounts from memberships. If you belong to AAA/CAA, AARP, NRMA or other groups, ask about discounted rates, particularly on car rentals, hotels, campgrounds, and attractions. It's quite easy to save enough during just one trip to cover the cost of membership. Also, if you're a member of your local zoo or museum, they may offer reciprocal admission to similar facilities at your destination.

10) Be creative about attractions. Many theme parks and attractions offer a two-for-one deal: arrive late in the afternoon, pay regular admission, then return the next day at no charge. Or get back to nature and spend a few hours at a local park. When the lights of Vegas or the streets of New York become overwhelming, a hike through Red Rock Canyon or Central Park can leave you refreshed and ready to dive back into your cost-efficient vacation.

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