Top 10 Ways to Stretch Your Vacation Dollars

The CEO of TravelMuse shares his recommendations for how you can save money on your family trip.


With gas prices going through the roof, airlines adding fees left and right, the ongoing credit crisis and a weakening dollar, taking that much-deserved vacation might seem tough to do this year. But fear not! For discerning travelers, there are still some great deals to be had and plenty of ways to stretch your vacation dollars.

As an avid traveler, with a family of four to factor into my vacation budget, I’ve found a number of ways to help cut costs when vacation planning. Here are my top 10 tips for getting the most out of your vacation buck in 2008. 

  1. Seek out off-peak periods. July 4 this year falls on a Friday, which means that travel of all types that weekend will be insanely busy. Take advantage of the current buzzword in the industry and plan a “staycation” instead that weekend. As for the rest of the year, the best deals tend to fall right after Labor Day.

    “After summer is generally considered to be the optimum time to go,” says Michael Geeser, spokesman for AAA, adding that peak travel periods are during the summer, so before or after are when you find the best deals. “Las Vegas has some terrific travel deals over the winter; rates really depend on your destination as much as timing.”

  2. If you plan to travel internationally, consider places where the dollar is still comparatively strong. Argentina, South Africa, Thailand, Vietnam, Belize and Costa Rica are a few of the places where the greenback still has a lot of power. If you’re stuck on Europe, check out Central and Eastern European destinations like Budapest, Prague and Romania for low exchange rates, advises travel expert Tom Leffel, who writes for

  3. Buy a vacation package. Combining hotel and air reservations often yields a lower price than a la carte purchases. claims travelers can save up to $240 by booking vacation packages.

    “Overall, packages are definitely the better choice,” says AAA’s Geeser. “One downside to full packages though is that you are compelled to do their activities.” If you want to check out other options independently, you might not be able to, he adds, but it’s a better planning tool, and you can pick and choose activities that suit your family.

  4. Travel with another couple or family. Sharing the cost of gas, food and rental car is a great way to keep expenses in check.

  5. Rent a vacation house and cook your meals. Dining out every day can quickly add up to what you paid for your flight or more. If you rent a home or condo, you can prepare many of your own meals—and you get a ton of other benefits like more space and more privacy, often at a fraction of the cost of a luxury hotel. Sites like are great places to find vacation rentals.

  6. If you have to eat out, make lunch your biggest meal of the day. “Lunch is much cheaper than dinner,” says Geeser, “but this is something that people often overlook.

  7. When in a foreign country, use your credit and ATM cards for purchases and to obtain local currency for the best exchange rates. Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted—though some countries prefer Visa, so make sure you carry one of each type with you. “Throughout Europe, cash machines (ATMs) are the standard way for travelers to get local currency,” says travel guru Rick Steves on

    Before you leave home, find out what surcharges your credit and banking institutions may add to your foreign purchases and withdrawals. Some are nominal, others are steep. Another option is to exchange cash or travelers checks at banks. Whatever you do, do not exchange money at hotels, which often charge some of the highest exchange rate spreads and fees in the industry.

  8. Before road trips, make sure your tires are properly inflated and get a tune up before you go. You’ll get better gas mileage with tires that are properly inflated and you reduce the risk of emergency repairs if you have your car serviced in advance.

  9. Consider voluntourism or a service trip. These trips are very affordable since a good portion of your cost is covered in exchange for the service you provide. The Sierra Club has been running service trips for decades—leading groups of people into some of the world’s most beautiful places, while giving back to the planet at the same time. It currently runs about 90 service trips per year; projects and locations include, bridge-building in Hells Canyon, Idaho; and Family Fun Trail Work in Aspen, Colo. Prices start around $325 per person and include all meals. For more information go to

  10. Book now. Lock in rates as soon as possible. With fuel costs expected to rise throughout the summer, air and hotel rates are likely to increase as well. “Airfare is up 8 percent this summer over last summer,” says Geeser, from AAA, and with airlines cutting capacity to save costs, flights you want will fill up fast.

Additional reporting contributed by Nicole Fancher. 

Themes: Family Travel

User Comments

Rent a Hybrid Car You can save a couple bucks by renting a hybrid car. You might check out for more information.

Get a credit card w/ no foreign exchange fees before you go overseas! Most banks now routinely charge a 2-3% foreign exchange fee for any transaction you make in a foreign currency (on top of the conversion). This can significantly add up to $30 extra for every $1,000 spent while traveling! If you're planning to vacation in a foreign country, I highly recommend to get a new credit card which does not charge you a foreign exchange fee, even if you don't plan to use it after your trip. Discover and Capital One are the only two major issuers which currently do not charge this fee.

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