Trim Your Travel Budget Without Cutting Travel

Ailing economy giving you the travel blues? Learn how you can take a vacation anyway by following these expert budget travel tips.

We live in the middle of nowhere.

No, seriously, we do.

If it weren’t for the Huge Midwestern University smack-dab in the middle of our “twin cities,” this would be nothing but farm country. For goodness sake, we have a cornfield in our back yard.

And not one of those quaint little patches of land is being worked by some buff dude in a hemp shirt who wants to get back to nature.

No, this is a big, commercial farm with huge threshing machines and rows and rows of plants as far as the eye can see. Just this week, my daughter asked me if the farmer brings the corn to the grocery store himself.

I, of course, can’t just give a simple answer, so I gave her a mini-lecture on the food chain.

That shut her up good.

While we spend our days surrounded by the dichotomy of a super-computer lab and a guy named Maynard paying with a checkbook at Wal-Mart because “those dang debit cards are the devil’s work,” we do live within driving distance of two major U.S. cities.

Vacation Ideas That Won’t Break the Bank

When it came time to look at our travel plans for 2009, it made good sense to take advantage of being near those cities and to stick closer to home. Not only do we have a new baby in the house, we also have a bank account screaming for mercy.

So, I bet, do you.

These are tough times, folks—and not just for those of us silly enough to ditch their jobs to enroll in graduate school. No, all over the nation people are feeling the pinch, and I imagine the travel budget is one of the first items to go when it comes time to scale back.

But take heart! You might not be going to Disneyland this year, but you can still take your whole gang on a vacation that won’t force you to sell the family silver.

Jamie Pearson, a writer and mom of two based in Palo Alto, Calif., is the publisher of Travel Savvy Mom, and she says there are many ways to keep on truckin’ during the recession.

You don’t need to set aside $10,000 and two weeks to have a good time. Instead, Pearson suggests choosing destinations closer to home.

“There is a scientifically proven link between novelty and happiness. In other words, seeing new things and places makes you happy,” she says. “In the dead of winter, we sometimes book a nearby hotel with breakfast included, an indoor pool and Jacuzzi, and in-room video games. We pick up a pizza for dinner and have a family sleepover. It’s no Disneyland vacation, but it’s fun to reconnect without the pressures and distractions of home.”

Camping is cheap and fun, Pearson adds, as is crashing with friends. If a tent and some toasted marshmallows aren’t your thing, consider taking a road trip.

“I love road trips, as long as they’re not too epic,” she says. “My advice is to find a destination no more than two driving days from your house, break up the journey at a hotel with a pool, and pack plenty of excellent children’s audio books. I get mine at the library, so they cost me nothing.”

The two-day road trip? Why, that’s my specialty! If there is ever an Olympic event for packing a minivan, I’ll have a gold medal and endorsement deals all over the world.

Look Out for Budget Busters

But beware—even travel on the cheap has hidden budget-busters. Items like hotel parking fees, movie rentals and Internet connection charges, fitness center fees and mini-bar charges—not just consuming those ridiculously-priced items but for just moving them in hotels that use an automated system)—can break the bank, if you aren’t prepared. Make sure to do your research in advance, and ask about extra charges, or find deals that include them in your stay. The last thing you want to do is come up short at checkout time.

Consider Vacation Rentals

Jordan Sadler and her husband, Matt Gordon, are scaling back their travel plans this year. The Chicago couple has two children, Lyle, 4, and Baxter, 8, and airfare for their whole family is no longer a viable financial option.

“We did not travel for (the holidays) as we usually do because it’s so expensive for the four of us to fly, and we are feeling cautious about the economy,” says Sadler. “We have no immediate reason to believe that our jobs are in jeopardy, but [we also] don’t feel confident enough to spend extra money on travel this year. We feel we should be putting aside anything we can.”

That doesn’t mean the family will forgo all vacations. As they have in the past, they plan to rent a house near the beach this summer.

“We will rent a house in Michigan, about two hours away from us, this summer, and will probably also go camping somewhere close by,” says Sadler. “It’s cheaper than flying.”

Travel Savvy Mom’s Pearson says renting a house or condo is a great way to save cash and still sneak in a family vacation during lean times. Not only do you often save money on the rental versus hotel costs, but you also save money on food costs by utilizing the rental’s kitchen and cooking in rather than dining out for every meal, which quickly escalates the cost of any vacation.

“Rent a house or apartment with a kitchen, and do a micro-vacation, or one in which you explore a small area very deeply,” she advises.  “We did this last summer in Andalusia, [Spain,] and it was wonderful. We alternated days of exploring picturesque mountain villages with days of lazing around the pool, and saved a lot of money on food and wine.”

Popular rental sites include and (Vacation Rentals By Owner). Other sites to consider: Viviun, and Villas International.

Bottom line? You can travel and still keep your books in the black. Just be sure to do your research and consider alternatives like camping or renting a cottage nearby.

Themes: Family Travel

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Acadia National Park fits the bill! Amy, wonderful article and great tips. You inspired me to create a post about why Acadia in Maine is a great spot for budget-minded families. Just posted today: