Got the itch to get moving? You’re not alone. With Americans holding tight to their wallets during the recession, travel spending in the U.S. hit record lows. But Americans just might be ready to hit the road again. The U.S. Travel Association projects 2011 will bring 5 percent growth in domestic travel.
We’ll call it cautious optimism. Money’s still tight for most of us, and some are projecting summer gas prices of $5 per gallon.
Fortunately, you don’t need to sacrifice your summer vacation to stay within your home budget. Just follow these 10 tips for managing your travel dollars wisely:
- 1. Pick cheaper destinations. Texas’ Houston and Dallas airports are the nation’s most expensive for in-bound travelers. Meanwhile, several cities in Florida are among the nation’s best travel deals right now. If international travel appeals to you, consider Ireland; a trip to the Emerald Isle may cost less than a cross-country trip these days.
- 2. Be web-savvy. Peruse sites like Discover America Daily Getaways or other travel-deal-a-day sites; buy packaged deals on sites like Priceline (packaging a hotel and car together is cheaper than booking them individually); or follow your favorite travel site on Twitter, so you can be one of the first to snag some huge last-minute deals.
- 3. Be flexible. Settle for staying near your destination, not in it, or consider opening up your travel date options, and you could save hundreds.
- 4. See America’s freebies. Many of Americans’ favorite destinations are free, or dirt-cheap. Take, for example, national parks like Yosemite, which you can see with a 7-day pass that costs just $20. Many national parks charge no entrance fee at all, including Nevada’s spectacular Great Basin National Park. Check out the National Park Service’s “free-fee days”.
Most major museums around the country also offer free days. South Dakota’s historic sites, including Mount Rushmore and the Badlands, are found close together and give you a lot of bang for your buck. Washington, D.C.’s major sights, like the National Mall and the Smithsonian, cost nothing to see. And a free ride on the Staten Island Ferry affords spectacular views of the Statue of Liberty.
- 5. Be aware of hidden fees. Sometimes a deal really is too good to be true. Read the fine print to make sure you know exactly what you’re paying for. Checked bags, meals and movies on flights are no longer guaranteed free, and exit-row seats or even dealing with a “real person” actually may cost you extra. Check hotels to see whether the continental breakfast in the lobby and your in-room WiFi are actually free before taking advantage of them.
- 6. Choose the right credit card. If you don’t already have frequent flier perks, consider signing up for a credit card that offers them. Some cards even enable you to get free transactions abroad, to avoid those pesky conversion fees.
- 7. Consider other lodging options. Vacation rental sites enable you to rent a home—fully stocked with clean sheets, laundry facilities, even high chairs—at weekly rates that beat hotels’. Or enroll in a hospitality club (like Affordable Travel Club or Evergreen Club); for a minimal yearly membership fee, you can “trade” homes with someone and live like a local.
- 8. Haggle. You can do it tactfully. Simply let the desk clerk know that the room rate is higher than your budget will allow, and might they consider lowering it? Occasionally, they may seem offended, at which point let it go. But it might just work—especially when the hotel has posted vacancies. What do you have to lose? (Tip: Leave your luggage in the car. Otherwise, you’re saying, “I’m here to stay, whatever the price.”)
- 9. Be a local. Check out festivals, farmers’ markets, free concerts in the park and other local goings-on that might be free and give you a true taste of the city. Get city passes or weekly bus passes, and experience your destination for free, like a local.
- 10. Stay-cation. Consider staying in Las Vegas, which saw thousands of new hotel rooms open in 2008 and is now offering dozens of great deals on them. It may be in your back yard, but once you’re relaxing in a spa or by the pool, sipping a cool drink, you’ll feel a million miles away, for only a fraction of the cost. For more great travel deals here in Nevada, check out the Nevada Commission for Economic Development website, TravelNevada.org, which features daily deals for traveling in the Silver State.
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