What You Need to Know About Summer Travel
Whether you fly or drive, it's going to cost more to get there. But you can save on lodging, food and entertainment.
1. Take a bite of the Big Apple. "People know about beach-house rentals. But renting a place in the city can also pay off," says Alexis de Belloy, of HomeAway.com. You can cook meals at home and use on-site laundry facilities -- which means you can downsize your luggage and side-step baggage fees. HomeAway recently listed a two-bedroom, one-bath apartment, which sleeps six, in midtown Manhattan for $275 per night in mid July; the minimum stay is four nights.
2. Rent a cabin in the woods. Accommodations at national and state parks can run the gamut from luxurious lodges, such as the Ahwahnee in Yosemite ($590 for a weeknight in mid July), to cozy cabins in the woods. Recently, a cabin that sleeps six in Letchworth State Park, in upstate New York, went for $344 per week (the minimum stay during the summer).
To book a room in a lodge in one of the national parks, go to Xanterra.com; for other options, such as campsites and cabins, go to www.nps.gov. And for lodging close to home, browse your state government Web site.
3. Take a mini vacation. Looking for a quick getaway? Adding a Thursday or Sunday night to a Friday-Saturday stay could slash your overall hotel room rate by as much as 20% to 35% per night, says Bob Diener, of GetARoom.com. Of course, you might save up to 60% off published prices at a name-your-own-price Web site, such as Priceline, as long as you're prepared to book the room before you know the hotel.
4. Groupon on the road. Using group-discount sites on vacation can trim 50% off your entertainment and food bills, says Anne Banas, of SmarterTravel.com. Register for new accounts, or change your location settings on existing accounts, a few weeks before you take off. Banas also recommends doing a search for "restaurant weeks" plus your destination, visiting Goldstar.com for event tickets, and dropping by the local visitors bureau to scoop up extra discounts. Not visiting a major city? Check out state-sponsored Web sites, such as VisitFlorida.com, for discounts. And if you're a member of AAA or AARP, don't leave your membership card at home.
5. There is such a thing as a free breakfast. Rick Ingersoll, of FrugalTravelGuy.com, says that a complimentary breakfast in an expensive overseas location can cut his food bill in half. He eats one big meal late in the day in addition to breakfast, and snacks on store-bought food in-between. Many domestic hotel chains offer free breakfast, too. At Holiday Inns in the U.S. and Canada, kids under 12 eat gratis any time of day, and children under 19 stay free. Plus, summer is a great time for free summer concerts and local foodfests -- such as Chicago's Grant Park Music Festival and the Taste of Chicago -- so check local Web sites for schedules.
6. Stretch your money overseas. XE.com has a currency converter that lets you see how the dollar is performing against the local tender. Ingersoll's top three value destinations are Cambodia, Poland and Thailand. Diener recommends you pay for reservations in advance in U.S. dollars to hedge against currency fluctuations. "The worst thing is when you get there and the hotel bill is $50 more," he says.