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Travel on a Budget

Tips for Planning a Recession-Proof Summer Vacation

by Cecilia Dahl

With gasoline prices at record highs and rising hotel and airfare fees, consumers will be challenged to make the most of their summer vacations this year without breaking the bank.

According to a survey conducted by AOL Travel-Zogby International, 57 percent of Americans said they plan to spend less on their upcoming summer vacations than they did in previous years. A survey conducted by independent research firm, YouGovPolimetrix, indicated 66 percent of Americans (76 percent of women) hope to take advantage of summer attractions, shopping and dining venues that offer money-saving specials and deals.

So where can you find these discounts, and what are other ways to maximize your summer vacation dollars? Here are some tips:

1. Do your research and create a plan.
The key to maximizing your travel experience and your wallet is to sit down and plan what you want to do before you leave. Use the Internet to research activities and attractions near your destination so you have a clear picture of where you want to go when you arrive and what types of discounts are available online.

2.  Reach out to the local Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Your destination’s Convention & Visitors Bureau can provide a wealth of information on the area you are visiting, including attractions, restaurants, retail options, activities and more. In addition to promotions you might find posted online through your own research, the Convention & Visitors Bureau will likely be able to provide you with brochures or coupons that include additional shopping and restaurant discounts available. Contact your destination’s Convention & Visitors Bureau for more information. 

3.  Leverage multi-attraction passes.
All-inclusive, money-saving passes like Go Cards and Explorer Passes enable travelers to enjoy a large variety of attractions available in a specific city or region as many times as they would like in a specified period of time for one flat fee per day.  Much like a theme park pass directed at an entire destination, the passes allow you to set your own maximum savings by visiting as many attractions as you desire during the days that the pass is valid. The more attractions visited, the higher the savings. Options like these give you the flexibility to see what you want, when you want, and how many times you want — without worrying about paying for each individual activity. They’re also a great option for families with diverse interests. With a Go Card, for instance, moms and daughters can head for a day of shopping or museum-going, while dads and sons head to the zoo or a water park. In some cases, you can even skip the long lines at popular attractions — making you feel like a VIP.

4.  Explore alternatives to traditional hotels.
With hotel rates on the rise, travelers have other options for places to stay. Many people rent out their homes or vacation homes/condos to travelers interested in a hotel alternative. Visit reputable sources, like and to investigate rental options available at your destination. Be sure to check references for any place you are considering.

5. Take advantage of restaurants with specials.
When thinking about your dining options, particularly when traveling with children, don’t forget about early-bird specials and restaurants where kids eat for free.  These kinds of dining establishments are often more affordable and cater to children. 

Even in turbulent economic times, Americans are taking to the road this summer.  In the same AOL Travel-Zogby International survey mentioned earlier, 69 percent of respondents said fuel prices will not influence where they plan to vacation.  Additionally, 53 percent of Americans are planning week-long or longer vacations, and 60 percent are planning to travel to destinations that are more than six hours from their homes. Take advantage of the tips above — whether you are planning a day off in your hometown or a week or more away in a city across the country — to be sure you spend your dollars wisely to get the most out of your summer vacations. 

Travel expert Cecilia Dahl is president and co-founder of Smart Destinations. Cecilia also spent six years at Saga Holidays, a travel company specializing in programs for travelers aged 50 and over.

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