Clip Your Way to a Cheaper Vacation

A weak dollar and struggling economy don't have to curb your summer vacation plans entirely. You can still get some rest and relaxation without emptying your wallet. Check out these tips from Yahoo finance and happiness expert Laura Rowley, and you could slice your vacation costs in half like she did with her Myrtle Beach, S.C., vacation. Check out her plan below.



Transportation

Drive rather than fly. Although gas is expensive, driving is just one-third the cost of flying. And although your SUV may get only 18 miles to the gallon on the highway, it's still cheaper to drive your own vehicle than to rent a car.

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For instance, if you rented a Nissan Versa, which gets 33 miles to the gallon on the highway, it would cost $175 for the rental and $192 for gas — bringing the total to $367 — still about $40 higher than using your own car.

Before you fill up, surf gasbuddy.com and find the stations along your route with the cheapest prices. The site has 750,000 volunteer gas spotters informing the site of the best prices. You also can get updates to your cell phone.

Other sites you can try are gasprices.com and gaspricewatch.com.

Pack lightly, use cruise control and drive the speed limit. Traveling 70 mph rather than 55 mph will cost you a 17 percent loss in fuel economy. Get more fueling tips at fueleconomy.gov.

Hotel

Rent from an owner. Check out homeaway.com, vrbo.com (vacation rental by owner), and redweek.com, which lists timeshares for rent. Because you're dealing directly with the property owner, these sites offer big savings on accommodations. (On redweek.com, for example, I found a timeshare in the Marriott Oceanwatch Villas for $264 a night or $1,700 for the week — less than this family was paying for four days.)

Always ask for a discount from the property owner on the nightly rate — it's not uncommon to get a 10 to 20 percent discount from an owner who wants to keep his property rented and doesn't have other prospects.

If you find a place you like with a weekly rate, ask them to pro-rate the weekly rate to a daily rate. Obviously, if they can get a four-night rental, it's better than no rental at all.

Food

Plan ahead and buy groceries.

Because you're staying in a villa with a kitchen, stop at the grocery store when you arrive and pick up breakfast, lunch, dessert and snack items. This also means healthier eats for you, too.

Do an Internet search for "grocery stores" and the area code.

Go to the store Web site and plan simple, healthy menus. Base them on what is on sale in the store's online circular, so you don't walk in unprepared and overpay.

Laura created a healthy menu and shopping list of two dozen items for $62, or $15.50 a day. The only cooking required was boiling water or microwaving. (For an extra $20 you can add a case of beer and a bottle of wine.)

Stop at customer service and get a loyalty card if you don't have one for that store.

Eating Out

Take advantage of every coupon available.

You can start by ordering a free copy of the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce 2008 Vacation Guide online, like Laura did. It contains $1,000 in coupons. (All local chambers have these.)

Find local coupons by doing an Internet search. Laura looked for "Myrtle Beach coupons."

Try to skip the sodas and cocktails when you eat out. They add significantly to the bill.

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