Eight Surefire Ways to Save on a Summer Vacation

For families planning (or not planning) summer vacations this year, it's still all about the economy, stupid. More than two-thirds of respondents anticipated spending the same or less on family trips than they did last year, according to a TripAdvisor family travel survey released in March.

Almost a third, 30 percent of respondents, said they'd spend between $1,000 and $3,000 on family trips in the coming year, while nearly one in five respondents predicted spending less than $1,000. Anyone who thinks it's easy to take a family on vacation for under a grand has never tried it.

Yet savvy families can always find ways to chip pennies, dollars and even hundreds of dollars off their travel spending. Here are eight tried-and-true strategies to help you get more bang from your summer vacation buck:

Stay Closer to Home: A gallon of regular gas now costs $2.85, on average, according to the AAA's fuel gauge report. That's about 40 cents per gallon less than it was around this time in 2009. Considering that airfares don't look like they're going to drop anytime soon, this is a good year for a summer road trip.

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Think all the great destinations are a plane ride away? Check out your state's official tourism website as well as those for neighboring states (start at SeeAmerica, the mother ship for U.S. tourism). Not only will you find travel discounts and getaway packages, but you'll be surprised at how many terrific getaway spots are right in your backyard. Your kids probably don't give a toss how far you travel, as long as they have fun when they get there.

Think Off-Season: It's one of the truisms of the travel industry: If it's high season somewhere, it's low season somewhere else. In the summertime, you'll find deals in destinations such as Florida, Arizona, Mexico and Caribbean islands such as Aruba and Puerto Rico.

Sure, it's going to be pretty darn hot -- that's why it's low season -- but so what? Choose a family-friendly hotel with an unbeatable promo package, a nice poolvand air conditioning, and you'll have a great time.

Tips for Saving on Summer Vacations

Can't stand the heat? Then head to a swell little mountain town known for its skiing, such as Breckenridge or Aspen, in Colorado, or Stowe, in Vermont. In the summertime, these towns become playgrounds for active families who love mountain biking, alpine sledding, hiking and horseback riding. Summer lodging costs a fraction of what it does during ski season.

Aim for the Fringes: Even at the most popular summer resorts, certain weeks sell out more slowly, or not at all. At family-focused properties, the big-value weeks tend to fall on the fringes of summer, when many schools are still in session. In the northeast, for example, rates at the Tyler Place and Point Sebago Resort are up to 50 percent lower around Memorial Day and after Labor Day. In the west and south, value weeks often fall a few weeks earlier, to coincide with school calendars there. If your kids aren't in elementary school yet, aiming for the outskirts of summer is a smart way to get a great vacation for much less.

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