Keep an Open Mind: Still haven't picked a destination? Let the destination pick you. Sign up for e-mail deal alerts that let you know where the great deals are, and then let serendipity decide your family's next vacation spot. Airfarewatchdog.com will e-mail you when airfares drop on flights from airports near you. For example, when we recently plugged in San Francisco as our departure city, we found out about roundtrip fares of $188 to Albuquerque, $198 to Austin and $94 to Colorado Springs. If you sign up for Travelzoo's "Top 20" newsletter, you'll get a weekly round-up of the hottest deals in hotels, airfares and vacation packages.
Join the AAA: This one's a no-brainer. The standard AAA membership costs $56 per year, but can be recouped in just a few days on vacation. Membership entitles you to discounts on an enormous range of travel services, from train travel on Amtrak and the Grand Canyon Railway to Hertz rental cars.
You can chop up to 20 percent off your lodging bill at major hotel chains, including Hyatt, Comfort Inn, Holiday Inn and even Disney properties. And you can shave 10 percent off your bill at popular restaurant chains, including Hard Rock Café and Pizza Hut. (For more good-value spends, see our 6 Genius Travel Buys.)
Think Outside the Weekend Box: Just because most of us work Monday to Friday doesn't mean your vacation needs to begin and end on a weekend. When you hunt for airfares on meta search sites such as Kayak and Sidestep, play around with your travel dates. Very often, adjusting your getaway to leave and return on a Monday or a Tuesday can save your family hundreds of dollars.
Get a Kitchen: When budgeting for a vacation, it's all too easy to underestimate how much you'll spend on food. But when your family eats out three meals a day, every day, for an entire week, your total food bill can easily reach four digits. Consider opting for a vacation rental or an all-suite hotel, such as Embassy Suites, Homewood Suites, or Candlewood Suites. Having a kitchen (or even a fridge and microwave) will give you control over how often your family eats out.
Fixing just one meal a day in your vacation digs can save you hundreds of dollars during the course of your getaway. As a bonus, you'll get much more space for you money than you would in a standard hotel room at the same price point.
Stay at the YMCA: You probably never imagined that the good old Y might also be the best-kept open secret in family vacations. Each summer, the YMCA runs more than 2,000 day camps and some 339 sleepover camps for boys and girls. Much lesser known are the handful of lodge- and cabin-based YMCA family camps, including the exceptional YMCA of the Rockies, which offers vacations all summer long in enviable locations in tremendously scenic areas. As you might expect from the YMCA, the focus is on active diversions, from hiking, biking and fishing to ropes courses and tug-of-war competitions.
Best of all, prices at these nonprofit camps are downright affordable, with lodging sometimes starting at less than $800 a week for a family of four.
WeJustGotBack.com is an award-winning family trip-planning site. It features reviews of kid-friendly hotels and resorts, expert planning advice, readers' travel tips, vacation deals and more. Follow WeJustGotBack on Twitter and Facebook.