The economy has made life tough for almost everyone lately. But just because the economy is struggling is no reason to give up your family holiday. It just means it's time to get creative. Here are six creative ways to save money on a family vacation.
Go for a visit
Sometimes a change of scenery is all you need. If you have a cousin, sister-in-law or college roommate who lives somewhere you might like to explore, call and ask whether she'd be willing to have you and your family visit for a few days. But -- and this is important -- be entirely honest about your plans, needs and wants during the visit. Are you looking for a free bed and breakfast and nothing more? Or do you want a built-in tour guide and personal driver who will show you the sights? Are you willing to repay the favor by hosting her family in the future? It's always best to have the details worked out in advance. If you don't, that next family reunion could turn into a really testy affair.
Swap your house for theirs
My family and I do this every year. We've swapped with people we know (for free) and we've used third-party matchmaker services to swap with people we've never met (for about $100). This might be a good option if you like where your cousin, sister-in-law or college roommate lives, but you aren't all that fond of your cousin, sister-in-law or college roommate. Ask whether her family might like to spend a week at your house while you spend a week at hers. The best thing about a house swap: There's already salt, pepper and ketchup in the cabinet. Among the sites that offer house swapping services: houseswap.com, homeforswap.com and homeexchange.com.
Do the free stuff
Every town has free stuff to do. Call the local convention and tourism bureau to find out what events and attractions are free and kid-friendly. For a list of free, fun and family-friendly things to do in many U.S. towns, check out the "Free in 50 States" feature on TravelingMom.com.
Rent more space
It may seem counterintuitive that you can save money by renting a bigger place -- a house or condo -- but it's true. A condo with a kitchen makes it easy to eat cheap -- cereal and milk for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, leftovers from last night's splurge at a restaurant for dinner. And it's always nice to have that extra space, not to mention a separate bedroom for mom and dad with a door that locks.
Consider vacationing with another family to split expenses (and, perhaps, child care duties so each couple gets a little private time). It might allow you to cut your gasoline bill in half or rent a bigger condo that gives everyone more room.
Surf the web
The travel industry is beginning to recover, but there still are deals to be had and the Internet is the place to find them. Sites such as cheapcaribbean.com, which offers deals to Caribbean resorts; Yapta.com, which looks for great airfare deals and even provides refunds if the price goes down, and travelzoo.com, which sends out weekly emails with the best deals around, are great places to look for low prices. And if you're flexible on dates or able to travel at the last minute, the deals are even better.
Kim Orlando is the founder of TravelingMom.com. She travels frequently with one or more of her three kids.