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How to take a vacation on a shoestring budget

by Michelle Donati, Special to azfamily.com

GMAZ interview by Kaley O'Kelley

Posted on May 30, 2012 at 7:00 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 30 at 7:20 PM

PHOENIX --With the economy still struggling, money remains tight for most people. If you're one of the many watching every penny, you might think a summer vacation is out of your reach this year. But it doesn't have to be.

With some detailed planning and a bit of flexibility, you can take a fantastic vacation on a shoestring budget.

Determine your budget
Establish a detailed spending plan and stick to it. This should include transportation, accommodations, daily meals, sightseeing, activities, tips, and other costs.

To ensure all costs are factored in, travelers can utilize free tools such as the AAA SmartPlanner, which calculates overall trip costs in order to keep travel budgets in check.

Travelers should seek discounts that can help stretch their vacation dollars. AAA's Member Discounts helps members save more than $100 annually. 

Be flexible
From travel dates, departure times and destination, flexibility is key to achieving savings.

If you're intentions aren't destination specific, an in-state trip can reduce travel costs.

Consumers can find destination-based deals by working with a travel agent, or through tools such as AAA Daily Travel Deals, which offers daily, limited-time offers including flight, hotel and vacation package specials.

Current offers include San Diego hotels for under $50 per night, Denver hotels from $50 per night and Las Vegas stays for under $20 per night.

Sleep on the cheap
There are more than 31k AAA Approved/Diamond Rated hotels. Each is property is rated on a scale of One to Five Diamonds, from budget-oriented hotels/motels that offer the basics to luxurious resorts with extensive amenities.

ALL of these properties however, have acceptable cleanliness, comfort and hospitality.

Travelers who opt stay in a Two or Three Diamond hotel as opposed to a Four or Five Diamond can save $50 or more per night, which can add up to $150 or more savings over a weekend.

Be mindful of food costs
Over Memorial Day weekend, Arizonans spent nearly a quarter of travel budgets on food.

In addition to creating a daily and per meal budget, pack snacks and seek hotels that offer free breakfasts or restaurants where kids eat free.

By taking advantage of $30-40 in free meal costs per day, a family of four can save $90-120 over a long weekend or $210-280 over the course of a week.

Make smart transportation choices
The road trip will be the dominate travel mode this summer.

But, before embarking on a summer trip, multi vehicle families should determine which household vehicle will drive them to savings.

A family traveling from Phoenix, Ariz. to San Diego, Calif. in a Toyota Sequoia should budget about $200 in round-trip fuel costs, according to AAA's Fuel Cost Calculator.

Fuel costs for the same trip in a Camry would cost about $70 less at $130 round-trip.

Utilize free tools including as Fuel Cost Calculator , Fuel Price Finder and TripTik Mobile to budget fuel costs and locate the cheapest fuel prices along your route.

For more information on Budget Travel Vacations, 1-tank trips from the Valley or any other traveling information, call AAA Travel at 1-877-934-6222 or visit www.AZ.AAA.com/Travel.

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