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Monday, May 18, 2009

Times are tough

Times are tough, and many of us do not have the money to splurge on an expensive vacation. However, there are still travel bargains to be had all over the country, if you take the time to research; including some lodging and transportation options that just might not have occurred to you. Also, a handful of popular places have managed to remain bargains despite a worsening economy.

Las Vegas has always been a relatively inexpensive vacation destination – the casinos assume you will spend all your money gambling and many things are subsidized. Even if you do not gamble, Las Vegas offers wonderful shopping, a variety of spectacular shows, and exciting nightlife. In recent years, it has become more of a family destination and it’s a great place to take the children. Even if you have been to the city many times before, there is always something new in Vegas.

Staying in one of the fancy Strip hotels can be expensive, although you should check around for special offers and deals. Las Vegas boasts several of the largest – and most expensive – hotels in the world; however you can pay between $40 to $60 for a perfectly adequate hotel room. Cheap all-you-can-eat buffets and coupon books are still available and it costs nothing to just wander around the fantastic hotels, many of which feature free shows or entrainment.

An Orlando vacation is still one of the best bargains around. Of course, there is Disney World, but the Orlando area boasts around 100 other attractions and theme parks, as well as excellent shopping, nightlife and outdoor activities. There are well over 100,000 hotel rooms to suit all tastes and budgets - consider a package that includes admission to Disney; or stay in neighboring Kissimmee, where hotel rooms are a little bit cheaper; or even further afield.

Second only to Disney World in terms of visitors is Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The emphasis is also on family fun and activities here and this area offers plenty of reasonably priced hotels, outlet shopping and live shows. The area is a golfer’s paradise, with an estimated 120 golf courses scattered up and down the 60 mile stretch of coast. Food and drink are considered to be inexpensive in Myrtle Beach; and like Las Vegas, it’s easy to find various coupons and discounts for hotels, attractions and shopping. Branson, MO and Gatlinburg, TN are two other resort areas where bargains can generally be found.

Phoenix is considered a value for money destination. The city has become a resort capital of the United States; however accommodation in general is not too expensive, and the city boasts some of the best shopping anywhere, almost perfect weather year round, an estimated 100 golf courses and is within easy reach of spectacular desert scenery. A driving trip from Las Vegas to Phoenix allows you to see much of the dramatic scenery and historic sights of the Southwest.

Regardless of where you visit, there are further steps you can take to save money on accommodation. Home exchange vacations have become more popular than ever; there is usually a charge to register or join, but no charge to swap your home with somebody else for a week, live like a local and really get to experience another place. You may not have considered hostelling, but it’s not just for students and backpackers. Staying at a hostel offers a great way to see the country and to meet up with likeminded travelers. Camping does not have to be too primitive; consider renting a cabin for your next trip, which can cost as little as $50 a night.

Air travel to your destination does not have to be expensive either. Check your local airport to see if any so-called discount carriers offer service; the two major options are Southwest and JetBlue. Shop around for lower airfare and consider flying at specific times of day to get a lower fare, as well as flying from a different airport. Flying from Chicago Midway can often be cheaper than the busier O’Hare, for example. Check out airline packages, which include airfare, hotel and perhaps a rental car and are generally a lot cheaper than buying the components separately.

These days, it just doesn’t occur to most people to travel by train, but train travel can be cheaper than flying or driving, especially for a relatively short distance. Check with Amtrak for special offers or passes which allow unlimited travel within a geographical region. And long distance bus travel, for many years considered the domain of the less fortunate, is now attracting passengers from all walks of life, lured by low fares, better service and a network of almost 4,000 destinations.

Travel can be expensive and stressful. Take time to check out some options and you may just save some money on your next vacation.


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