Despite tough economic times, many Americans are not willing to give up their treasured family vacations. According to a recent survey by TripAdvisor, the world’s most popular and largest travel community, 92 percent of travelers took a family vacation in 2009, up from 87 percent in 2008.

As the summer travel season nears, many families are looking for ways to become savvier travelers and make smart trade-offs to help offset their travel costs.

“Times are tough, but we need to get away as a family at least once a year for our sanity,” says Jessica Knapick, mother of two in South Bend, Indiana. “Even if it’s a shorter trip, or to a more local destination, we will find a way to afford a summer vacation this year.”

Families can cut costs on vacation and still have fun by establishing an economical routine and a budget before leaving home. Once expectations are in line with an allotted budget, you can plan a trip that won’t break the bank, and it won’t feel like you’re missing out on anything. Here are some pointers for keeping your finances in check wherever your travels take you.

Save Up for Vacations

Open up a separate savings account exclusively for your family’s vacation money. If your employer offers direct deposit, you can usually specify that a certain amount of money be put into this account each month. Some banks will schedule an automatic direct transfer to your savings account if you don’t have direct deposit or you are unable to deposit money into two separate accounts.

Make Realistic Plans

It’s important to plan realistically. Vacations do not have to be expensive. Set a fixed spending amount and stick to it. Include all of your expenses, gas, flights, meals and activities. Involve your children in the process. Explain to them that conserving money on one day allows them to go to a water park on another day.

In addition, plan for ways to save during your vacation. This could mean driving instead of flying to a destination, and packing brown bag lunches for your family to eat instead of paying for restaurant meals. Consider renting a condo rather than staying in a hotel room and cook your own meals in the condo’s kitchen.

Plan a Stay-cation

Be a tourist in your own city to find the hidden gems right in your vicinity. If you live in a small town, take a weekend road trip to the nearest “big” city. You don’t have to travel far to be on vacation!

Research the Best Deals

Researching the lowest prices and looking for discounts before your travel helps you find the best deals around. According to an April 2009 travelhorizons survey conducted by the U.S. Travel Association and Partnership, one in five U.S. adults conducted more research before booking summer leisure trips, compared to the previous year. Additionally, one in ten people reported booking summer travel much later, most likely after watching for last-minute travel deals. is a good site to conduct research on flight, car and hotel options. It helps you find the deals on most other travel sites. is another good site for finding great deals. With the Get a Deal tool, users may view a complete listing of all specials and offers, and refine searches by national destinations, activities and dates. The site features discounted hotel room prices, tickets, car rental rates and show performances.

Going on the ideal family vacation is about setting priorities to allow a stress-free and money-wise trip. If this is one of your goals, make choices throughout the year that suit your budget and keep your finances in check. It might mean foregoing your daily Starbucks run or declining dinners out with friends. In the long run, however, you will be that much closer to sticking to your budget and enjoying your family vacation to the fullest.

And remember, vacations are about spending time together as a family. No matter where your destination is, if you are out and about and seeing and doing new things with your kids, your children will cherish the time with you more than anything else.

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