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Summer vacation planning tips while on a budget

Kathleen Rellihan is a writer and editor living in Washington, D.C. She has contributed to a variety of lifestyle magazines and websites nationwide, covering everything from Salsa dancing to doggie daycare.

Budget-savvy vacation tips

It's no secret you need a vacation. But when your coworkers ask when you're taking yours or your family begs for one, your excuse for putting off a vacation is always the same: Money. Finally, after seeing everyone you know come back from a wonderful vacation refreshed and boasting a golden tan, your envy has made you decide you are taking one this year, regardless. Here are some tips to stay on a budget, without sacrificing any fun:

Plan Ahead or Last-Minute

Most deals are offered if you book your trip ahead – packages often include airfare, hotels and fun activities like amusement parks. Nowadays, last-minute packages are rewarding procrastinators with big savings, too. Arriving and departing mid-week will cost you less. Compare dates for hotels and airfare online at such sites like Yahoo's FareChase: http://farechase.yahoo.com.

Find accommodations that save

Can you rent a beach home with your friends? Can you stay with relatives for a few days?  Is this hotel near or within walking distance to the must-see sights on your agenda? Finding accommodations that make it easier for you to save money is the best choice. Do your homework and compare prices – you don't need all the extras some hotels offer.

Eat on the cheap

Food can be the most expensive cost of your vacation. Look for hotels where breakfast is included or kids eat free.  If possible, get a room with a kitchen or a small refrigerator so you can buy groceries and make small meals in your room.  Make lunch the big meal out instead of dinner as prices are usually less expensive during the day. Consider bringing snacks with you on day excursions so you aren't forced to find food in a tourist trap.

Pack everything you need

Smart packing will save you time and cash on your trip. Everything is more expensive in a tourist town and that includes toiletries, sun screen, beach towels, and, especially bathing suits.  Pack a back-up suit for everyone and bring plenty of toiletries for the whole family. You won't want to stop the fun to run out and get an overpriced bottle of shampoo on your vacation. Make sure the kids have enough games and toys to entertain them in case the weather is bad.

Limit the Souvenirs

You probably still don't know what to do with last year's souvenirs from the Grand Canyon. In the moment, souvenirs look like a great way to remember the trip, but they can add up. Just think if you only allow one souvenir per trip per person you can use the savings for a special dinner or an added excursion. Also, don't forget that you'll be taking pictures of the places you visit and that's what you you'll look at years from now, not a Grand Canyon t-shirt that's too small.

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