By Eileen Ogintz
Tribune Media Services
The timing couldn’t be worse.
Just as we’re all planning summer getaways, gas prices go through the roof, the dollar is so weak against the British pound and the Euro that trips to Great Britain and Europe seem out of reach, and the pundits suggest the economy is going to get worse. And, as if to make us even more frustrated, this month airlines will begin charging you for checking a second bag.
All this when you were gearing up to celebrate your parents’ 50th anniversary with a big family trip, the kids keep reminding you that last winter, during that horrible weather, you promised a trip to Orlando or your daughter is graduating from college and you want to take her to Europe to celebrate. Fifty-one percent of those polled by TripAdvisor (www.tripadvisor.com), which has compiled a list of the Top 10 family-friendly bargain hotels, said money is the biggest barrier when it comes to family vacations. Tops on TripAdvisor’s list is Dunes Village Resort in Myrtle Beach, S.C., (www.dunesvillage.com), which offers an indoor water park and an average nightly rate of just $139.
Still, I don’t think we should give up planning those special trips to Europe, Alaska or wherever you’ve dreamed of celebrating that birthday, graduation or anniversary – as long as we can figure out how to make it work financially. A lot of you apparently agree. AAA reports that, despite the weak dollar, more than 25 million of us will travel abroad this summer, which is more than last year. (The travel Website www.vayama.com is dedicated exclusively to international travel. It can help you book flights overseas on 75 low-cost carriers across 43 European countries.)
I say go for it! And obviously so do you. Many of us may not be planning that trip of a lifetime, but we are planning to take a vacation this summer. A new survey from the big travel search engine kayak.com found that while the economic downturn has caused 79 percent of travelers to change vacation plans, those surveyed say they still intend to get away this summer.
Peter Yesawich, chairman and chief executive officer of Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown and Russell, a leading marketing, advertising and public relations agency serving travel, leisure and lifestyle clients, notes that Americans consider vacations their birthright. “Travel with children will remain popular throughout the summer, as parents acknowledge the sense of fulfillment that comes with quality time spent with family and friends,” he says. The trick then is to figure out how to vacation this summer without busting the budget. “You’ve got to plan carefully,” suggests MaryAnn Whipple, a mother of four from Canandaigua, N.Y., who has made her kids oatmeal in hotel rooms’ coffeemakers and is one of the winners of www.cheaptickets.com’s “show us your cheap” contest. (Visit the Website for more tips from the winners.) “If you go with another family, you’ll definitely save money,” she says.
That’s an especially good tactic for single parents who not only can split costs but childcare chores. Here are some other ways to save bucks and vacation happy this summer:
1. STAY CLOSER TO HOME. You won’t have to fly and you can save on gas. Explore a nearby city. Check their Websites and you’ll see all sorts of enticing deals and attractions. Go to Houston for example, and see Lucy’s Legacy at the Houston Museum of Natural Science (www.lucyexhibition.com). Lucy, the 3.2 million-year-old skeleton retrieved from Ethiopia in 1974, is the oldest and most complete adult human ancestor ever found on African soil. Go to Detroit where the city is celebrating The Year of the Car, which commemorates the founding of General Motors and the sale of Henry Ford’s first Model T. There are scores of activities, museum exhibits and projects. (Ready to build your own Model T? (www.motorcities.org). Or see The Horse, a comprehensive exhibition on the enduring bond between horses and humanity, which opened May 17 and runs through Jan. 4, 2009 at the American Museum of Natural History (www.amnh.org). (Hotels.com has launched its Summer Drive and Save program that offers a $50 gas card for each booking of three nights or more.)
2. CONSIDER A CRUISE. Especially with multigenerational groups and kids of widely different ages, this is a good choice. And with more than 24 domestic ports, you can save more by driving rather than flying to your ship. Look for deals where kids, as third and fourth passengers in a cabin, cruise at deep discounts. And if you are considering Europe, there’s no more economical way to do it this summer, since your transportation, meals and lodging are included and you can pay in U.S. dollars. Visit www.cruising.org.
3. BOOK THAT EUROPEAN TOUR WITH AN AMERICAN COMPANY. “What people don’t realize is that we actually priced our European trips last summer when the dollar was stronger,” says Tom Armstrong from Tauck Tours (www.tauck.com), which offers an entire array of trips designed for families. “They’re actually enjoying last year’s exchange rate!” Adventures by Disney (www.adventuresbydisney.com), for example, which offers small group tours overseas, is slashing prices by up to $650 per adult and $600 per child on certain trips – as long as they book by May 31. Untours (www.untours.com), which specializes in apartment-rental packages to Europe, has just announced savings up to $500 per person on packages that include airfare, while www.backroads.com, which specializes in active vacations, offers a range of lodging options on family trips.
4. THINK OFF-SEASON. Who cares if it’s hot, as long as there is a pool! Fort Lauderdale, for example, is offering Summer of Discovery 2-for-1 deals (www.sunny.org/summer) on everything from golf to spas to movies to kayak and snorkeling tours. You’ll find incredible deals – and cheaper flights (maybe you can finally use those frequent flier miles) – throughout the Caribbean. Go to the U.S Virgin Islands where no passport is required (get a fifth night free and coupons for activities usvitourism.vi) and snare deals that give you 25 percent off on room rates, as well as food and even spa treatments at Grupo Posadas resorts, including the hip Aqua CanCun and Fiesta American resorts (www.fiestamericana.com). Charter a yacht from Sunsail (www.sunsail.com) and save as much as 35 percent.
5. GO FOR THE FREEBIES and discounts whether it’s kids eat free, activities are free, or you get a gas rebate. Kids 12 and under stay, play and eat free all summer at Viva Wyndham’s eight Caribbean resorts (www.vivawyndham.com). Keystone Resort in Colorado (www.keystoneresort.com) offers a family adventure package that includes an Adventure Passport for activities that include a golf clinic, guided hikes, paddleboat rentals and more. I love that spa treatments are discounted too. Opt for Smugglers’ Notch Resort in Vermont (www.smuggs.com) where certain weeks in June the littlest vacationers get half-off on daycare and dads and granddads get a free $100 resort credit. Aspen, Colo., (www.aspenchamber.org) offers a “green” package that includes free gas and bike rentals. If you’ve got a hybrid, you’ll save even more.
Sure, we all wish we didn’t have to worry about money on vacation. Just think of it as a challenge to budget smart, says Mary Ann Whipple. “And the planning can be really fun.”
So will the trip. Happy Memorial Day!
© 2008 EILEEN OGINTZ, DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.