6 Ways to Save: Family Vacations

You may have to forgo your big vacation plans this year, but a tighter budget doesn’t have to doom your summer getaway altogether. “You just have to be more creative, more flexible and willing to spend a little extra time finding deals. And without a doubt, great deals are out there,” says Claire Newell, author of Travel Best Bets (Whitecap Publishing 2008). These out-of-the-box ideas may just make that postponed summer vacation downright doable:

Go where the crowds aren’t Even in the best of times, ski resorts hustle to keep their rooms and condos full during the summer months. This year, deals are better than ever: At Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort in Whistler, BC, Canada, accommodations for a family of four can cost as little as $85 per night. Rates go as low as $67 per night in fancy Sun Valley, Idaho. On the flip side, cruise lines and resorts in Florida and the Caribbean are doing their utmost to fill rooms with hot summer deals. Check them out on Voyij, a new travel search site that rounds up deals from sites like Travelocity and Orbitz.

Rent from a timeshare owner In this economy, many owners are eager but unable to sell their timeshare properties, or they don’t have the money to take a vacation themselves. “Owners will rent out their weeks, and in many cases, charge just enough to cover their maintenance fees and taxes,” says Lisa Ann Schreier, director of the consumer-consulting site Timeshare Insights. Check out RedWeek online, one of the many listing sites out there. But be careful. “Ask the owner for a letter confirming you have their permission to rent, and call ahead to the resort to ensure he’s legit and that you are aware of any additional fees,” says Schreier.

Take a “haycation” Last summer, Mary Ellen Ynes and her family spent five days on the Leaping Lamb Farm in Alsea, Ore., feeding the sheep, collecting eggs with the farmer’s wife and riding the farm’s donkey, Paco. “The whole relaxing, wonderful vacation cost $400 -- about one quarter of what we would have spent at Disney World,” says Ynes. Check out the Agrisport Web site for a comprehensive listing of similar working farms and ranches across the globe.

Go to camp The Appalachian Mountain Club operates an extensive hut system in the eastern U.S., with affordable wilderness accommodations ranging from simple backcountry shelters to full-service lodges with meal service and bedding. Your best family bet: a week at one of the “family camps” they offer at four lodges in Maine and New Hampshire. Five nights for a family of four, with everything included from meals to activities to equipment, starts at as low as $1,320 (plus $75 for family membership to the AMC).

Camp without “going camping” Campgrounds aren’t just about communing with nature and roasting marshmallows. You can use them as a budget-friendly base for exploring major travel destinations. “Campgrounds are everywhere from Key West to the Las Vegas strip. For less than $50 a night, there’s room for the whole family, and you get a real taste of your destination,” says Jeff Barber, founder of the campground review site Tripleblaze. Many private, national and state parks now offer ultra-affordable cabins and even yurts, some with cooking facilities and electricity. Do a search for the name of the state you’re interested in along with the words “parks yurts cabins.”

Make big business’ loss your gain With companies cutting back on travel, fancy convention hotels are bending over backward to attract leisure travelers, with irresistible packages and incentives. And plush private retreats once restricted to corporate brass are now renting for bargain basement prices. Check out Point Lookout, a 400-acre former playground of MBNA Bank on a prime stretch of Maine coastline. As little as $125 ($175 for a three-bedroom cabin that can sleep up to nine) will score you a deluxe cabin plus full run of the resort, including a fitness center, sandy beach, eight-lane bowling alley, full-sized basketball court and private restaurant.