Vacation without breaking the bank

by Kimberly Blaker

Traveling is a terrific way to enjoy new experiences, learn about the world, bond with your family, and take a break from the monotony of daily living. But the cost of travel can be prohibitive. So many families do not get away as frequently as they would like, or miss out on places they have dreamed of visiting. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to travel and explore the world without breaking the bank.

Visit family or friends

When thinking about where to travel on a small budget, visiting places near family or friends can help keep the costs down. Depending on the situation, it could reduce or eliminate the need for a hotel, rental car, or eating out every meal. Traveling to an area near family or friends can also reduce your entertainment cost since spending time visiting and catching up will serve as part of your entertainment. It is also an excellent opportunity to have your own local tour guide since your family or friends there will know all the hot-spots, attractions, and not-to-be-missed sight-seeing.

Compare costs

With so many airlines, hotels, and tours to choose from, planning a trip can be overwhelming. Fortunately, many websites simplify this by allowing you to enter your travel dates and preferences to compare prices and features from different companies. These websites are particularly helpful for comparing costs in a single place and keeping track of your findings. Many travel comparison sites also show ratings, so you do not waste your money on a seemingly good deal that turns out to be a bad experience. Different travel comparison sites focus on particular parts of traveling. Some of the most popular include, Priceline, Expedia, Kayak, and Trivago.

Search smart

When searching online for travel deals, there are a few tricks to know in order to get the best deals. Many websites use cookies and can see when you have been searching for specific hotels or flights. There is some evidence, according to William McGee, aviation advisor for Consumer Reports, that pricing may be based in part on your search history. An easy fix is to clear the cookies in your browser before visiting the same travel website again, so the site cannot track you following specific companies, destinations, or deals.

There are also many theories about the best time to book your flight, with the most common being on a Tuesday afternoon, six weeks before your trip. While this exact date is subject to debate, it does seem that airline fare sales tend to start on Tuesdays. Your best bet is to start checking fares early and pay attention to any patterns. Some airlines also have better deals if you book at least two weeks before your trip.

Road trip!

If you are traveling as a family, the cost of airline tickets for everyone adds up quickly. Depending on how far you plan to travel, a road trip might be a good option. Your journey can become part of your vacation. Gas for one car which can hold everyone will likely cost much less than airline tickets for multiple people. It can also be better for the planet. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, rent an RV to save on both your travel and lodging costs (but do the math for the added fuel costs). You can typically find RV parks along any route for much lower prices than staying in a hotel. It can also be a fun bonding experience for your family or group to travel this way.

Discounts and deals

Websites like Groupon and LivingSocial offer significant discounts on specific travel deals. Because they only offer deals to particular places within a range of dates, this is a good option if you want to travel but do not have a specific destination or dates in mind. Depending on your age and interests, some companies host trips and tours with lodging, attractions, and travel costs included. Traveling with a tour group can result in deeper discounts than traveling alone. Topdeck and Contiki are popular group tour hosts that cater mainly to young adults and offer specific budget travel options. For all ages, Flash Pack and Austin Adventures are excellent choices.

Companies such as Costco or AAA also offer travel packages at discounted prices. By signing up for a free membership on certain websites, such as, you can earn free hotel-stay nights and get exclusive discounts on hotels.

Another way to reduce your travel cost is to save up money for travel with a travel rewards credit card that caters to your travel interests. Many airlines offer credit cards on which you can earn miles to redeem for future travel. Some specific travel destinations, like Disney, also have credit cards you can use to earn rewards toward future vacation costs. Capital One and many other credit card companies also offer similar travel reward credit cards that provide greater travel flexibility.

Travel locally

It is easy to overlook fascinating or exciting attractions, sight-seeing, and activities that are close to home. If you have the travel bug but lack the time or money for a big trip, do some research to see what opportunities and adventures you can find nearby for a weekend or day trip. This can save you a lot of money on travel and lodging expenses. Plus, it’s easier to pack food for a short journey, which can also save you money instead of eating out. You might be surprised at what exciting new things you have been missing out on locally or nearby.

Realize that with a little creativity and effort, traveling doesn’t need to be out of reach just because of a small budget. If you plan ahead and travel smart, you can find lots of opportunities to explore the world around you.

Here are a few ideas for staycation and vacation fun this summer!

Make a Splash this Summer in Tempe

Tempe Marketplace
Credit: Tempe Tourism

When the temperatures rise this summer, head to Tempe where there are a variety of cool things to do for the whole family.

Beat the heat by spending the day at Arizona Mills, an indoor shopping destination with value retailers, restaurants, and entertainment venues. SEA LIFE Arizona Aquarium is home to thousands of sea creatures from sharks to stingrays. LEGOLAND Discovery Center is ideal for children ages 3-10 with themed rides, a 4-D theater and building zones. At Tilt Studio, play the latest virtual reality games and old-school pinball.

Plan a family outing at Main Event Entertainment, with bowling, laser tag, a gravity ropes course, and games from Pacman to air hockey. Or bring games to life at Inferno Escape Room, Escape Zone, and Alcatraz Escape Games. Pick your favorite theme and try to find your way out of the room in 60 minutes or less!

The outdoor misters at The District at Tempe Marketplace make for a refreshing experience. The littles will love the Splash Pad, open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Creative kids can paint their own projects at As You Wish Pottery. On Friday and Saturday evenings, the District Stage hosts free live music.

Rent kayaks and pedal boats from Boat Rentals of America at Tempe Town Lake or Kiwanis Park. Then, take your explorers to Flashlight Nights on Saturdays at Desert Botanical Garden. Bring flashlights for this self-guided tour where you can spot night blooming flowers and nocturnal creatures.

For even more things to do in Tempe, visit


Family Fun in the Heart of San Diego

Located on Hotel Circle, The Handlery Hotel San Diego was built in 1954 by Harry Handlery. Since then, four generations of family members have welcomed guests to this centrally located retreat just minutes away from the top attractions in San Diego such as the world-famous San Diego Zoo, Sea World, Balboa Park, Birch Aquarium, and of course those beautiful beaches.

The family-owned hotel creates a tailor-made boutique experience for guests with stylish, comfortable rooms and suites, in a family friendly atmosphere with gracious, dedicated staff.  The kids will love the expansive outdoor heated pool, while parents relax in comfortable lounge chairs surrounded by tropical landscaping. It is the ideal sanctuary for unwinding and enjoying the Southern California weather. The Reef Lounge Poolside Bar serves burgers, craft beers and beverages for guests lounging by the pool. Guests also enjoy a full range of amenities, from a fitness center and complimentary Wi-Fi to a wide variety of function space accommodating up to 500. Be sure to use code “Arizona” when booking to receive complimentary overnight parking, a welcome snack bag and even a room upgrade based on availability. For more information or to book online visit


See Under the Sea

Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Fifteen minutes north of downtown San Diego, you will find Birch Aquarium, a hidden gem nestled among the cliffs of La Jolla. As the public outreach center for Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, Birch Aquarium’s hands-on exhibits explore the latest in oceanographic discovery, while introducing guests to a variety of amazing creatures.

In the Hall of Fishes guests come face to face with a Giant Pacific Octopus, a rescued Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Moon Jellies and Leopard Sharks, to name a few. Out on Tide Pool Plaza,  you will take in stunning ocean views while getting hands-on with local tide pool animals including juvenile sharks, then it’s off to Seadragons & Seahorses, one of the largest seadragon habitats in the world.

This summer Birch Aquarium will become the only aquarium in the west to house Little Blue Penguins, with the addition of Beyster Family Little Blue Penguins. This new exhibit follows these tiny penguins on their journey from hatchlings to adults, highlighting the challenges they face in a changing climate while celebrating the features that make Little Blues’ so unique (and adorable). Birch Aquarium is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with extended summer hours in July and August. Tickets are $24. 95 for adults and $19.95 for children ages 3-17 (free ages 2 and under). Note that the aquarium often sells out, so advanced reservations are required. Visit for more information or to make a reservation.


Kimberly Blaker is a freelance writer. She also owns an online bookshop, Sage Rare & Collectible Books, specializing in out-of-print, scarce, signed, and first editions; fine bindings; ephemera and more at




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