10 Tips for a Painless Labor Day Vacation

Even if your pocketbooks or wallets are telling you otherwise, we all deserve to make the Labor Day weekend a fabulous send-off to summer (a.k.a. your last hurrah before your work load soars and you're eating lunch hunched over your computer).

With that in mind, there are lots of ways to make travel more affordable. The Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), the world's largest association of professional travel writers, recently polled its members to discover the top 10 universal tips on traveling for less. Check them out below - with additional suggestions added - and get packin'.

1. Compare travel deals. Travel websites prepare for Labor Day vacation bookers and offer last-minute deals. Some of my favorite websites to check out include packlate.com, travelzoo, bookingbuddy, lastminutetravel.com and slickdeals.net.

2. Get to know local bus/metro transportation for city stays. Ask about multi-day specials or special one-day cards.

3. Picnic instead of eating every meal in restaurants. Visit markets, bakeries, delis and wine shops, which tend to be less expensive than restaurants and can give you an idea of local foods and palates. (Do avoid uncooked street food and wash fruit with bottled water.)

4. Eat your big meal at lunch (even at name restaurants) when prices are cheaper, then go light on dinner.

5. Use public transportation between airports and cities. Don't rent cars in a city and pay for parking. If traveling to the countryside afterwords, pick up your car at the end of your city stay.

6. Make your first stop the local visitors center and collect coupons, brochures, free maps, etc. Ask the staff about insider tips, free days at museums, matinees, free parking and money-saving programs like City Pass. Also, be sure to visit the websites of convention bureaus and state tourism offices before your visit.

7. Stay in accommodations that offer free breakfast and that have a refrigerator so you can store snacks.

8. Go to lesser-known or off-the-beaten path destinations. They can be less expensive and will put you in the category of travel pioneer. For example: Planning a Disney World vacation? Book a hotel in Altamonte Springs or Winter Park, Florida, two great cities a short skip away. There the hotels and restaurants are cheaper than what you'll spend at a resort on the Disney grounds.

9. Do a home swap, or rent a vacation home, rather than staying at a hotel. You'll get an insider's view of what's it's like to live there (especially in a small town, or village). The popular, user-friendly website vrbo.com has tons of options listed by owners in places you want to go.

10. In cities, stay at business hotels on the weekends where there are often better room rates and restaurant deals. Shop for hotels near, not on, the biggest street. When booking your room, ask, "Is this the best rate available? Do you have any specials at the moment?" Also ask if they offer discounts for AAA, AARP, or other membership programs.

Travel safe. Have fun. Write home.

For more travel ideas:

Wine Getaways

Go Wild at a Guest Ranch

The Tranformative Powers of Imanta Punta de Mita, Mexico

About the author: Linda Hayes is a national magazine writer specializing in travel, lifestyle, food, architecture and design.