13 Tricks for Spending Less on Your Dream Family Vacation

Plan an ultra-affordable family escape with money-saving tips, fantastic freebies and dealsBy Karen Catchpole

No matter where you're planning to go, read this before you book. Photo by Getty Images

1. Max out your rewards


You will likely use your credit card for some or all of your vacation expenses, so go to CardHub.com to compare cards and apply for the one that gives you the best rewards on travel deals.

2. Visit Groupon


Even if you don't book your trip through Groupon.com, the site is a great place to bargain-hunt for activities. "I once signed up for Groupon in Maui before a trip and purchased an underwater 'Snuba' adventure that combined snorkeling and scuba diving at 70% off the original price," says Lissa Poirot, editor of the family travel planning site FamilyVacationCritic.com.

3. Snag old-fashioned coupons


Official state welcome centers, which are often located on highways as you enter a new state, offer racks full of coupon booklets that contain great discounts on entrance fees for local attractions, restaurants, motels and more.

Related:
Check out 9 bad habits that are good for you.

Theme & Amusement Parks

Between the cost of admission and the price of food, drinks and extras, these venues can be money pits unless you plan ahead.

4. Clip cyber coupons


Visit RetailMeNot.com, which is not just for shopping. "It also serves as a deal aggregator for tours and attractions like amusement parks," says Poirot. Go to the "Browse by Category" tab and click on "Travel" to explore the savings, or search specific destinations.

5. Find deeply discounted tickets


Heading to Orlando, FL, the amusement park capital of the country? UndercoverTourist.com offers breaks on 49 Orlando-area attractions.

6. Pick a BYO park

They may not advertise it, but many parks allow you to bring in your own food, which can save you hundreds. Check the park's policy before visiting.

7. Team up with your neighbors


There's savings in numbers: The roller-coaster lovers' mecca Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH, for example, offers $37 tickets to members of groups of 15 or more. That's a savings of $17.99 per person off the individual price at the gate. See if you can team up for a group rate at the park of your choice.

8. Stick to local attractions


Choosing a park close to where you live will reduce your travel costs, and many smaller regional parks can be surprisingly wallet-friendly. For instance: Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury, CT, touts "Big thrills for a small price" every Friday evening when rides, hot dogs and sodas go for just 50¢ each. On Saturday nights the historic park offers a $35 carload rate, which includes access to all rides for up to 10 people per vehicle until 10 P.M.

Related:
Discover 10 cool, new inventions that'll make your life easier.

National Parks


With reasonable admission prices and the option of affordable camping, national parks can be an economical outdoorsy getaway.

9. Buy an annual pass


The entrance fee at the superstar parks (Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone) is $20 to $25 per car. Visit more than three of them in a year, and an America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass ($80; Store.USGS.gov/Pass/Index.html) pays for itself. Even if you're not trekking to the biggies, the pass is good at more than 2,000 national parks and forestry service sites. And if you're in the military, you and your family may qualify for a free pass!

10. Stay smart


Some hotels and lodges near national parks provide park entrance passes for guests. Teton Springs Lodge & Spa in Victor, ID, for example, offers a two-night package with free entrance to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks (a $25 value per vehicle, per day). Ask before you book.

11. Mark your calendar


Entrance fees will be waived on various public lands for 13 specific days in 2013, including August 25 (the birthday of the National Park Service). Check out NPS.gov to find out the days the National Parks are free.

Related: Try easy exercise drills to slim down fast.

Educational and Cultural Trips


Sure, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston are famous cities for culture. However, if you head to smaller places like San Antonio or Little Rock, AR, you'll find the arts are flourishing but tickets, room rates and menus are less pricey. Indianapolis, for example, boasts a newly opened car-free Cultural Trail, with stops at the NCAA Hall of Champions Museum, the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, and the Rhythm! Discovery Center, where kids can bang away on dozens of percussion instruments in special soundproof rooms. All of these stops on the trail cost $10 or less for adults and $6 or less for kids.

12. Become a member


"You can often use your local memberships for discounted or free entry to museums across the country," says Mary Solio, creator of the budget family travel blog TheWorldIsABook.com. Visit ChildrensMuseums.org, and ASTC.org for a list of museums and science centers that offer these reduced rates.

13. See what's free


Check out MrFreeStuff.com to plan your itinerary. The site lists events that are always free, as well as the specific days and times when cultural attractions in 20 cities across the U.S. offer no-cost admission.

You Might Also Like:
75 Timeless Beauty Tricks
Best Work-at-Home Jobs
8 Surprising Health Benefits of Sex