With a tight economy, fuel prices on the rise and the dollar declining, is it possible to get away for a summer break without breaking the bank?
Consumer correspondent Susan Koeppen says -- absolutely!
And she shared some ideas on how you can as part of the Early Show series, "Early on the Cheap.".
With gas prices at an all-time high, many Americans are opting to stay as close to home as possible. But staying in your home state doesn't have to be dullsville.
State tourism associations around the country are offering great deals to people who want to explore their state.
For instance, "I Love N.Y.," in an attempt to target state residents and the 80 million people who live within a three-to-five-hour drive of the state's border, is working with more than 200 hotels across the state, offering travelers who buy two nights a third night free. If you don't want to drive, you can take Amtrak and mention the "I Love N.Y." discount -- you'll get 20 percent off your train ticket (check out iloveny.com/summer). Loads of tourism boards are arranging deals like this, including the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association (with an extended-day harbor pass to go along with a third-night-free).
GO ABROAD ON THE CHEAP
Believe it or not, you can get out of the country without paying a fortune! According to Budget Travel magazine, you can head out of the United States to rural areas and save some big bucks. For example, instead of spending a week in Paris, try the Dordogne region in southwestern France, where you can stay for as little as $55 a night. At that price, you could rent a car for a day or two and tool around the area! Another good option: Mexico. If you head to Yelapa, a tiny fishing village 20 miles south of Puerto Vaillarta, you can rent a six-bedroom house for $150 a night. Also, look to countries where the dollar is stronger than the local currency, such as Argentina and Costa Rica, even Thailand.
The big tip: Think outside the typical "travel box" and do more leg work to find the best deals. Pick up travel guides and check out rural areas that appeal to you. Do the same with travel magazines, and hit the Internet to start searching for the best deals out there (try EuroCheapo.com if you're looking to find a great deal in Europe), and of course get guidance from travel Web sites.
RENT A PLACE AS OPPOSED TO GETTING A HOTEL
Believe it or not, if you rent a home or apartment in a city you're heading to for vacation, you could save a lot of money. Budget Travel says you can rent an apartment in Europe for $100 a night, while a hotel could cost you $300 per. Kudetta.com, a site dedicated to rentals in Paris, lists some apartments for as little as $800 a week; you'd be hard-pressed to find a hotel room for anything less than $300 a night in the City of Lights.
For U.S. rentals, try Vrbo.com: You can find housing for less than a hotel would cost, and find great deals in some of the hottest areas (how about a three-bedroom plus pool in East Hampton this summer?!) The added bonus: The homes you'll stay in have kitchens, so you won't be spending money left and right on food, which becomes a hefty expense when you're on the road.
FOR MORE TIPS, GO TO PAGE 2.
Head to CouchSurfing.com and find that you can stay on someone's couch in a multitude of countries around the world -- for FREE! The couchsurfing.com mission statement says, "CouchSurfing is not about the furniture, not just about finding free accommodations around the world; it's about making connections worldwide. We make the world a better place by opening our homes, our hearts, and our lives. We open our minds and welcome the knowledge that cultural exchange makes available. We create deep and meaningful connections that cross oceans, continents and cultures. CouchSurfing wants to change not only the way we travel, but how we relate to the world!" More than 560,000 members in 230 countries around the world participate in the Couch Surfing process. As for its safety, the Web site purports, "This is one of our most commonly asked questions. CouchSurfing has implemented several precautionary measures for the benefit of its surfers, hosts, and community. Every user is linked to the other users he or she knows in the system through a network of references and friend links. In addition to the solid network with friend link-strength indicators and testimonials, we have our vouching and verification systems. Some of these are new technologies invented by the CouchSurfing founders. In addition to the rigorous safety measures in place for hosts and surfers, we have a safety measure in place for the project. CouchSurfing is incorporated, which simply put means a body that is granted a charter recognizing it as a separate legal entity having its own rights, privileges, and liabilities distinct from those of its members. This insures the safety of our members and volunteers from lawsuits (except in cases of individual gross negligence). Non-incorporation passes liability directly to individuals. To the best of our knowledge, CouchSurfing is the only major hospitality network with this legal status."
SEARCH FOR PACKAGE DEALS
Hotels, airlines, and other travel industry partners unload extra inventory -- the rooms and planes they know aren't going to have 100 percent occupancy -- and create fire-sale-type promotions, creating packages that will give you a tremendous amount of bang for your buck. Sites such as TravelZoo.com offer near give-away deals on plane tickets, and package deals including ground transfers and the like.
Sites such as Kayak.com and Expedia.com offer some good deals, as well: Through Kayak.com, we found a fare from Chicago to Barcelona and Ibiza for seven nights, including hotel and transfers, of $1,600.
For even more last-minute deals and packages, pick your favorite air carrier and sign up for their weekly fare/package deal e-mails: You can get some amazing last-minute deals from them, too. For example, if you log onto American Airlines' Web site right now, if you choose to leave on Thursday, you can have a three-day, three-night vacation in Miami, flying from Newark, for $320 a person. Add $90 to that, and you'll get yourself a rental car, as well. If you're ready to drop everything and get on a flight to Paris Wednesday afternoon, you can spend five days there, including hotel, for only $1,500 a person.