How to save money on your next short vacation

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With airline staffing shortages, gas prices through the roof, and inflation making everything more expensive, many families are turning to cheap staycations and weekend getaways close to home. them as an alternative to visiting the country’s most popular family vacation spots.

Shorter stays and no flights mean you can avoid the most tedious costs (and hassles) associated with family travel while still creating great memories. Here are 10 easy ways to save on a cheap family vacation near you.

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1. Create your own weekend

Although local weekend getaways are less expensive than big family travel adventures, weekends are still the peak time. But if you can organize your own “weekend” by traveling midweek, you’ll save money and find greater availability wherever you go, as hotels tend to have lower occupancy on those days.

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Even if you can’t find time for a Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday getaway, look for an opportunity to overlap your stay a day before (Thursday) or a day after (Monday) most other people travel. You’ll get a lot more for your vacation money.

2. Travel right after peak season

The shoulder season is the best of both worlds when the tourists have all gone home but the weather is still fine – think New England’s lakeside towns after Labor Day but before foliage season, for example. Instead of traveling during the peak summer vacation months of May, June and July, plan your family’s weekend getaway for September. You’ll spend a lot less while enjoying all the benefits of high season travel.

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One of the great joys of cheap weekend getaways is wandering the streets and dining at the restaurants of a prime tourist spot while feeling like you have it all to yourself (and knowing that you also save a ton of money on vacation).

3. Look for last minute hotel deals

If you know you want a cheap weekend getaway but aren’t sure where you want to go, last minute hotel deals are for you. Sometimes the rooms don’t fill up even in high tourist season. Sometimes there is sudden cancellation and vacancy. Whatever the reason, you can find deeply discounted accommodation for your weekend drive away by keeping an eye out for last minute deals.

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It helps to have certain destinations in mind and call or look online a day or two before you go. Stay flexible and let the savings come your way.

4. Take advantage of travel bonuses

Among the privileges offered by a good travel rewards credit card are flexible rewards points that can be redeemed for travel, lucrative bonus point offers, and built-in perks like free room upgrades.

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Even if you don’t want to have a travel-focused rewards card, you can still join free loyalty programs from major hotel chains with kid-friendly family resorts near you. These programs allow you to earn points and special offers that you can use for discounted weekend getaways.

5. Use coupons, discounts and multi-attraction passes

Coupon books for major US cities like those offered by CityPASS offer great savings for weekend getaways near you. Contact your local tourist office or convention and visitor bureau to see what types of discounts are available to tourists and take advantage of them for your weekend getaway.

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Many popular destinations also offer savings on multi-attraction passes, so if you’re already planning to visit the science museum and the aquarium on the same weekend getaway, for example, you can usually save the money with a discounted pass that covers both attractions.

To save money on hotels, look for discounts from your other affiliations, such as AARP travel discounts or offers from AAA. Booking a non-refundable hotel rate will also reduce the cost of your getaway. And, if in doubt, call or check the hotel’s website directly to see if they can offer you a better price than the major online travel agencies.

6. Opt for a room with a kitchen

Food is one of the main expenses of family vacations or weekends. The cost of restaurant meals is rising rapidly, but if you book a hotel room or vacation rental with a full kitchen or even a smaller kitchenette, you can save money by cooking meals in your hotel.

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7. Never say no to a free breakfast

It’s hard to break free. Stock up on pastries, granola and scrambled eggs served in continental breakfasts at most major hotel chains. The money you save by eliminating one meal a day from your budget can be used for more interesting things. And don’t forget to grab a coffee to go when you go out.

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8. Make lunch the fanciest meal of the day

Speaking of food prices, sometimes a restaurant you can’t afford for dinner fits your lunch budget. Enjoy a great meal at an upscale restaurant on their less expensive lunch menu for a taste of the good life on your weekend getaway – without the price tag that comes with it.

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9. Don’t miss deadlines

Weekend getaways go awry when you try to cram too much into a few days, especially if you’re going on vacation with toddlers who need some downtime. Plan to do fun activities with the kids, but don’t overdo it. The idea is to return to everyday life relaxed and refreshed, without feeling like you need another vacation.

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Bring a book and take a break from time to time. Maybe even take a nap. (You know you want it!) Being away from the usual surroundings is often enough to make your family time feel special. Taking a slower pace for your getaway is also an easy way to save money.

10. Arrange a home exchange

One way to improve your cheap weekend is to exchange a home through a reputable service like Home Exchange ($175 for an annual subscription). You can also swap houses with friends or family to cut costs even further. Sometimes all it takes to have a cheap weekend is to get away from your ordinary life for a day or two.

FamilyVacationist.com offers family vacation ideas; family vacation spots; all-inclusive resorts; and must-have travel accessories for families of all shapes, sizes and orientations. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

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