Three Clever Ways to Make Family Travel Cheaper

Don't call off the vacation because budgets are tight -- just try a few easy tactics to cut costs.
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Tough economic times threaten to foil this year's summer vacation plans for thousands of Americans. But my family isn't allowing the gloomy forecast to steal our summertime reprieve. Creative vacationing is a fit for just about anyone's tight budget.

A national survey by Access America, a travel insurance and assistance provider, concluded that summer vacations will likely decrease 7% this year, from 2007. Only 33% of respondents plan to take a vacation this year, compared with 40% last year.

More than half of respondents who say they won't travel this year cite the shaky economy, gas prices and the weak dollar.

Yes, we too are contending with declining investments and the rising costs of food and commuting expenses. But come August, you'll find my five-person family vacationing in Vermont's Green Mountains, a week that we look forward to every year.

We, and other people, have discovered a number of ways to cut corners.

Rent a Timeshare

This option, I estimate, saves us anywhere from 30% to 50% off traditional resort accommodations.

We not only save money, but our lodging is more comfortable and roomy than typical hotel rooms. We typically enjoy a large, two-bedroom unit with a spacious kitchen. Ordering take-out food and making easy meals stretches our dollars.

You can find thousands of rentals posted by timeshare owners at

My Resort Network

and

RedWeek

. Both sites include listings for locations worldwide, and probably something within your budget.

The downside? We don't have maid service, which typically costs extra -- a small inconvenience for the savings.

Consider a Home Exchange

Members of home exchange networks can swap homes or even host each other as guests during vacation weeks.

Nicole Feist, a New York-based therapist who

blogs about home exchange

has swapped homes 35 times. She estimates her family has saved at least $50,000 in food and hotel costs to travel for 24 days annually since 1999.

Feist's two children have their own rooms, and the accommodations are roomy enough to host grandparents, she says.

Potential home exchangers can list their residences and browse for others on sites such as

International Home Exchange Network

and

Home Link International

.

Dan Rubin, president of IHEN in Daytona Beach, Fla., reports an uptick in activity of home exchanging for European destinations, particularly England, France and Spain, where hotel accommodations can easily cost $300 to $500 per night due to the falling dollar.

The downside? Many home exchanges require swapping during the same weeks. So, you need to find a match that suits your schedule and destination.

You may have more scheduling flexibility, however, if you own and swap a vacation home.

Housesitting and Petsitting

Are you willing to work a little in exchange for your keep -- and perhaps even earn a small daily fee for your services? Consider house-sitting or pet-sitting in a vacation destination.

You can find opportunities, or list your services, in the

Caretaker Gazette

.

Other sites include

HouseCarers.com

and

Domity.com

.

Dan and Diane Ladd of Westminster, Colo., learned of a house-sitting opportunity when they rented a home for a wintertime vacation in Durango, Colo., two years ago. They hadn't considered house-sitting before, but enjoyed the area and returned the following summer for the position.

The Ladds, who are retired, have since heard of more word-of-mouth house-sitting opportunities in Durango and nearby Hermosa, Colo., and now vacation while caring for homes and cats during a total of four months of the year.

"If you work it right, it's fun for everyone -- and you both benefit," says Dan Ladd. "It's a super way to stay in really neat places and beautiful homes."

Ladd says they've received lift tickets and restaurant gift certificates from appreciative homeowners.

The downside? Dan Ladd says he and his wife are now vacationing so often that they'll soon need a house-sitter, too.

Suzanne Barlyn is a writer in Washington Crossing, Pa.