Travel in the off-season
Timing your travel can save you serious money—plus, you'll avoid the crowds.
For example, if a destination sees its highest tourist traffic in summer—such as national parks, Europe and Canada—plan your visit for winter, spring or fall. Vice-versa in the summertime. Head for popular winter destinations, such as ski resorts and Caribbean cruises.
Book a package
Bundling your airfare with a hotel or car rental is a great strategy, especially if you're making last-minute travel plans. Airlines deep-discount unbooked seats at the last minute by rolling them into packages, which don't list the fare reduction separately.
Vacation close to home
The steep cost of airfare is enough to eat up any vacation budget. The solution? Consider destinations to which you can drive. For a treasure-trove of ideas and itineraries in dozens of cities, check out the Day Trips series and Quick Escapes series from Globe Pequot Press.
Or try being a tourist in your hometown. Check out a tour guide book for your city, grab your camera, and go explore.
Ring up a better deal
If a hotel is run independently or is part of a regional chain, call the front desk and ask the clerk for an extra night's stay free, a discounted rate or free upgrade—even if the hotel isn't currently advertising one. Independent and regional-chain hotels, which lack the marketing power of national chains, may be more willing to bend to fill an unexpected vacancy.
When you call, say something like, "I already have a reservation at another hotel at a cheaper rate, but I'll book with you if I can get a third night free."
Be a happy camper
It may not be the Ritz, but if you're up for an adventure, staying at a campsite can save you oodles of money. You can find plenty of camps for less than $20 a night at locations ranging from mountain settings to beach-front sites.
For $15 to $35 a night, you can stay in a dorm-style room. Or for a little more money, many hostels offer private rooms for couples and families.
Most hostels come with communal kitchens and laundries, and some even offer perks such as high-speed Internet access, game rooms, TV rooms, hot tubs and organized activities for kids. Plus, many are in the center of town or in unique locales.
Take a leap of faith
Sometimes ignorance really is bliss. Book your travel through blind-booking Web sites and you can save a bundle. For example, on rental cars, you specify the dates, car type and pickup location, but you don't find out which company is offering you your nonrefundable rate until after you buy. The same goes for airfare and hotels on the sites.
Get in touch with nature
For budget-friendly activities, you can count on Mother Nature. For starters, consider national parks, forests and state parks. Miles of hiking and biking trails, beautiful vistas, fishing holes, beach retreats and rafting runs await you.
Park entrance fees typically cost less than $10 or are free. And if you plan to visit several national parks this season, spring for the National Parks Pass ($50), which gets you and your party into all the parks for a year.
Opt for mom-and-pop
Try a small inn or a bed-and-breakfast instead of a big hotel. These mom-and-pop operations are often more flexible with discounts to fill vacancies than national hotel chains.
Get a home away from home
Condo or house rentals can be a nice alternative to hotels. Vacation rentals generally offer more room and amenities for the same price as hotel rooms. Plus, their kitchens can spare you from having to dine out for every meal.
Swap your house
How does free lodging sound? Trading homes with another person looking to get away can save you a bundle.
Aside from escaping hotel bills, a home exchange lets you save in other ways. If you swap cars, you can avoid renting one —most exchangers, including the top clubs, are willing to trade cars. And having a kitchen cuts your restaurant tab. Trading homes gets you more room to spread out. And you can immerse yourself better into the local atmosphere.
Take a last-minute cruise
Deciding on a last-minute cruise can work to your advantage. When people who booked early cancel at the last minute, bargain-priced cabins become available.
Join a frequent flyer program
Whether you travel for business or pleasure, consider signing up for an airline's frequent flyer program. Enrollment is free. You can start collecting miles on your first flight , and eventually cash them in for free flights, hotel stays, merchandise and other perks.