8 ways to stretch vacation dollars

The Memorial Day weekend has come and gone and the travel industry is going all out for your business and travel dollars.

Many people are feeling nervous about the economy and whether or not their jobs may be cut. Will they be asked to work fewer hours, accept less pay or lose their jobs? Getting away may be out of the question.

Here are some bargain options that should stretch anyone’s traveling budget this summer.

With a family, drive
Many families are taking vacations closer to home so they can drive.  Gas prices are lower than they were last year — even though the cost has been gradually on the climb in the past month. Some experts are predicting that filling your car’s tank will continue to rise.

All-inclusive deals
Other people are renting cabins or spending a few days at resorts where everything is included. If you’re able to be flexible and don’t have your heart set on a specific destination, you can snag a last minute special that will minimize your feeling guilty about the cost.

Cruises are a bargain
Cruises are hotter than hot on this year’s vacation list. Many companies are practically giving away cabins and this may be the time to go to Alaska. Yes, there may be supplemental charges (e.g., liquor, off-shore excursions) but you can factor them into your budget. Again being flexible and having the ability to go at the last moment is a plus. Travel agents who specialize in cruises will know which cruise lines are discounting and which ships are floating bathtubs. Cheap may be cheap. But do your due diligence.

Bargain cities
The agents ranked the top U.S. cities for the value as: Las Vegas; Orlando, Fla.; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; New York and Los Angeles.

Use frequent flier and credit card points, take shorter vacations
A recent survey of 600 American Express travel discovered that clients are finding ways to offset costs by using credit card reward points, booking last-minute trips and traveling mid-week when air prices are lower and they are taking shorter vacations

Go where the dollar is strong — Central and South America
They’re picking destinations where the dollar goes further such as Costa Rica and other Central American countries. Mexican tourism is suffering. But for people who feel the swine flu was greatly exaggerated, there are incredible deep-discounted deals begging to be booked.

Europe looked good, but be wary of the exchange rate
Many people have been showing interest in Europe because of the dollar’s strength. Unfortunately during the past month, that’s taken a hit and no one is quite sure why. In the meantime, travelers may have booked (in dollars) an incredibly reasonable package get-away to the EU.

More friends than ever
If you own or rent a summer retreat, some acquaintances become new and dear friends and, “May we come stay with you for a few days? We won’t be any trouble.” If you happen to live in Europe as I do, you assemble a list of house rules and email them to your guests before their arrival. You may consider moving into smaller digs. Another option is to say no – which may sound heartless – but can save one’s sanity.

Well June is here. Although the economy is tentative at best, are you succumbing and signing up and on for vacations? If so, let’s hear where and how you’re intending to stretch your budget. People can learn from others various ways to beat the system. For some, it’s become a science.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.