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Summer is nearly upon us, and you know what that means? It’s vacation time!

Well, at least for most of us. In fact, a survey last year by Orbitz revealed that nearly 80% of Americans planned to take a vacation during the summer months.

Unfortunately, some destinations are more popular than others and are almost guaranteed to come with high price tags on accommodations, not to mention large crowds.

The good news is that you can still take a decent summer vacation without breaking the bank.

1. Plan Ahead

If you haven’t already done so, go ahead and lock in those reservations to secure the lowest rates. Doing so will also grant you ample time to take care of the associated costs without having to cough up a huge wad of cash at the last minute or even worse, resort to the magic plastic to foot the bill. (See: “14 Simple Ways to Save $1,000 by Summer.”)

Can’t plan ahead? Check online for last-minute getaways, which can usually be found using BookIt.comExpediaPriceline and Orbitz. You can also check the websites of major hotel chains, such as HyattMarriott and Choice Hotels.

2. Use Rewards

Now’s the time to redeem all of the rewards you have accumulated on your credit card or customer loyalty accounts for air travel and lodging.

I’ve done this for several years with Marriott points and saved a ton of money. And in some instances, I’ve been able to earn extra nights simply for staying during select promotional periods. One summer my family and I vacationed in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for five days without paying a dime for lodging.

3. Avoid the Crowds

It seems like the larger the crowd, the higher the price tag. At least that’s the case here in Florida where I live. However, many snow birds migrate back to their homes in the summer months, and the prices return to normal.

Also, ask your travel agent about less-crowded alternatives to the type of vacation you desire and you’ll likely find a lower price.

4. Eat for Cheap

Search for lodging with in-room kitchens, such as Residence Inn. Also, many hotels, as well as B&Bs, include the first meal of the day in their rates.

And when you do decide to step out to grab a bite to eat, avoid the tip and extra add-ons, such as beverages and desserts, by ordering the food to go. Or make a picnic meal from items the location is noted for.

Also, check with the reservation desk in the hotel lobby and look online for coupons.

5. Vacation with Friends and Family

Why not skip the overcrowded, compact hotels and rent an entire house with a group of friends or family members? Not only is it an opportunity to spend time with those who are near and dear to you, but you will also save a ton of money with the in-home amenities while entertaining one another for free.

We do this once a year, and the highlights of the trip typically include the evening cookouts, pool parties, and competitions in the game room. What’s even better is that we usually save hundreds of dollars.

Websites to find homes include:

Some people swap their homes with others who also live in vacation destinations. Check these sites for possibilities:

6. Find Free Entertainment

If you’ve never been to the area, ask around for cheap or free entertainment ideas.

Also, take advantage of membership offers at attractions that offer discounts or free admission year-round. I visited the children’s museum in New Orleans four years ago and fell in love. Since then, we have purchased memberships and visit partnering facilities throughout the country free of charge.

7. Take a Cruise

Cruise lines, or what I like to call sailing resorts, frequently advertise promotional offers on their websites. Good possibilities for major price breaks are repositioning cruises or those after a well-publicized norovirus outbreak or mechanical breakdown.

For many people, a cruise is the perfect way to take a relaxing summer vacation without the hassle of paying extra for food, entertainment and supervised youth activities.

Add-ons, such as alcoholic beverages, spa treatments and off-shore excursions, typically come with an additional fee.

8. Pick an All-inclusive Resort

Although most resorts are not all-inclusive, those that are offer everything you need on site. You can likely get a discount on airfare if your flight is included with the deal.

One of my favorites is Gaylord Palms in Orlando, Fla., particularly because it has restaurants with delicious cuisine, a water park, kids club, shopping and daily activities on-site.

9. Consider a Staycation

A quick change of scenery may do the trick. Check out local resorts and other attractions for promotional offers. For instance, some theme parks offer special rates to in-state residents.

Staycations are a cost-efficient alternative because you can experience the vacation feel and enjoy all the extras with the money you saved by limiting the long-distance travel to your destination.

Whether you’re staying close to home or are in another city, you can further reduce costs by taking public transportation if it’s available.

10. Create an Itinerary

Without a detailed plan of what you want to do each day, you may unlock the door for unnecessary spending — for instance, ending the day in a location with only pricey hotels and expensive restaurants.

But with an itinerary, you can plan ahead and project costs before departing. When doing so, be sure to leave a little wiggle room for unforeseen circumstances, such as delays and cancellations due to inclement weather.

11. Budget!

This goes hand in hand with the itinerary. Once you determine how much money is available for the trip, set a cap and stick to it.

The travel spending plan should be broken down into categories, including transportation costs, lodging, meals, entertainment and miscellaneous expenses.

12. Road Trip

Depending on where you’re headed, it may be much cheaper to drive than to fly. Road trips take longer but can save you a ton of money. Not sure which would cost less? BeFrugal.com has a Fly or Drive Calculator.

An added plus is that gas prices are projected to remain constant this summer. Says The New York Times:

This summer season, according to the Energy Department, average gasoline prices should actually be lower than current prices and close to or slightly below those of last summer. The department’s Energy Information Administration projected on Tuesday that a gallon of regular gasoline would cost $3.57 on average nationally, down a penny from last summer.

Just make sure the vehicle you plan to travel in is in excellent mechanical condition to maximize fuel efficiency. Also, if you have kids in tow, pack snacks in a cooler and bring along car-friendly activities to save money and keep them occupied.

13. Attend a Time-share Presentation

You may have to sit through a two-hour sales pitch, but it is well worth it in the end because you’ll get to experience a premium resort at a rock-bottom rate. Also, you may even receive additional incentives for your time.

Just keep up your guard and don’t purchase a time share. (See: “Ask Stacy: How Can I Get Out of My Time Share Without Being Robbed?“)

This post originally appeared on Money Talks News.

Image: iStock

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