Cut your travel budget without sacrificing your vacation

This is a guest post from Anna Nguyen, marketing specialist and new bride (Congratulations Anna!) Also check out Anna's last post titled For richer or poorer? At times when you need to save your money and cut back on costs, vacations seem to be the first “want” to go. For some, travel is a must and not something to sacrifice this year. Think you can't afford to get away this summer? Check out these tips to help you plan a vacation within your means:

Prepare a budget. Before you begin making travel arrangements, make a spending plan and prepare your budget. Think about what you may spend and write it down. Then, take it with you and compare the amount spent with the amount you had budgeted. Try not to stray far from your list.

Do your homework. Online research is essential during your vacation planning. Information on the Internet is at your fingertips and always up-to-date. Trip Advisor is a great web site that features real advice and photos from real travelers. You can read about first hand experiences and tips regarding the location, lodging, food, and things to do. It’s all the help in the world when you have guidance on where to go, stay, eat, and have fun!

Look for deals. The Internet is also the home for all great deals and specials. Sign up for travel newsletters like TravelZoo’s or just check in frequently for their top deals and news flashes. For domestic flights and hotels, I like to use Bing Travel, formerly known as Farecast. It allows you to comparison shop, and helps you decide when and where to travel and when it’s the right time to buy tickets. also offers great vacation package discounts for last minute travel.

Cut your costs. The two most flexible areas of expense are food and lodging. You can still experience the foods of the place you’re visiting (one of my favorite parts of traveling), but limit meals out each day. A cooler filled with food and drinks from a grocery store can help eliminate the high cost of quick stops at fast food restaurants and convenience stores. Check prices on menus before choosing a restaurant and remember that dining out for lunch is often less expensive than dinner. Also, consider getting away for an affordable weekend rather than longer, and avoid stressing about your expenses afterward. Book your accommodations early to get special discount rates. If you end up finding a cheaper rate after you’ve booked your lodging, a lot of places will be more than happy to match the price you found.

Whether you are traveling by land or air, it’s important to remember that a vacation is meant to be fun and relaxing! It’s a time for you to be stress-free and the planning process should be equally so. With a little planning, you won’t have to give up a vacation this year and might be surprised how it pays in the end!

Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.