How to take your dream vacation without breaking the bank

Is summer giving you itchy feet but you don't feel like you can afford a vacation? Here are some tips for how to travel cheaply and still have a wonderful time.

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  • Many people would love to travel more often but lack the means to do so. Travel can be expensive, after all, once you add up lodging, transportation, food, entertainment and souvenirs, not to mention possible lost wages in missed work. But if you employ a few simple tricks of the trade, you'll be able to save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on vacation costs, and maybe finally be able to afford that big trip you've spent the last 10 years planning.

  • Make travel a priority

  • Sure, travel sounds fun, but are you willing to change your lifestyle to make it the priority? If you are, then you'll be more likely to forego eating out, trips to the movies, expensive new toys or those extra cable channels. Instead, you'll put that extra money away in savings, knowing a little sacrifice now will mean a big, fun trip next year.

  • Collect travel points

  • Remember all those credit card offers you feed immediately into the shredder? It might pay to take a moment and crack them open. Many credit card companies offer reward programs which give you miles or travel points based on how much you spend. Add up enough of those miles, and you'll be able to fly virtually for free. Of course, this doesn't mean you have to rack up thousands of dollars in credit card debt. Just use your credit card whenever you can to make your purchases, then pay it off immediately when you get home.

  • Purchase flights far in advance

  • When flying is part of your vacation, your transportation alone may cost as much as all the rest of your trip, so anything you can do to cut down on airfare will drastically improve your buying power. Valuepenguin.com says, "You're more likely to get cheap flights if you buy them about seven weeks before your trip; although for travel during the busy summer season, you're better off booking about 11 weeks (almost three months) before your travel dates if you're hoping for a low-cost airfare." Tuesday and Wednesday are the cheapest days of the week to fly, according to independenttraveler.com. The next cheapest are Thursday and Saturday.

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  • Pay in full ahead of time

  • Some privately owned bed and breakfasts, motels, hotels and hostels offer discounts if you're able to pay in full ahead of time. You may not be able to get a refund, however, so make sure you're certain of your plans.

  • Use cash, not credit

  • Nothing adds to a trip budget like paying interest on a credit card. Creditcards.com says the current average credit card interest rate is 15 percent. If you put your whole $6,000 trip to Europe on a card and don't pay it off right away, you'll end up paying way more than that in the long run.

  • Try couch sharing

  • Did you know there's a way to find free lodgings in select cities and towns around the globe? Couchsurfing.com allows travelers to connect with hosts who have extra beds or couches available for people to use free of charge. This option also offers the advantage of getting inside advice from locals on the best places to eat, visit, and tour while you're in the area. In return, you can sign up to share your couch with visitors to your town.

  • Shop grocery stores

  • You'll save yourself time and money by buying some of your meals from grocery stores when you're on vacation, rather than spending time waiting for a table and eating expensive restaurant food (though there's nothing wrong with doing this once or twice on a trip for the experience and local flavor). Stock your hotel room with snacks, too, to avoid getting too hungry, which might lead to snacky impulse buys. When you do eat out, try the ma-and-pop cafes and bistros for a taste of the local cuisine without the high prices. If you don't recognize anything on the menu, ask for the day's special or for whatever is in season.

  • Buy a guidebook

  • Bringing a guide book along won't just make for interesting reading, it could save you money. "Guidebooks are $20 tools for $3,000 experiences," according to ricksteves.com. "Saving money by not buying one is penny-wise and pound-foolish. An up-to-date guidebook pays for itself on your first day [of travel]."

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  • What are you waiting for? Start saving for that dream vacation today.

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Katie Nielsen received her bachelor's in English with an emphasis in technical writing. She has taught English and is a published writer.

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