- Take a single-destination trip. Instead of a driving trip incorporating several stops, head for one destination. Cities where attractions are accessible by foot or public transportation can help cut costs.
Examples: In Grand Junction, Colorado’s major western slope vacation destination, for instance, a $1 shuttle runs from major hotel areas to downtown attractions. In Telluride, Colo., visitors have no need for a car at all once they arrive, thanks to the town’s free shuttle bus system and the world’s only energy efficient free gondola.
- Consider going all-inclusive. Staying at one resort that offers a multitude of services, amenities, and activities can mean significant savings. For families with children (or adults!) who like to try their hand at many activities – and then get tired or bored – it can be especially helpful. Dude ranches are increasingly popular all-inclusive options for singles, couples, and families, and can range from rustic adventures on working ranches to world-class resorts. Example: Dude & Guest Ranches of Grand County, Colo.
- Bypass the rental car. If you won’t absolutely need a car when you arrive at your destination, use public transportation to get there when possible. Airport shuttles, buses, and trains offer good alternatives. If you’re in an area where you’d be using taxis frequently, however, compare costs to determine if a rental car would be more economical. Better yet? Try vacationing in places where you can walk to everything. Even in the wide reaches of the American West, walkable towns abound. Examples: Ouray, Grand Lake, Telluride, Colo.
- Get out of your car. Even if you are taking a vacation by car, think about constructing a trip that isn’t all driving. Go hiking, bicycling, or horseback riding. You’ll save money and likely lose a few inches, too. Examples: Mesa Verde Country, Colo., Southwest Colorado Travel Region.
- (Don’t) follow the crowd. Off-season doesn’t have to mean winter in New England. Many U.S. destinations offer plenty of off-peak and shoulder-season rates in late spring, early summer, and late summer. Ski resorts generally offer significant savings before Christmas and in January and early February. And no matter where or when you travel, be sure to ask about any discounts. More lodging properties, restaurants, and attractions than ever are offering discounts this year thanks to a sluggish economy.
- Create your own meal plan. Bed and breakfast inns and many hotels include breakfast. Spend a few minutes in the morning making sandwiches, or pay a visit to the local market, deli, and/or produce stand to make a fun, inexpensive lunch.
- Take it a step further and incorporate agritourism, one of the tourism industry’s fastest-growing sectors, into your family vacation. Kids (and adults) enjoy learning first-hand how and where food is produced. Buying straight from the source saves in the big picture, too: You eliminate food’s travel and transport, and lessen your carbon footprint. Example: Delta County, Colo.
- Think outside the (lodging) box. Bed and breakfast inns, historic inns, and rentals of condos, townhomes and houses all can offer interesting, value-priced accommodations. In many areas, hostels are no longer just for the college crowd. Home exchanges are becoming popular vacation options, and some Web sites listing exchanges also list homes in which the owners are open to renting part of their homes without an exchange. Also consider trading homes with a friend or relative, or house sitting.Even if you want to forego a tent, cost-saving camping options include rental cabins, yurts, or RVs (borrowed, rented, or owned – as long as you don’t eat up the savings by driving too far). Bring food and linens and “rough it” so you can splurge on an activity while there.
- Visit loved ones. Staying with friends or relatives is a time-honored money-saver. Just be sure to treat them to a nice meal out and spring for a grocery shopping trip while you are there — and pick up after yourselves.
As told by Colorado travel expert and member of the Society of American Travel Writers, Gaylene Ore, president of Ore Communications in Granby, Colo.