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How families can cut vacation costs

Family vacations are the one time each year when all members of the family get to leave the daily grind behind to enjoy a little R&R together. Such excursions often strengthen family bonds and help to create lasting memories that parents and kids will cherish for years to come.

Families planning this summer's annual getaway may already know that the cost of travel is on the rise. While there are always deals to be had, budget-conscious parents may still find themselves looking for ways to cut their travel costs so more of their money can be spent on having fun instead of financing trips. The following are a handful of ways parents can trim their families' travel costs without sacrificing the quality of their vacations.

• Stay closer to home. It may sound simple, but vacationing closer to home is perhaps the best way for families to save a substantial amount of money on their vacations. Airline tickets can take up a sizable portion of a family vacation budget, and once the plane touches down families may need to add the additional expense of rental cars so they can get around their destination and enjoy all its sights and sounds. But families who choose to vacation closer to home can take their own vehicles, paying only for gas instead of airline tickets, car rentals (including rental insurance) and gas. Find a location close to home that still offers everyone an escape, but one that's not far enough away that car travel will prove burdensome and exhausting.

• Plan to make some of your own meals. Dining out is another considerable expense for families on vacation. Depending on the size of their families, parents may find that their dining budgets will approach or even exceed the cost of air travel by the end of a single week. But parents can drastically reduce those costs by planning to make some their own meals while away on vacation. Bring along a couple of cereal boxes so breakfast is simple and inexpensive, and try to book accommodations equipped with kitchens or outdoor areas where the family can fire up a grill a few times during the week to save on costly dinner tabs.

• Travel light. Families who must travel by air can trim some of the cost of flying by traveling light. Many airlines now charge fees for bags that exceed preestablished weight limits and may charge for additional baggage as well. Leave hefty jackets and extra footwear behind when traveling during the warmer months, as everyone can likely get by with just some lighter summer attire and less formal footwear. If traveling to a ski resort in the winter, consider renting bulky skiing attire, including boots, so baggage limits are not exceeded.

• Work with a travel agency that specializes in your locale. Many families may feel they can now plan their own vacations and save money, but planning through a travel agency may still be a family's best bet. When booking trips via a travel agency, families can often negotiate with a representative, who can work to tailor a vacation that fits families' budgets. Such negotiation is much more difficult when going it alone or working through a travel website. In addition, many travel agencies include tours and other attractions in the price of their packages, and that can be a great way to earn discounts to local sights and activities.

Travel is expensive, especially for parents traveling with kids in tow. But cost-conscious moms and dads can still plan relaxing and enjoyable vacations without breaking the bank.

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