Tips for saving money on family travel

Dallas-Ft. Worth, Atlanta and Orlando top the list of cities offering the best value for your vacation dollar, according to a new study from

The study also lists Tampa, Phoenix, Houston, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami and San Diego among its top 10. Hotwire is the hot Web site that sells unsold airline seats, hotel rooms and rental cars at deep discounts. Its value index looks for cities with affordable airfare, hotel and entertainment options.

It’s true: The keys to a truly affordable family vacation are to lower the cost of transportation, lodging, entertainment and (I would add) food as much as possible. Here’s how:

1. Transportation

Try not to fly. That means none of the cities on Hotwire’s list is a great option for a Chicago family with a one-week vacation. Some folks might be OK driving to Atlanta (about 12 hours south) but most of us would choose a closer-to-home option, pile the kids in the car and head off. Continue the transportation alternative theme when you arrive at your destination–park the car and take a walk, ride a bike or take the subway.

2. Lodging

Think outside the hotel room. That can mean many things-rent a condo with a full kitchen so that even though you spend a little more on the room, you save a bundle on the food; arrange a houseswap either formally via an Internet site such as or informally with someone you know who lives in a place you’d to visit; or visit the relatives and stay for free.

3. Entertainment

Look for coupons on the Web or join a local deals site such as for your destination to buy deals before you go. And plan to do the free stuff. Every destination has free stuff to do. Check the local tourism Web site as well as the site for attractions you want to visit to find what’s free when. (, the site where I’m the editor, has a feature called Free in the 50 States that is a collection of free and family friendly things to do on a family vacation.)

4. Food

Bring your own food and cook it too. See points 1 and 2 above re: driving and staying somewhere with a kitchen.

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