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19 Aug, Friday
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Montreal Families

Family Travel: 7 ways to save

Economic instability and worry means that families are taking a hard look at how and where they spend their dollars. So it’s no surprise that expensive vacations are being scrapped. But if you think that penny pinching leaves no space for a family holiday elsewhere, check out the following ways you can travel without breaking the budget:

1.     Book last minute
This approach requires nerves of steel, but if you’re willing to book a trip three, two or even one week before the departure date, you can save significant money on all-inclusive packages, flights and hotels. The reason is simple: tour operators slash costs at the last minute to avoid vacancies and empty airplane seats. Websites like Selloffvacations.com, itravel2000.com and Voyagesrabais.com list many last minute vacations.
        
2.     Or book WAY ahead
Booking a vacation many months or even a year in advance can net you early bird discounts, free stays for kids and other perks. It may also be the only way you’ll be able to use points to purchase a ticket. Many airlines have put greater restrictions on when you can use points, making it difficult to use them for last minute travel.
        
3.    Travel off-peak or off-season
Mexico in May or Florida in November may not seem as appealing or convenient as travel in mid-winter and during school breaks, but it will save you a lot of money. This may be a better option for families with children who haven’t yet started school or who are in the early grades. It can be difficult for kids in higher grades to make up the work. And check with the school, as some have specific policies regarding missing school for a vacation. 
        
4.   Comparison shop
The Internet has made it easy to compare prices, particularly for tours. A site like www.redtag.ca allows you to enter your departure and destination cities, the dates of your travel and then the site’s search engine finds deals for you. The prices you get are often better than what you’d find on the tour operator’s website. Once you have a hotel or resort in mind, you can check out what others have to say about it on a site like www.tripadvisor.com, where tourists write up their own reviews and post pictures. Bear in mind that not everyone’s expectations are the same and the occasional bad review from one disgruntled tourist shouldn’t necessarily dissuade you from going to that hotel or resort.
        
5.  Be flexible
Your friends may have raved about their trip to the Dominican Republic, but carefully consider what you want from your vacation before committing the money. Do you want to be by the ocean? You might be able to find a good deal closer to home, such as the east coast of the United States. And you can save even more money if you keep your dates flexible. Leaving on a Monday or Thursday can be considerably less expensive than leaving on the weekend.
        
6.  Be creative
Question whether you need to book hotel and airfare as a package or whether you can get a better deal booking separately. Using frequent flyer points, hotel upgrades or rental car programs may get you a better price than booking all together. Consider whether you need to pay extra for airport transfers with your tour operator – using a tourist forum on tripadvisor.com, we were able to save over $400 in airport transfers bundled into our Mexico package by hiring a highly recommended local company instead. We travelled in a chauffeur-driven, air-conditioned van directly from the airport to our resort without having to drop off other tourists at their hotels along the way, saving precious vacation time at the beginning and end of our trip, and leaving at times convenient to us.
        
7.  Use local resources
Most hotels and all-inclusive resorts rent out space in their lobbies to excursion tour operators trying to sell everything from back-country jeep outings to swimming with dolphin adventures. Use the web to check out alternate excursions that may cost less money (since they don’t have to pay kickbacks to the hotel). When in the Mayan Riviera, I found out about Edventure Tours on the Tripadvisor site, and decided to use their services. We had the best day of our vacation, visiting ancient ruins, snorkeling in underground caves and visiting a private lagoon. All of this was organized by a private guide who tailored the day to ours – and our kids’ – preferences and energy levels. Best of all, we got to leave our resort compound and meet some actual Mexicans and get a better sense of the region and the country. 

Many families want to give their kids the experience of getting away to a new place for adventures and fun. The good news is that it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. With some careful planning, and a bit of creativity, you can have an affordable trip and maybe even a few dollars leftover in your wallet. Bon voyage!

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