Plan a budget-friendly summer vacation

April 14, 2010 2:50:27 PM PDT
Advice on great big-city family vacations on a budget.

Four things to keep your travel on a budget from Amy Graff:

1. Take public transportation

  • In big cities it doesn't make sense to rent a car because you'll have to pay hefty parking fees.

  • On our trip, we mainly traveled between cities on the Greyhound bus. It's cheaper than the train-and actually quite comfortable because Greyound recently introduced new buses with comfy seats and free wi-fi.

  • In the cities, we made use of the subways.
2. Stay at hotels that offer value
  • We stay at Best Westerns because they offer lots of free perks-all the hotels we stayed at offered free breakfast, so that easily saved us $10 - 20; the free Wi-Fi was also a big help.

  • The Best Western rewards program also allowed us to get one of our nights for free. Travelers commonly join airline rewards programs but they often forget that hotel chains offer them too. Right now, you can earn $50 after staying twice at Best Westerns.
3. Don't spend a dime on activities and attractions
  • In New York, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. You can also take the Staten Island Ferry as a free way to see the Statue of Liberty or spend the day in Central Park.

  • In Boston we walked the Freedom Trail.

  • In D.C. we visited the recently reopened American History Museum as well as the many other museums that don't charge admission.
  • Convention and Visitors Bureau Web sites and information centers are great resources for lists of free activities and events.
4. Dine out at restaurants that dish up cheap, yummy food
  • It's easy to spend only $5 to $7 per person on dinner when you can choose from ethnic eateries, street vendors, and hole-in-the-walls.

  • In Boston you can grab a cup of clam chowder at Quincy Market. We enjoyed a tasty dinner at Picco Pizza in the South End.

  • In New York, my favorite cheap eats are from the street-side vendors selling roasted peanuts, hot dogs, and pretzels.

  • D.C. is a little trickier when it comes to cheap food-especially in the central area around the museums. I like the cafeteria in the Museum of the American Indian. We ate Chipotle every day for lunch.
West Cost Big City Bargains:

This summer, Amy will be looking for bargains in big cities again. We're driving I-5 between San Francisco and Vancouver. You can also fly into any of these cities for a cheap, long weekend.

Portland: The city has become known for the carts around town that dish up gourmet food-there's even a blog devoted to it called 'foodcartsportland.' A family of four can easily eat for under $30.

Seattle: Pike Place Market is touristy but fun and you can eat amazingly fresh seafood for cheap. The kids love watching the guys throw the fish. Going up the Space Needle costs $16 but you get an equally spectacular view from Smith Tower and they charge only $7.50.

Vancouver: The Granville Public Market is a great place to find tasty, cheap food. I've always wanted to visit Stanley Park, 1,000 acres right on the water.

About Amy Graff:

With more than a dozen years of experience as a travel editor and writer, Amy most recently served as a senior editor at VIA, a travel magazine that reaches more than three million members of the American Automobile Association.

Prior, she was a contributor to Bay Area regional lifestyle magazines including Diablo and San Francisco.

Amy also writes for Sunset Custom Publishing and oversees the San Francisco Chronicle's new parenting site, Bay Area Moms, for which she writes The Mommy Files blog in addition to contributing to www.babycenter.com.

For more information on Amy's blog, visit onthegowithamy.com

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