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Tips to cut travel expenses

Stan Thomas | 7/28/2010, 5 p.m.

You don't need to be reminded that the economy is not as strong as it used to be. Because of this, many people have decided to just stay home. But that doesn't mean you have to.

If you're looking to travel this year and are on a budget, you can still take that vacation. By making a few adjustments, being flexible, and with a little research, you could soon be on the beach, budget intact.

Since the budget may be the biggest concern, let's start there. By now, you have a set amount you are working with. If you have not yet reached your goal, you might want to consider a savings plan to close the gap. It may sound simple, but giving up lunch at a restaurant once a week can save you enough for a couple of nights in a hotel.

Take a look at your resources. Instead of your funds dictating where you can't go, consider where you can go. Driving may be a good option, if you are not planning to travel too far. Compare air fares, if your destination is considered a hub, like San Francisco or Phoenix. You might catch a deal that could make it cheaper to fly.

If things are really tight, consider staying local. San Diego is less than three hours away and has plenty of activities to keep the entire family happy. Hotels are plentiful. World-class beaches, restaurants, shopping, parks, museums, zoos, and cruises all are within easy reach.

Thinking about a wine-tasting tour? Paso Robles is hours closer than Sonoma and has literally dozens of excellent vineyards and wineries. To save on room costs at a hotel, consider staying in a smaller, nearby city. Oakland and San Jose are less than an hour away from San Francisco. What you save in hotel costs may be enough to pay for an excursion or two in San Francisco.

Should your budget permit more distant travel, flying might be the most economical way to get there. Instead of using your cash to pay the air fare, consider using those airline miles you've been accumulating. If you have a credit card that earns rewards points, you have a few more options. You may be able to use them to cover the air fare, hotel, car rental, or all three. Check the program information on your card to see how many ways your points can be used to augment your budget.

If you have decided to fly, you may be able to stretch your budget even further. Are your travel dates flexible? Tuesdays and Saturdays are usually the cheapest days of the week to fly. Most airlines' websites as well as other travel websites (Travelocity, Expedia, Kayak, etc.) have a 'flexible dates' option. By checking that box, you can compare fares based on different dates. By changing your travel plans by a day or two, you can save several hundred dollars on airfare alone.

Use the same option for car rentals and hotels, and you can save a significant chunk of change.