Take a short cruise that departs from a port you can drive to, vacation in your own city, go camping in a state park or head to a nearby theme park.
These are just a few of the 18 ideas for summer vacations for less than $800 in the June 15 issue of the TravelSmart newsletter.
For vacationing in your own city or a nearby urban center, the newsletter points out that many hotels have lower weekend rates when business travelers are gone, often with amenities such as free breakfast or passes to local attractions. Just outside Chicago, for example, TravelSmart recommends the Carleton of Oak Park – www.carletonhotel.com – which has 120 spacious old-fashioned rooms (all with kitchens) starting at $138, and 25 motor-lodge rooms starting at $113. A free shuttle takes you to Oak Park attractions, including Frank Lloyd Wright's home and Hemingway's birthplace, or take the fast commuter train to downtown Chicago.
Another idea: Join a day trip run by a local cultural institution. Many libraries, museums, historic societies and houses of worship offer reasonably priced daylong bus trips to interesting historic sites or parks.
Some of TravelSmart's ideas are tips, such as traveling in a group. You may be able to get a hotel discount for booking as few as five to 10 rooms for relatives and friends. Some hotels offer great deals for families, like Holiday Inn's “Kids Eat Free” deal in which children 12 and younger can order free from a kids' menu with a paying adult, and the “Escape! Family Time Package” at certain Marriotts, which provide free meals for kids under 12, along with a free in-room pizza party.
The newsletter also says that it's usually cheaper to stay in a B&B than a hotel, and that many inns are offering free gas or discounts through the “Tanks A Lot” program at www.bedandbreakfast.com.
Packages are also always cheaper than booking components of a trip individually. Look for deals from airlines and travel agents that include air, hotel, a rental car and possibly tickets to a theme park or other attraction.
Amtrak also has rail-and-hotel packages at www.amtrakvacations.com, according to TravelSmart.
Ski resorts often have great summer programs that include kids' camps, sports, festivals and various adventures. TravelSmart recommends Vermont's Killington Ski Resort's “Summer Adventures Package,” which includes mountain biking, hiking, mini-golf, wall climbing and more, starting at $58 a person including lodging. Details: www.killington.com.