Vacation for less: You can still do it

Want to go on a vacation this summer but not sure you can afford it? Sure, gas and food prices are high, but it's still possible to get away.

By concentrating on ways to save, you'll find yourself at the beach or in the mountains for less than you think.

From Erin Burt, a contributing editor at, here are five money-saving tips for planning a vacation this summer:

Vacation close to home. The average domestic airfare reached $331 at the end of 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. That's the highest pricing in six years.

Yes, gas prices for your car are at record highs too. But if you choose a destination within a short driving distance, you can save a lot of money – especially if you're traveling with other people. Staying close to home could save you money on transportation and help spare you lodging expenses.

Seek out day-trip possibilities and return home to the comfort of your own bed each night. Or play tourist in your hometown. Grab a guidebook for your city, bring your camera, and go explore those sites that you never seem to have time for, even though they're practically in your backyard.

Seek inexpensive lodging. Where you stay has a huge impact on your vacation budget. Use

to search for the lowest hotel prices on the Web. Or consider these budget-friendly alternatives: hostels, college dorm rooms and campgrounds.

Hold down food costs. You'll save a lot of money if you can cook your own meals (or at least most of them). That way, you can work your food costs into your regular weekly grocery budget. The same goes for dining out. For example, if you usually eat out twice a week, save up those meals for when you're on vacation.

Choose destinations with cheap entertainment. It doesn't matter what a good deal you get on transportation or lodging if you're going to blow your budget when you get there.

For example, hotel rooms in Orlando, Fla., are incredibly cheap (we found about a dozen in the $30 to $40 range in June). But tickets to the attractions are incredibly pricey. Universal Studios – $70; Disney World – $71; Sea World – $68. Yikes.

Stick to locations off the beaten path or that offer plenty of free or inexpensive things to do. Nearly all the main attractions are free in Washington, for example, including the Smithsonian museums, monuments and the Capitol building tour.

And you can't beat Mother Nature. National parks, forests and state parks are close to home and provide miles of hiking trails, beautiful vistas, biking trails, fishing holes and rafting runs for nothing – or next to nothing.

Time your trip right. Because the kids are out of school, summer is considered peak season at most destinations, especially in the U.S. But traveling to winter havens can save you some cash.

This is a prime time to relax at a ski resort or in parts of Florida. If you want to head out of the country, the Caribbean and Mexican Riviera are on sale this time of year. Plus, try to plan your visit on weekdays to avoid paying higher weekend lodging rates.