How to Plan an Affordable Summer Vacation

Find this year’s top deals and hot spots for a relaxing trip.

By + More

A rebounding economy means that many Americans are ready to splurge on summer vacation again. And with new ways to search for cheap airfare, it's easier than ever to find good deals.

If you're still looking for the perfect summer getaway, here are eight strategies to consider:

Collaborate with friends. Renting a large beach house with a group of friends can be more affordable than traveling with just immediate family. Since beach (and lake) houses can often accommodate multiple families, this method often reduces the cost significantly. Sites such as homeaway.com and airbnb.com make it easy to rent out larger homes.

Pay for the trip in advance. Saving up for a vacation ahead of time is the best way to make sure it doesn't end up on a credit card. Setting aside an amount for a vacation fund at the start of the year can ensure your days on the beach aren't ruined by anxiety over debt.

Escape inland. Vacations in popular coastal cities such as New York, Miami, and San Francisco tend to cost a lot. Americans looking to avoid those crowds and get better deals should consider cities often overlooked by foreigners, such as Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, and Denver, says travel expert Chris McGinnis. He suggests looking for hotels around big convention centers, which are usually empty during the summer and desperate for guests. Plus, they usually feature pools, gyms, and big breakfasts.

Don't forget about cruises. Like other all-inclusive packages, cruises help travelers anticipate costs and allow them to pay for meals and lodging together. They also give passengers the freedom to be more active and take advantage of the many programs and tours offered in ports, or be more relaxed and spend time at the pool or spa.

Make it a working holiday. Volunteering for part of your trip and staying in a resort for the remainder can be a way to cut costs and contribute to local communities. Opportunities range from building houses to visiting hospices. (Seniors can find domestic volunteering opportunities through the government site www.seniorcorps.gov.) Families with young children can also combine trips with visits that tie into school-year lessons, such as local Civil War battlefields or former presidents' homes.

Wait to upgrade. If you are intent on the honeymoon suite, waiting is a risky strategy. Otherwise, booking the lowest-price room or vehicle and then upgrading on the spot can lead to better deals.

Cash in on rewards. If you're due for a payout from your credit card issuer in the form of cash back, gift cards, or airline miles, that payout can be used to fund your summer vacation. Many card issuers offer extra discounts on rewards offered through retail partners, which means you can often get even bigger rewards by using gift cards or airline miles.

Bring your own everything. Packing your own snacks, water bottles, and even a bike can reduce daily expenses on the road. Anyone traveling by air, however, will want to adopt the opposite strategy, since many airlines now charge to check bags.

The bottom line: With a little advance planning, summer travelers can land wallet-friendly deals. Happy vacationing!

Twitter: @alphaconsumer