10 Ways to Turn a Cheap Vacation Into a First-Class Getaway

Stretch your travel dollars by saving on dining, touring and accommodations.

Bus tour in Rome.

Catching a bus tour in a place like Rome will save you more than a few bucks.

By + More

You deserve a summer vacation. You plan on taking one. You also plan on spending a small fortune.

Vacations aren't cheap. American Express's annual online vacation survey (of 1,500 adults, conducted in April) indicated that Americans will spend an average of $1,246 per person this year on their summer vacation. Last month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a nearly 6 percent increase in airline ticket prices. Meanwhile, theme park tickets have also risen. The cost of having fun just keeps going up.

So if you're planning to embark on a vacation, you'll probably spend more than you want to – there's little way around that. But there are plenty of ways to make your vacation cheaper so you can travel farther for your money. Here are some ideas:

Camp. Instead of spending a chunk of your vacation budget at a hotel, pack a tent and sleeping bag. “In fact, rent a cabin or a cool yurt. It is way cheaper than going to a hotel. And then you can just pack up and get on the road to your destination," says Andrea Garcia, who works in marketing in Union City, New Jersey, and has camped throughout the Northeast and in Europe on vacations.

She adds: "Most national parks offer incentives for the adventurous to take the option of camping on their grounds. There are [promotion] codes that you can look for if you subscribe to their newsletters or just dig around. Saving 25 percent on camping or up to 35 percent on a cabin is a great option for those who have budgets."

[See: The 10 Most Visited National Parks.]

Campsites can cost $25 to $30 per night. Garcia says she has paid as little as $7 for a site, although remember that if you're new to camping, the money you save on hotels may be spent on camping equipment.

Pack your own food. Take a cooler on your trip, and fill it with snacks and no-cook meals. "While part of the fun of vacations might be dining out, the costs can add up ... If you bring snacks and a meal or two, or better yet have the ability to make quick, simple meals where you're staying, you can save money," says Ray Advani, who has a personal finance blog, Squirrelers.com.

Eat at a hospital. Haralee Weintraub of Portland, Oregon, and CEO of Haralee.com, an online clothing retailer, says if you're on a multistate road trip, and you want to consume something healthier than fast food but dine on fare that's cheaper than at a sit-down family restaurant, "follow the signs to 'hospital' and go for a lunch break. Surprisingly, hospitals have really upgraded their food and kept prices down. Usually, there is a cafeteria or cafe with lots of choices."

Be choosy about souvenirs. Not that you shouldn't buy them, but the tourist traps are "charging you five to 10 times an item's true value and sell cheaply made items," says Laura Berger, who runs a consulting company in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and is a frequent world traveler. She suggests going off the beaten path and shopping where the locals do. "I have earrings, shirts and art from all over the world that people regularly fawn over because I paid a reasonable price for a rare gem that no one can get in their home country," she says.

Don't automatically opt for guided tours. Self-guiding your tour and going on an adventure can pay off. Berger says: "Whenever we are on a cruise that stops at Grand Cayman, we watch our shipmates pay over $100 per person for tours, while we take a $5 public bus down 7 Mile Beach and have a calm, spectacular walk back to the ship, stopping to get sun, swim and eat along the way."

But consider bus tours. Robbin Watson, a media relations manager in San Diego who travels frequently, says she recommends day passes for double-decker hop on/hop off buses.

"Even though it's a bit touristy, normally a ticket is only about $30, and it saves you money on taxis and other forms of public transportation, all the while being able to see all the city's biggest attractions," she says.