Money-savers on the road

Americans spend close to $2,500 on a typicalsummer vacation, one of the larger expendituresa family makes in a year. The funof a great trip, however, quickly evaporates ifthere is a huge credit card bill to pay when youreturn home. Here are ways to trim expensesonce you hit the road:

1. Ask for a break // Hotels, restaurants,car rental agencies and attractions, includingtheme parks and museums, oftenoffer discounts to members of largegroups,such as AAA or AARP. When makinga reservation or checking in, alwaysask whether you are getting the lowestrate available. Hotels charge differingamounts for the same rooms dependingon occupancy, what season it is andwhether you are a member of a group.

2. Eat economically // Watch how manydollars you eat up on vacation. You cancut down by packing food and snacks orbooking a hotel that serves breakfast. Apicnic of sandwiches, fruit and beveragessaves a family of four almost $50 over eatingin a restaurant, says the ConsumerCredit Counseling Service of Atlanta.

3. Pick your card // Not all credit cardsare created equal, so think about whichone you want to take, especially if youare going abroad. Consider which cardhas the lowest transaction fees.

4. Be careful with the cash // ATMscan be a great way to get foreign currencyonce you get to a country. But beforeyou leave, call the customer servicenumber of your bank and ask how it calculatesthe exchange rate and what extrasit tacks on for purchases in a foreigncurrency. Use your debit card ratherthan a credit card.

5. Shop for currency // Don't just headto the airport exchange kiosk to buy foreigncurrency. Shop around or considera discount exchanger like InternationalCurrency Express.

6. Be careful about commitments // Looking out a hotel window at an idyllicwaterfront or gorgeous mountainrange makes you want to stay forever, and hotel operators such as Marriott, Hyattand Hilton sell time shares, a way tolet you buy into that scene. Don't makea snap decision to buy, and don't pay thefull retail price.

7. Plan your activities // On cruises,think about creating your own shore excursions,says Stewart Chiron, who operatesthe Web site. Thisrequires some research before youleave. Read travel books and go online tosee what tourists do at the ports whereyou will stop.

8. Use public transportation // In New York, a seven-day, unlimited-use Metro-Card is only $24 and is good for unlimitedsubway and local bus rides for sevendays. In London, a three-day peak-usesubway ticket for the central part of thecity is $32, about the cost of one taxi fare.

9. Look for coupons // Pick up touristbooklets and magazines. They are full ofcoupons and offers for restaurants, activitiesand attractions.

10. Rough it // Camping is far less expensivethan hotels and often is just as fun.

[Los Angeles Times]

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