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Bargain Travel for Families

Looking for ways to go on a family vacation that won't break the bank? We've gathered tips to help you get more for your vacation buck.

By Katherine Relf-Cañas

Join a home exchange club.

Participating in a house swap through an organization like provides an alternative to the typical tourist experience. Trading homes with another family can enrich your experience of your host's locality and allows you to see how locals live. Besides the cost savings, which are considerable, you will also enjoy many other benefits. Trading partners commonly swap cars, boats, skis, and bikes, too. Families who participate in a house exchange report that living in more spacious quarters can improve everyone's sleep. According to founder, Ed Kushins, the trend is seeing its fastest growth in the weekend swap. "Some members participate in 5, 10, 15 exchanges a year. They use each others' places as second homes." And, if you are doing regular exchanges with another member, it takes about 10 seconds to propose a date, and then you head to Napa for a wine weekend, and they head to your place in San Francisco for the theater," he says.

Find accommodations with a kitchen.

This will save you relying on restaurants for all of your meals. Even if there's just a refrigerator in your room, you can consider buying milk, juice and cereal, and having breakfast in your room. You'll save money and time getting everyone going more quickly and efficiently in the morning. If you are staying in a hotel, ask the concierge or go online to find out where the local farmer's market is. You can improvise a picnic or plan a more serious jaunt into the country to savor locally grown products and enjoy fresh-air dining.

Spend a night in the great indoors.

Institutions from coast to coast are now hosting sleepovers in imitation of the film "Night at the Museum." Called "Dozin' with the Dinos," the Field Museum of Chicago holds an overnight with tours, workshops, and performances for 6- to 12-year-olds and their families. ($55 per family member.) The American Museum of Natural History in New York opens its doors to 8 to 12 year olds and their families for "A Night at the Museum." ($109 per family member. While this may sound expensive, with budget hotels in New York now charging $200 or more per night, this could be a bargain!) If you are looking for an unusual rural lodging experience, you can stay at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse hostel on the Northern California coast. Here you can fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves, and a room with a view will be a bargain. Guests can opt for shared or private rooms. Check online for public program listings for museums, zoos, aquariums or lighthouses in your destination city. Reserve early as these overnighters fill up fast.

You may be an American Automobile Association (AAA) member, but according to a company spokesperson, most members often don't take advantage of the full range of AAA discounts.

According to their literature, the organization's 50,000,000 members save an average of $87 a year on leisure and travel expenditures. We usually think car towing or free maps when we think of AAA. But, as North America's largest travel agency they offer a range of services to travelers through a vast network of partnerships. You can save on hotels, rental cars and tourist attractions. AAA's Show Your Card and Save program helps members save from 5 to 50 percent off of many different travel purchases. In fact, any time you book a hotel, rental car, or purchase tickets for an attraction, just ask, "Is there a AAA discount?" Then show your card and save! These savings often pay for your annual membership.

Heading to the great outdoors? You can save on entrance fees to more than 400 natural, cultural and recreational sites across the U.S.

If you are going to more than two National Parks, you can purchase an annual pass for $80. On the National Park Service Web site,you can make campground reservations To get a pass, buy one in person at the park, or call 1-888-ASK USGS, Ext. 1, or shop online at U.S. Geological Survey.

Katherine Relf-Canas travels whenever she can. Her daughter, Olivia, now 6, is a responsible globetrotter in training. Her freelance writing has appeared in Mothering and GeoParents.

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