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Bargain Travel for Families

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By Katherine Relf-Cañas

Try a family volunteer vacation.

In exchange for room and board you can put in a good day's work (or a week or two) on an organic farm.. It's a fun way to learn new skills and see how organic farms operate. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), an international organization. publishes opportunities in its members' directory. Habitat for Humanity accepts family groups, and the organization provides home-building opportunities all over the world. A volunteer vacation gives your family the opportunity to provide service, and learn about the locale and its culture, too. For more volunteer vacation ideas, see Taking the Kids on a Volunteer Vacation.

See if you meet the requirements for a tax write-off to help pay for expenses on your volunteer vacation.

While being of service might be your primary motivation for putting in time helping your favorite qualifying nonprofit, it is worth your time to find out if you qualify for savings during tax time, too. Check the information on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Web site, or have your tax preparer research and assess your eligibility. Do keep receipts and detailed records of your trip. Your family can write off certain costs associated with transportation to volunteer with a registered 501(c)(3) organization, provided you meet certain criteria.

Youth Hostels aren't just for backpacking college kids.

Hostelling is especially helpful in reducing a longer-term trip budget. It can also help you meet other traveling families. Thousands of popular worldwide destinations have accommodations for families that cost just a fraction of what one would spend on a hotel. Many hostels feature family rooms, which offer a greater degree of privacy and quiet compared to the typical dormitory rooms that are usually full of backpacking college kids. The level of accommodations may be simple but hostels are not unlike a budget hotel. At hostels, you will be eating breakfast and other meals in a cafeteria, and if you explore the grounds you may find a camping area. Many hostels also have gardens, play areas, barbecues and swimming pools. Laundry facilities are also a common feature. Check this worldwide hostel database for details.

If you're a military family, you can save by staying in a temporary lodging facility near specific installations.

To research room availability, call or check the particular military installation's Web site. A publication entitled Military Travel Guide USA, published by Military Living, is a good source for phone numbers and Web sites for temporary lodging facilities in the United States. Many of these rooms include kitchen facilities, which offer an additional way to save on your food bill. Military families who need R&R can also receive deep discounts if they keep an eye out for military appreciation days at major theme parks and tourist attractions throughout the U.S. Another resort getaway option for eligible members of the military community is Shades of Green, an Armed Forces Recreation Center available to certain eligible members of the U.S. Armed Forces community, their families, and some civilians in the Department of Defense and elsewhere. Check Shades of Green for more information. Specific eligibility criteria must be met before a guest may make a reservation.

Thrill your train-obsessed kids with an Amtrak ride and save on airfare at the same time.

For most Amtrak routes, children are entitled to travel at 50 percent off the standard adult fare. Several restrictions do apply. The discount fares are also subject to a number of rules. For instance, children traveling alone are not entitled to a children's discount and infants (under age 2) will not get their own seat with this discount fare program. If your child has a love affair with trains, getting there will be more fun if you have the time to travel by rail. Read more at the Amtrak Web site. Amtrak also runs weekly specials on select routes and posts them on their Web site.

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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