Inflation hasn't forced Americans to stay home on their vacations, says travel writer Robert S. Kane. "People are still traveling," he says. "It's just more of a challenge and takes imagination for families -- or even for couples -- to go places."
Currently the travel editor of "50 Plus" magazine, Kane's "A to Z" travel features appear regularly in newspapers around the country. He is the author of 13 "A to Z Guides," three of which have been published in paperback by Rand McNally.
He has these suggestions for cost-cutting vacations: In the United States
Be a day-tripper. Take one-day excursions to historic sites, beaches, parks. Most state's tourism departments offer free literature outlining possible day trips.
Stay at inexpensive motels. "There are about a dozen really cheap motel chains that operate regionally and nationally," says Kane, who lists Day's Inn, Swiss Chalets and La Quintas. "They have very attractive rooms for about $20 double occupancy plus a couple bucks more per child."
Camp out. National and state parks often have camp grounds with cabins and tent sites. Many, like those in the U.S. Virgin Islands, are booked a year ahead, but with advance planning offer great, low-cost accomodations.
In the West, Kampgrounds of America operates locally-owned camp sites. "Retired couples," says Kane, "are increasingly finding that recreational vehicles pay for themselves over time in the savings on hotel fees."
Escape for the weekend. Top quality hotels in major cities (like New York and Washington) often feature special weekend packages -- including extras like meals, theater tickets, champagne and sightseeing -- for a fixed price. Often these hotels are part of a major chain, and offer these deals in their off-season.
Write your state's tourist office. Lean about low-cost vacation options in your own backyard. "Some states," he says, including Kentucky and West Virginia, "run moderately priced hotel chains in their state parks." a
Plan ahead. If you'll be visiting a large city, write their convention or visitor's bureau for tourist information. If you're going to a small town, contact their chamber of commerce. Transportation
Explore promotional air-fare deals. Many airline "super-save" deals require booking the flight several weeks in advance, have stipulations on minimum and maximum lengths of stay and carry penalties for changes or cancellation. Read the newspaper's travel section to keep up-to-date on good deals or consult a trusted travel agent.
"The biggest competition for passengers now," Kane says, "if for flights between the United States and London. So shop around for the best deal. The competition is also keen on flights to Frankfort, Germany."
Consider training or busing to your destination. Check into special passes and tours offered. Abroad
Visit resorts during their off-season for the best rates. In the Caribbean, for example, rates drop 30 to 50 percent during the summer.
Stay in middle-class hotels. Europe can offer excellent value if you avoid the luxury class hotels. Miscellaneous Money Savers
Buy a wheeled luggage cart to save on porter's tips. "I call it my baggage schlepper," says Kane. "You may get dirty looks from bell hops, but it's worth it."
When abroad, shop where the natives do. "Major department stores in countries like Spain and Germany," he says. "have the best buys.They also have good services like inexpensive cafeterias and shoe repair."
Food specialties from Europe, says Kane, "make inexpensive, but nice gifts." Some ideas -- mustards, sherry, wines, chocolate, tea, tinned cookies.