Looking for ways to get the most from your travel budget? Here are some ideas to help you save this summer.

Hit the slopes. Ski resorts as summer destinations? It may seem counterintuitive, but many mountain resort towns attract off-season visitors with unique cultural and outdoor experiences.

Summer slopes are blanketed not with snow, but with wildflowers and daffodils, and tourists can enjoy spectacular scenery, diverse ecosystems and recreational activities such horseback riding, guided fishing tours, golf, river rafting, and hiking. And in terms of costs, you’ll pay much less on lodging than during the peak winter season, experts say.

A number of mountain resorts across North America celebrate summer in a big way including spectacular destinations in British Columbia, Quebec, Colorado and New York. (For details, see Summer on the slopes.)

Check out other off-the-beaten path destinations. To save money, consider other less popular summer destinations such as the Caribbean islands located just outside the hurricane belt. The so-called ABC islands — Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao — typically offer discounted accommodations while still being out of the danger zone. (Hurricane season in this part of the world runs from June through November.)

Or, as many city dwellers seek greener spaces for their holiday, you may want to consider an urban destination. Many hotels in major cities in North America and abroad offer summer deals and discounts, particularly in August.

Consider a vacation rental. From lakeside cottages and city apartments to villas in the countryside, there are dozens of Internet-based companies and resources to either list your property or find one to rent. Besides offering a way to save on hotel and dining costs, the advantages of a vacation rental can include more privacy and space, as well as an opportunity to become immersed in local culture. After all, what better way to feel like a local than to live like one?

Despite the potential benefits, there are some risks to renting a holiday home, however — mainly that you forgo the predictability of a hotel. Check out our tips for finding a vacation rental to learn how to avoid unhappy surprises.

Live like a local. Looking to go beyond the typical “tourist” experience? Living like a local allows you to more fully experience a culture and explore a destination. And it can also save you money. Rein in food costs, for example, by skipping the hotel breakfast and joining the locals at a nearby café. Instead of pricy restaurants, find a local deli or open-air market and enjoy a picnic lunch in a park. Looking to do some shopping? Skip the typical tourist stands and search out the stores where the locals shop. Many department stores, for example, carry souvenirs at significantly reduced prices than those sold at tourist attractions. (Find out more on Living ‘la Vida local’.)

Consider a hostel. Still think they’re just for backpackers or rambunctious university students on gap year? Today’s hostels are becoming more like hotels, offering better comfort and amenities — but without a high price tag.

Moving beyond the dormitory-styled domain of the twenty-something set, many hostels have expanded their offerings — and their target demographic. This translates into more privacy, some modern perks and a wider variety of options for both adults and families. You can find hostels in some of the world’s busiest and most expensive urban centres as well in rural settings.

Keep in mind, however, that not all hostels offer the same amenities or atmosphere, so make sure to do your research. (Not sure if hosteling is for you? Learn more in our previous article on hostels.)

Stay closer to home. You may be tired of hearing about staycations — or even worse, naycations — but some travellers are opting to save on costs by taking road trips closer to home or even foregoing the big trip for day trips or weekend getaways. If fuel prices go up, some experts predict that more tourists may be tempted to hit the rails, instead of the road. (See How to get a deal on a train ticket)

Shop around. It goes without saying that comparison shopping is a good idea. Surfing the web can help you score deals and plan your trip, even advising on what seat to select on your flight. (For more, see 12 essential sites for the savvy traveller.)

In addition to the comparison websites, also check the company’s website since many companies save the best deals for their own sites. When making a hotel reservation, it sometimes pays to pick up the phone — the rate on the hotel’s website may not be the lowest price they’ll offer.

Prefer not to do it yourself? Call in the experts. It’s a travel agent’s job, after all, to know the destinations and the companies, and they can often negotiate rates (and extra perks) on your behalf.

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Pay attention to extra or hidden costs. Is it a deal — or a dud? Ads promoting amazingly low fares or steep discounts on packages often don’t include fees or taxes. Make sure you know what extra costs you’re expected to pay when you fly, rent a car or stay in a hotel. Many hotels charge for amenities such as wireless Internet access, use of the gym or pool and early (or late) check-in. (For more, see Deal or no deal? and 6 hidden travel costs.)

Looking for more ways to save? We’ve got 7 ways to save on your next trip.

Additional sources: SmarterTravel.com; The Associated Press; MSNBC.com

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Abel Mitja Varela

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by:
Cynthia Ross Cravit