Going on a vacation is a welcome respite to the hustle and bustle of the rest of the year. The perfect vacation is relaxing, reinvigorating, and enjoyable. But it’s hard to have a good time when you are worried about all the money your vacation is costing you.

The truth is you don’t have to empty your bank account in order to have a great vacation. Here are a number of tips you can use to minimize your vacation expenses while maximizing your fun.

Plan for Your Vacation

It may sound obvious, but the more time and effort you spend planning for your vacation, the more likely you are to get the most for your money.

Planning begins with having a vacation budget and saving for your big trip. The most costly vacations are those that are done on the spur of a moment: You are going to pay a premium for last-minute plane tickets, you will be at the mercy of the hotels that charge the highest rates, and you aren’t going to know where to go to have the best experience at the lowest prices.

Six months isn’t too far out to start planning your next trip. It gives you plenty of time to choose the best destination, do the requisite research on where to stay and what to do, and – most importantly – start socking away money a little at a time so you can afford to enjoy your vacation without worrying about how much it costs.

Don’t Stay in Hotels

Most hotels charge a significant amount of your monthly rent or mortgage payment just for a single night. Staying a weekend is often more than you would pay to stay the entire month in your home.

So if you really want to save money, forego hotels altogether. If you can stay with relatives who are going to be happy to host you, that’s a huge prospective savings. Motels may not have as many accoutrements as hotels, but they can give you bare bones lodging at much more affordable pricing. If you’re not afraid of roughing it, stay outdoors at a campground for free or at most a few dollars per night.

Look Online

In recent years, there’s been a rise of websites where people can go to find cheap yet safe lodging in people’s homes. In some cases, you can stay on somebody’s couch for free as long as you make arrangements online ahead of time.

Finding these sites is not difficult. Just search Google for “cheap places to stay in [your destination]”.

Avoid the Tourist Areas

Most people travel to a destination because they want to see the most famous sites. And that’s fine because most of the best public places to see in any big city are free.

What can be expensive are tourist places like amusement parks, theme parks, concert halls, sporting events, and other ticketed events. If you want to vacation on the cheap, make the most of your time in the popular public places but limit your paid events to one or two things you really want to see.

Eating for Less

The same concept holds true for restaurant dining. The places that cater to tourists are always going to be more costly than other restaurants – and usually the quality is not as good.

A better plan is to take the time to research the best places where the locals eat before you go on your trip. Or better yet, go online and join a forum or chat room where you can introduce yourself to people you live in the area you want to visit and start a conversation about their favorite restaurants. You are sure to get a lot of great recommendations for amazing restaurants at the lowest prices – and you may even get an entertaining dining companion and tour guide once you arrive there!

Don’t Buy Overpriced Souvenirs

When it comes to souvenirs, you pay for convenience. The most expensive trinkets and memorabilia are going to be those you find at the airport. Souvenir shops are going to be a little less expensive, but usually the quality of the items you find there are lower. Do you really need a t-shirt or coffee cup that’s going to fall apart or break a few weeks after you get it home?

A better plan is to shop where the locals shop. Look for discount stores such as Kmart, Wal-Mart or Target. You are likely to find local items –such as sports team jerseys or t-shirts celebrating the area’s biggest attractions – but at a lower price and much higher quality than stores aimed at tourists.

Traveling doesn’t have to cost you a fortune. By planning ahead and being smart about how you spend your money, you can have a great time on a budget.

Image courtesy of artur84/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Author Bio – Leona Michaelson, the contributor of this guest article writes occasionally for Insanely Cheap Flights, an online travel portal.