I thought it might be a nice idea this month while we’re in the midst of winter, to write about taking a vacation! Maybe somewhere warm, with hot sand and blue water; or maybe your idea of a vacation is to travel to another country, with exotic food and historical sights to see! Many of my friends have been talking to me about these wonderful trips they are taking which are costing them next to nothing out of pocket. How is this possible, I asked? This is what I found out from talking with several people, who are either traveling within the U.S. or abroad:

If you are on a flight and they offer you an airline credit card with bonus miles if you sign up right then and there, take it! (of course, only if you know that you will use the card responsibly — you want it to benefit you, not the credit card company!). You can often receive up to 50,000 airline miles just for signing up, and additional bonus miles when you activate and use the card. For example, one friend knew that she was going to charge the cost of an upcoming trip on a credit card she already had. In this case she signed up for the new card and got the bonus miles. She then charged her trip, received more miles, and paid it off. She told me that the final cost of her flight was only $15!!! There are websites devoted to comparing the best deals for airline miles credit cards. It is definitely worth a look.

Another friend let me know that she is enrolled in several hotels’ rewards programs. She travels extensively for business, and really racks up the rewards. She will save these up and often has accumulated enough rewards to pay some or all of her lodging costs when she is ready to go on vacation. I am enrolled in one rewards program and I am often able to upgrade to a better room, or even add “lounge” access (translation — “free snacks” in the evening, which I love!). Again, check the hotels’ websites, or even call to see exactly what the rewards program offers.

During our discussion, someone else mentioned that if she is going to a place to sightsee and really does not care about the accommodations (other than that they must be clean and safe) she will check into hostels in the area. Many will provide a bed and bathroom/shower arrangements; some even will provide a meal. She has traveled extensively using hostels, and has toured many beautiful places with minimal cost for her stay. After all, how much time do we really want to spend in our room, if we are there to see the sights and sample the cuisine? What a great idea! However, there is a caveat to this arrangement – if you are averse to sharing a room and bathroom with strangers, this might not be for you. Hostels tend to be set up “dormitory style”, which many of us remember less than fondly from college.

As with the airline miles, there are many websites available for researching inexpensive accommodations, best deals for airline tickets, and coupons or other deals for entertainment, meals and activities for our vacations. The best advice I can give is to plan your vacation well ahead of time to take advantage of all the discounts, miles, rewards, etc. that are available. After all, the planning and saving money can be part of the fun of the vacation; and the money you save on travel and accommodations might then be spent “guilt-free” on that wonderful souvenir of your stay!