Money-savers on the road

Americans spend close to $2,500 on a typical summer vacation, one of the larger expenditures a family makes in a year. The fun of a great trip, however, quickly evaporates if there is a huge credit card bill to pay when you return home. Here are ways to trim expenses once you hit the road:

1. Ask for a break // Hotels, restaurants, car rental agencies and attractions, including theme parks and museums, often offer discounts to members of large groups,such as AAA or AARP. When making a reservation or checking in, always ask whether you are getting the lowest rate available. Hotels charge differing amounts for the same rooms depending on occupancy, what season it is and whether you are a member of a group.

2. Eat economically // Watch how many dollars you eat up on vacation. You can cut down by packing food and snacks or booking a hotel that serves breakfast. A picnic of sandwiches, fruit and beverages saves a family of four almost $50 over eating in a restaurant, says the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Atlanta.

3. Pick your card // Not all credit cards are created equal, so think about which one you want to take, especially if you are going abroad. Consider which card has the lowest transaction fees.

4. Be careful with the cash // ATMs can be a great way to get foreign currency once you get to a country. But before you leave, call the customer service number of your bank and ask how it calculates the exchange rate and what extras it tacks on for purchases in a foreign currency. Use your debit card rather than a credit card.

5. Shop for currency // Don't just head to the airport exchange kiosk to buy foreign currency. Shop around or consider a discount exchanger like International Currency Express.

6. Be careful about commitments // Looking out a hotel window at an idyllic waterfront or gorgeous mountain range makes you want to stay forever, and hotel operators such as Marriott, Hyatt and Hilton sell time shares, a way to let you buy into that scene. Don't make a snap decision to buy, and don't pay the full retail price.

7. Plan your activities // On cruises, think about creating your own shore excursions, says Stewart Chiron, who operates the Web site. This requires some research before you leave. Read travel books and go online to see what tourists do at the ports where you will stop.

8. Use public transportation // In New York, a seven-day, unlimited-use Metro- Card is only $24 and is good for unlimited subway and local bus rides for seven days. In London, a three-day peak-use subway ticket for the central part of the city is $32, about the cost of one taxi fare.

9. Look for coupons // Pick up tourist booklets and magazines. They are full of coupons and offers for restaurants, activities and attractions.

10. Rough it // Camping is far less expensive than hotels and often is just as fun.

[Los Angeles Times]