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:
FOR THE RECORD - An article in the Travel section Sunday listed incorrect information about the cost of long-term parking at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. The seventh day is not free.
The Travel section Sunday also listed an incorrect Web address for the Maryland Office of Tourism. The Web site is visitmaryland.org.
The Sun regrets the errors.
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 cruiseguy.com 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 MetroCard 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 section 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
10 underrated cities that deserve a visit
THE SMART TRAVELER
Many travel wish lists include cities such as New York, Los Angeles or Atlanta. But less well-known cities can be equally riveting. Here are 10 underrated cities with unexpected appeal:
Kansas City, Mo. / / Kansas City's downtown is undergoing a $4.5 billion face-lift that includes a nine-block entertainment and shopping neighborhood. You'll find Art Deco architecture, public art and a lot of affordable sightseeing. Then you can unwind among friendly residents at one of many renowned barbecue joints.
Cleveland / / There are tons of family-oriented things to do in this Midwestern jewel on Lake Erie's south shore. Leave the little ones at home, though, for Cleveland's main attraction: the legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Truth or Consequences, N.M. / / Kathy Clark of the town's Chamber of Commerce describes T or C as "the most outrageous, fun, eccentric, funky 1950s town in America -- with hot mineral water." Others call it America's most affordable spa town.
Fredericksburg, Va. / / Fredericksburg, where George Washington grew up, is a historic town that was at the Civil War's crossroads and blends Colonial and Victorian influences. History buffs love it.
Makawao, Hawaii / / Who knew there would be an Old Western town in the middle of Maui? Hawaii's cowboy town, Makawao, has a main street lined with frontier-style storefronts occupied by trendy boutiques and galleries.
Pittsburgh / / No longer a steel town (the mills closed in the 1970s), Pittsburgh is clean, vibrant and blessed with physical beauty: three rivers, five huge parks and gorgeous views from just about anywhere. It also has several first-rate museums, including the four Carnegies.
Charleston, S.C. / / Charles-ton is the South's gem and has streets so fresh and clean they almost sparkle. It also has upscale dining and shopping, Fort Sumter (where the Civil War began), and several military-themed museums.