TripAdvisor says 86 percent of Americans are planning leisure travel this summer, up 7 percent from last year.  We love to travel – after months of seemingly endless work, nothing sounds better than an uninhibited vacation spree.

And that can put a huge dent in your savings. Worse, it can put a huge dent in your credit card – try your best to avoid spending on cards!

The solution: Travel smarter.

Finding the best price

1. Friend social media

For example, “flyfrom” accounts on Twitter post airline deals for designated cities. Follow your preferred airlines on Facebook and Twitter and look for deals there – some airlines will even e-mail you limited time offers and special offers right to your inbox (years ago at Delta Air Lines that was my job!)  Search Twitter hashtags (for example, #JetBlue).

2. Use flight alerts

Sign up for alerts at websites like airfarewatchdog and get an email when a flight to your destination city drops in price.  If you’re fine with booking closer to when you depart you can check out last-minute deals at Expedia and Priceline.  Often they price-drop at the last minute to fill vacant inventory (seats).

3. Set sail at the right time

When it comes to cruising, the best deals are generally had either very early or last minute. Another good time to go is when ticket prices fall due to bad PR (think Carnival. If you really can’t remember then Google Carnival San Diego!).   You might also try repositioning cruises; many cruise lines relocate ships a few times a year, depending on the season, and offer deals. While most types of travel are fine for the book-it-yourselfer, the best cruising deals are often found through travel agents specializing in cruise lines.

4. Hit the great outdoors

Camping is a memorable way to spend a vacation and save money. You don’t need a motorhome or fancy camper, either. A tent can be perfectly comfy and can be rented or, maybe if you’re lucky, borrowed from friends.  There are plenty of places in SoCal where you can pack a cooler and enjoy some quality, unplugged time.

Accommodations

5. Check out vacation rentals

It might be cheaper to rent someone’s home instead of staying in a hotel, and will almost certainly offer more room. Review these sites and compare prices with nearby hotels and bed and breakfasts:

•             Flipkey

•             VRBO (If your heart longs for a spending a weekend at a rustic cabin in Big Bear I know a guy).  😉

•             Airbnb

6. Swap your house

House swapping is gaining popularity and the rules are simple: I stay in your house, you stay in mine. Obviously in San Diego we have less of a problem since it’s a popular tourist destination, but people travel to lots of places for lots of reasons, from visiting relatives to business. Check these out:

•             HomeExchange.com

•             HomeLink International

•             SabbaticalHomes

7. Don’t be hostile to hostels

Perhaps hostels aren’t ideal for all families, but they can be a viable option, especially if you’re traveling abroad. While hostels are usually associated with dorm-style living, not all fit that description. Some have private rooms and baths.  If you watched the movie and your nerves need to be calmed, check websites like Yelp for reviews regarding cleanliness, security and other issues. Start your search at Hostels.com

Transportation

8. Steer clear of the airport car rental counter

Airport rentals will often be the most expensive. The airport is useful, however, for comparison shopping. Since counters are often next to one another, waltz up to a few and see if they’ll beat the deal you reserved. No go? Ask for a discount or free upgrade from your selected company. Always do an online coupon search, and check out a few discount sites:

•             Rentalcarmomma.com

•             RetailMeNot

•             Coupons.com

And think about how often you’ll really be using the car. If you only need a car for a few hours, rent one by the hour. In addition to companies like ZipCar, some traditional agencies are now offering hourly rentals.

9. Mingle with the public

Taxis and rental cars are convenient, but expensive. Opt instead for public transportation, car sharing, bike sharing and walking from place to place. All are cheaper, and you’ll see more of the city and its people. Some destinations even offer inexpensive water taxis.

Food

10. Don’t get snared in a tourist trap

You wouldn’t travel 1,000 miles to dine at the equivalent of Denny’s, would you? Check with the locals, including local publications that review restaurants. Avoid any place a tour bus might stop. Restaurants recommended by tourist guidebooks often morph into tourist traps. If the locals don’t like it anymore, you probably won’t either.

11. Be hungry for a deal

Before heading out to eat, use money-saving websites, apps, coupons and gift certificates. With a little research, you can save big. Some sites you might find appetizing:

•             Groupon

•             LocalEats

•             Restaurant.com

12. When you eat out, really eat out

Dining in restaurants is expensive, and often not all that memorable. Instead, visit local shops that sell bread, meats and cheeses, and enjoy your lunch in a park or on a bench.

General tips

13. Visit a country where the living is cheap

More affordable destinations include South Korea, Cambodia, Thailand, Panama and Costa Rica, to name just a few. A modest sum can often secure surprisingly luxurious accommodations. Tripomatic’s Shoestring Budget Guide can help you identify low-cost destinations.

14. Rethink postcards

Instead of spending money on stamps and postcards, try a service like Postagram. The app lets you take a picture and include a message of up to 180 characters. For 99 cents, it will send a physical copy to your recipient.

15. Travel light

Airlines make a lot of money charging ridiculous fees for checked bags and overweight bags. Review your airline’s specifications for weight and size limits. Then weigh and measure your bag before you leave home. You’ll save on fees, and you’ll be happy you packed light when you’re hauling that bag around. Check out “How to Go to Europe for 10 Days With Just a Carry-On.”  Lastly, really think through what you’re going to wear (or not wear) and pare it down over a few days.  Rolling clothing is an old trick flight attendants use (my Mom taught me that one from her Eastern Air Lines days), and it really does an amazing job in maximizing space.

Hopefully these tips will help you out.  Whatever your traveling heart’s desire, always remember to travel safe, be aware of your surroundings and others.  This will minimize the likelihood that you return with remarkable tales of woe.