WRAL SmartShopper

WRAL SmartShopper

Start planning your beach vacation now

Posted February 18

The long, dreary days of winter can make anyone dream of summer on a hot, sandy beach. But beach vacations can be expensive.

Luckily, the dead of winter is the best time to plan a coastal getaway for less! Here's how:

Book early. Many hotels and resorts offer discounts (up to 20%-25% off) to travelers who book their lodging in January or February. Search both travel websites and the website of the specific resort or hotel you're interested in to find the best deals.

Sign up for email alerts and let the deals come to you. Get on the mailing list of the places you're most interested in staying. They often offer exclusive discounts to people on their mailing lists.

Search for discount codes.You may score additional savings on a room by searching for online coupon codes. Check your destination's chamber of commerce website. They often offer coupons for discounts on lodging, dining, and entertainment.

Be flexible. If you're flexible with your dates, you might score a cheaper rate per night. Weekday rates tend to be cheaper than weekend rates, so try to plan accordingly. Many people check in on Saturday, but Sunday night rates can be 10-25% lower, plus you'll miss most of the traffic as the Saturday to Saturday visitors come and go.

Going slightly off season, a week or two before or after the high season of summer (check the hotel's website for exact dates), can net you some savings as well. By traveling close to the busy season, most of the attractions you're interested in will likely be open and operating.

Go with a group. To save even more on lodging, go with a group and split the cost of a condo, instead of staying in a hotel. As a bonus, you'll have a kitchen and can eat-in some nights while sharing cooking duties. Any meal you don't have to cook yourself feels like a treat.

Stay off the water. Hotels and condos that are a street or two back from the beach can be much less expensive. If you're staying at a beach with a bay or inlet, you can get wonderful water views for much less money than an oceanfront room. In general, the farther from the water your hotel or condo is located, the cheaper the accommodations will be. Many off-beach lodgings offer free or low-cost shuttles to the water's edge.

Pitch a tent. Many seashore destinations have state or national parks or public campgrounds nearby. This can be a very economical way to go if you don't mind a little sand and a lack of air conditioning. Some campgrounds have cabins that can be a good compromise between roughing it and a resort.

Go local. Choose a beach that's close to you and drive a fuel-efficient car there. The money you save on gas could pay for an extra night's stay. Plus, you'll have to answer the question "Are we there yet?" far less often.

Lodging may be the biggest expense on a beach vacation, but entertainment and dining can get pricey, too. Try these tips to keep costs down:

Bring your own breakfast. Breakfast is one of the easiest meals to pack and eat in a hotel room. Take fruit, dry cereal, breakfast bars, etc. for a quick meal to get you going.

Hit the beach early and late. You'll be ready to take a break from the sand and surf by early afternoon and can take advantage of early-bird discounts at restaurants, miniature golf, and other attractions. Return to the beach in the early evening when all the people who slept in are leaving, and you'll get a waterfront spot and plenty of room for passing Frisbee or building a sand castle.

Look for free and low-cost activities. Your hotel, local, state or national parks, or the local chamber of commerce may offer free activities. You could take part in a guided shark tooth hunt, go catch-and-release crabbing, enjoy a free introduction to fishing, or see an exhibition of local art. Some beach towns even show free movies on the sand or host free concerts. And people-watching is always free.

Save on souvenirs. For some people, a vacation just isn't the same without souvenirs. Give family members a set amount of cash to use and then don't give them any more. Better yet, collect or make free souvenirs. Seashells, sea glass, or small vials of sand are perfect reminders of a fun beach vacation. Enlist the help of your family to take and choose pictures for a collage to post on your social media page when you return home. After all, who really needs one more t-shirt?

Like any vacation, a truly great beach trip is about making memories with the people you love. If you follow these tips, you won't spend a fortune while doing it.

April Serock is a contributor to The Dollar Stretcher.com - a site dedicated to "Living Better...for Less". Visit our library at Stretcher.com for more information about budget travel.

My thanks to Gary at Stretcher.com for sharing the article from April Serock!

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