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Make the most out of your vacation by planning ahead

Make the most out of your vacation by planning ahead
By Marilyn Jones

There are lots of things to consider when planning a vacation: where to go, what to do and how to get there, time and money. For Lacie Waits, planning for the family’s summer vacation begins around Christmas every year.

“This way if we want to rent a house, we have a great selection before everything gets booked. Also, some of the rentals offer a discounted rate for early bookings, such as 2012 prices for summer 2013 rentals, or a percentage off for early booking.”

Lacie and her husband Mike often use the website www.vrbo.com for booking their vacation homes. “They have rentals all over the world, and many of them work directly with the owner, so I have been able to negotiate rates, or get discounts for
return visits.”

After deciding on a location — this year Gatlinburg, Tenn. — the couple considers what amenities they’re looking for in a rental. “I spend countless hours and days scavenging this website and sometimes others to find that perfect place,” she says. “We have two sons, ages 3 and 5. We like to dine out some during the trips, but also prefer to stay in and cook as well. We love to cook, and we get more family time by staying in rather than going out to wait in long lines at restaurants,” Lacie explains. “When we do dine out, we like to research online and talk to locals to find the best spots.”

The joy of planning a vacation is being able to choose just the right formula for a successful trip. The Waits family is thinking about a trip to Nashville too, but in this case they want to stay in a hotel.

“I am starting to talk to friends and research online since I have not been there in almost 20 years,” Lacie says. “I have really enjoyed researching hotels on www.tripadvisor.com. It gives you detailed information, customer reviews and photos of
the locations — professional ones and ones taken by people who have stayed there. “And I always request information from each city so I can plan activities,” she says. “Most times when you get on their mailing and e-mail lists, they will send you information, coupons and upcoming event information.”

Planes, trains, automobiles
The Waits will drive the 300 miles to their vacation home, while others — depending on their destination — may opt to fly. Alabama residents also are fortunate to be able to take the train if it suits their needs or they’re looking for something a little different. Amtrak stations in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and Anniston can whisk vacationers away to popular destination cities including Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston.

There are several things to remember no matter what your mode of travel or who is in your travel party — bring something to do, something to eat and lots of patience. We always think about children, making sure they have their favorite toys or books and lots of snacks, but adults need to do the same. While driving, listen to a book-on-CD to keep your mind off the seemingly endless miles you are traveling. And stop at each state welcome center. It’s good for everyone to get out and walk around. Collect some of the free attraction literature. You may not be visiting this state — just simply passing through — but you can get ideas for future trips and children love to look at the booklets. If you are in the state you are visiting, load up on brochures of the attractions and communities you’ll be visiting to fuel everyone’s excitement.

If your journey is by plane, make sure to bring along snacks. Airlines are hard pressed to even offer the tiny bags of pretzels these days. What to bring along to make the journey easier also ties in to what to pack — one of the most important aspects of travel planning and one of the most stressful. The best way to do this, especially if you are packing for the entire family, is to make a list. And once you have a good and efficient list, save it on your computer and reuse it for every trip.

Vacations are supposed to be fun; a way to get away, recharge and rediscover the world around us. Planning is exciting and a very important aspect of travel no matter if you’re going away for a weekend or a month. The definition of vacation is a period of time devoted to rest, travel or recreation. So get out there, have some fun and see the sights!

Super Saver Travel Tips
· Save on Gas: Take a One-Tank Trip. Alabama offers so many great tourist destinations from Huntsville’s U.S. Space & Rocket Center to the beach communities along the Gulf of Mexico.
· Save When You Fly: Bring along snacks for the flight rather than buying them at the airport or onboard. Children and adults are allowed one personal item and one bag as carry-ons, so bring on the full number that your group is allowed and you may be able to avoid checking luggage altogether. If you do need to check luggage, combine suitcases. If you can put everyone’s stuff in one large bag,
you’ll cut your costs significantly. Just keep in mind that most airlines have an additional fee for bags more than 50 pounds.
· Save on meals: Choose hotels that offer complimentary breakfast or have breakfast in the room. Have your sit-down meal at lunchtime when meal prices are usually significantly cheaper and look for restaurants where children eat free. Also search for fast food coupons on the internet before leaving home.
· If a theme park is on your itinerary, check its website before you go. Many offer discounts if you buy your tickets online.
· Souvenirs: Give yourself — and your kids — a budget. Depending on the age of your children, you can either give them a set amount of money at the beginning of the trip or a certain amount every day. Tell them whatever they don’t spend they can keep.