Deal Finder: Five ways to save money on travel this summer

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By LaTina Emerson, The Shopper Deal Finder

Balancing the demands of our jobs, families and daily responsibilities can be challenging, so it’s healthy to take a break sometimes to relax, unwind and enjoy new experiences.

When planning a much-needed trip or vacation, it’s important to reduce costs and stick to a budget so your getaway won’t cause lots of debt or unnecessary stress. Here are some ways to save on summer travel:

Take a Day Trip
You don’t have to take an expensive trip to a faraway place to build happy, lifelong memories with your family and friends. You can have a great time with your loved ones only a few hours away from home. Consider some of these Georgia destinations that are only a short drive away:

• Callaway Gardens – This family-friendly attraction has a beach and water sports, natural exhibits such as gardens and a butterfly center, hiking and biking trails, golf courses and spas.

• Lake Lanier – This popular destination offers a beach, water sports, boating, fishing, hiking and biking trails, horseback riding, ziplining, camping and golf.

• Dahlonega – At the site of the first major U.S. Gold Rush and the Heart of the Georgia Wine Country, visitors can pan for gold in the river, go wine tasting and enjoy live music, theater and arts entertainment at year-round venues and festivals.

• Amicalola Falls State Park & Lodge – Located in the heart of the Chattahoochee National Forest, this state park has the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi River and a trail leading to the southern endpoint of the Appalachian Trail. The park also offers archery, guided hikes, ziplining and camping.

• Helen– This tourist attraction has hiking and biking trails, water activities such as kayak and canoe rides, fishing, horseback riding, ziplining, golf, shopping and many dining options, including Bavarian dishes.

• Blue Ridge – This mountain town has luxury mountain cabins, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, dining, waterfalls and beautiful views of Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

• Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests – These forests provide hundreds of miles of recreation trails and dozens of campgrounds, picnic areas and activities.

• Chattanooga, Tenn. – This southeastern city offers rock climbing, road and mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, hang gliding, riverboat cruises, guided tours, wine or whiskey tastings and popular attractions such as the Tennessee Aquarium, Chattanooga Zoo and museums.

In addition, AAA members can get discounts on tickets to movies, attractions (amusement parks, museums, aquariums and zoos) and events (concerts and sporting events) by presenting their membership card. They can also save at restaurants.

Save on Road Trips
When you’re traveling by car to your destination, money-saving expert Clark Howard has some tips for saving money:

• Rent a vehicle – If you can find a good deal on a rental car, put the trip miles and depreciation on the rental car instead of your own vehicle. This will help you save money in the long run.

• Check your tire pressure – Save money on gas by making sure your tires have the proper amount of air in them.

• Pack a lunch – Bring your own snacks and beverages instead of paying high gas station and restaurant prices. This will also help you save time because you won’t need to stop so often for food. Bring a cooler to keep water and soft drinks chilled.

• Download restaurant apps – If you need to stop for food, save money at fast-food chains by downloading mobile apps. The Burger King app offers coupons, and the McDonald’s app has weekly deals.

• Avoid toll roads – Plan your route to avoid toll roads and highways, which can get expensive.

• Download fuel station locator apps – Apps such as GasBuddy and Gas Guru can use your location to find cheap gas as you travel.

• Skip lodging – If your trip isn’t long, use your time wisely and keep driving so you won’t need lodging. Or, if a friend or family member’s home is along the way, ask to stay overnight and catch up with them.

Catch a Ride with Megabus
Megabus is an economical travel option for people on a budget. Megabus serves more than 100 different cities and university campuses in the United States and Canada. The double decker buses offer free Wi-Fi, at-seat power outlets and panoramic windows, and they’re wheelchair accessible. For more information, visit http://us.megabus.com/about-us.aspx.

Avoid Airline Baggage Fees
Most airlines now charge baggage fees for each checked bag, in addition to the cost of your plane ticket. For instance, Delta, United and American Airlines charge $30 each way for the first checked bag that is under 50 pounds and $40 each way for a second bag. That means you’ll pay at least $60 to $80 per bag if you’re flying round trip. If your bag exceeds the airline’s size and weight restrictions for luggage, you will pay even more.

To avoid these hefty fees, consider limiting yourself to one checked bag or packing only a carry-on bag. To lighten the load, make a list of the essential items that you need to pack. Lay out your clothing, toiletries, etc., so you can see exactly how much you’re planning to pack. You’ll probably find that you’re overpacking and can eliminate some items. Be sure to check the weather so you’re packing the appropriate attire.

Some airlines may waive baggage fees for active members of the military and their dependents, so ask about this perk when you’re checking into the airport. Be sure to have your military ID handy for proof.

If you want to bring a carry-on bag, make sure it meets the airline’s size and measurement restrictions.

Get Discounts on Rental Cars and Hotel Rooms
AAA members can get discounts on car rentals through Hertz Car Rental and savings on room rates at a number of hotels. When you’re making your reservation, be sure to ask if AAA discounts are available.

Joining hotel rewards programs are also a great way to save money. Travelers can earn rewards points by signing up for a hotel rewards credit card or meeting certain requirements, such as booking a stay for a designated number of nights. Depending on the hotel, rewards points can be redeemed for free hotel stays, discounted rates, free breakfast or Internet service, or room upgrades. The Simple Dollar considers these the best hotel rewards programs for 2019:

• Starwood Preferred Guest Program – Earn points by signing up for the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express

• Marriott Rewards Program – Earn points by signing up for the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card

• Club Carlson Program – Sign up for the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card

• IHG Rewards – Earn points with the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card

Contact hotels directly or research their rewards programs online to start earning points and saving on future hotel stays.

Consumers can also find deals on hotels, flights, car rentals and vacations through Hotwire: https://www.hotwire.com.

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