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More Bang For Your Buck: Pt. I - Vacation Savings

WEST MICHIGAN (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Strapped for cash?

That's the reality for many people, especially if you're shelling out more money than you're bringing in.

It makes you wonder--can you even afford to get away this summer? With a little flexibility, you can.

Newschannel 3 is looking at ways to save from your cable bill to your insurance.

It's all about getting More Bang For Your Buck.

Whether travling by plane, train, or automobile, AAA travel experts say it's all about pre-planning and nailing down how much you can spend.

"The budget really drives the destination, sometimes," said Jane Johnson, a AAA Field Manager in the Kalamazoo-Battle Creek area.

Want to drive somewhere, but wish you knew just how much you'll need to set aside for gas?

There's a website for that. http://fuelcostcalculator.aaa.com/

"You plug in your make of car, and then you plug in your origin and destination, and it actually goes out and calculates it; all the gas stations along your route and tells you how much it's going to cost you in fuel for that trip," Johnson explained.

Or, you can download the free AAA mobile app on your phone--you don't actually need to be a member.

You can use it to compare car rental prices and gas stations along your route.

"Perhaps you want to drive until you get tired, or you don't want to commit to that first night's stay because you know that on this route there's plenty of hotels," Johnson said. "Your passenger can look ahead to see what the hotels along the route and the prices of them."

You're advised to be flexible with both the days and the destination.

If you can leave a day earlier or later, you might save on hotel or flight prices, and if you're not set on a particular destination, check out prices for a few locations.

"If you can't afford to go to a 2,000 mile vacation, plan a 500 mile vacation," Johnson advised. "There's lots to do in Michigan in the summer."

As far as accommodations, prices can add up quickly--are you better off at a hotel or renting a vacation home?

That depends on several factors.

If you wanted to spend one week in Traverse City in mid-July, for example, Expedia says the average hotel cost for a family of four is $174. For one week, that's a little over $1,200.

Websites like VRBO.com allow you to shop around for rental houses.

You put in your requirements, including the rate you can afford, to find out if there are any houses available.

The upside? They can be cheaper. The downside?

"You may be giving up activities or facilities," Johnson says. "You know, on-site restaurants; you might end up cooking all of your meals."

Two more pieces of advice: AAA experts say check into customer loyalty programs through your favorite vendors, and plan your itinerary around your youngest, because they can make or break your vacation.