My family has never had a year without a vacation. No matter our money woes, my mom was always able to pull off the impossible, even managing a one-month trip to Europe after a pay cut!

Getting the vacation of your dreams when your financial situation looks dreary may seem as mystifying as the location of Atlantis, but a few small changes can save thousands of dollars! Look below for the top three fail-safe, super-easy, money-saving tricks!

 How to Plan a Dream Vacation on a Budget

1. The Burbs & a B&B!

Staying in a bed and breakfast in a suburban area just outside of a big travel destination can save you hundreds of dollars. For example: The beautiful Villa Benoit B&B in suburban Villemomble on the outskirts of Paris costs between $40 and $105 a night. A hotel in the heart of Paris with a four to five star rating can cost $200 to $400 a night! Ouch! The Villa Benoit also includes a guaranteed, huge breakfast every morning (which is included in the price), and because bed and breakfasts are hosted by locals (not employees who may or may not live in the area), you'll have something even more valuable than a concierge. Our lovely innkeeper helped us save on tickets, transportation, and even souvenirs! If you take into account that we were in Paris for a week, this one small change meant we saved a minimum of $700/night on the roof over our heads alone! Looking for something more local?

The same idea applies for the good old US of A: Stay in the suburbs or a town away from your destination, and you'll save big! For example, when planning a vacation to wine country, people often look for accommodations in Napa. But look a little north to Calistoga and find an abundance of B&Bs hundreds of dollars cheaper! Or, maybe a Disneyland vacation is in your future. A whole whopping two miles away in Garden Grove you'll find hotels half the price of any Anaheim hotel.

2. Stay off the Beaten Path.

Instead of focusing on an exact destination, figure out what type of vacation you'd like. Trying to get away for just the weekend? Do you just need a week at the beach? Branching out within your travel category can mean big savings.

Our family wanted a quick getaway to the California coast for Labor Day weekend, but everyone seemed to have the same idea, because prices in Monterey and Carmel were crazy high! Instead of forgoing the vacation entirely, we started looking around. We ended up with a huge, dog-friendly beach house for six people and four dogs in Dillon Beach, Calif. for $450 for the three nights (that's $75 per person for the whole trip!) It was minutes away from the Mendocino Coast, and the surrounding area had its own kind of fame (ever seen Hitchcock's “The Birds?” The filming locations for its most famous scenes were just minutes away from our cozy house). The end result? The quiet, relaxing family time we'd all wanted, for a fraction of the price!

3. Think Outside the Box. 

Airline credit and debit cards aren't the only way to rack up the miles, although they certainly do help. Expanding your horizons could mean the difference between a free one-way ticket and a free roundtrip ticket (or two!) to your destination.

  • Many airlines have e-shopping sites connected to their frequent flier program (think Ebates for airlines!): United, Delta, and American Airlines. These sites offer anywhere from one to 10 miles per dollar for purchases made from popular stores like Macy's, Kmart, and Office Max. Some even link to travel websites so that when you purchase a stay at a hotel through, say, Living Social, you'll get miles for your purchase, too!
  • For more ways to earn, consider e-Miles, where surveys and offers build miles for your connected frequent flier program. Some partners include Southwest Airlines, United, and Delta (psst: e-Miles also has hotels such as Hilton as part of their program, so you can split your earnings to go toward a hotel AND airfare!)
  • Plus, a lot of independent survey sites have airlines miles as reward options. My MyPoints membership has given me 2,500 United miles just from one year of reading their bonus emails!

With such a huge payoff from a few fuss-free adjustments, no vacation is out of reach. Permission to turn your daydreams into reality: granted!

This is a guest post by Brittany from Sacramento, CA
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