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Perhaps now more than ever, people yearn to get away, leaving their worries behind. But faced with financial uncertainty, many families will not be adding vacation photos to their albums this year. For those who can afford it, though, now is a good time to travel. The hospitality and tourism industries are hurting, so they're offering deals.

After setting a budget, squeeze the most out of it by shopping around for the best offers. AAA and Web sites like Travelocity and Orbitz offer vacation packages including airfare, lodging and a rental car for savings of 25 percent or more, says Karen Hoxmeier, founder of MyBargainBuddy.com.

Flying midweek can save hundreds, and many tourist attractions charge less in the middle of the week.

Visiting a destination during its off-season is significantly cheaper. But do research to decide whether you can tolerate off-season conditions. Many shops and restaurants might be closed, or the weather could be nasty.

For each attraction on your agenda, do an online search along with the word "coupon" and you're likely to find discounts.

"If a person is comfortable, eBay is a great way to save money," says Terri Lynn, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a former travel agent who ferrets out savings to make up for the lost perks of her old job. "I just bought coupons for a free rental car day. It cost me $35 and the going rate is over $100," she says.

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Using public transportation instead of renting a car saves money and gives you a more authentic feel for the city. If you do rent a car, avoid doing so at the airport. Instead, reserve a car in advance at a rental-car location a few miles away and take a cab from the airport, Hoxmeier says.

While some thrifty travelers partake heartily of a hotel's continental breakfast and then get by on inexpensive snacks until dinner time, in a city known for its fine dining, you're wise to eat out at lunchtime for your big meal of the day, Hoxmeier says. Lunch menus are cheaper, so you can sample phenomenal food for a fraction of the cost.

Look into all-inclusive resorts or cruises. "One price includes your accommodations, meals, snacks and entertainment," Hoxmeier says. "You'll know the entire cost of the trip in advance and there won't be any surprises."

However, family man Robert DeMallie, South Windsor, Conn., says to opt out of resort meal plans. On a Caribbean vacation, he and his family ate breakfast in their room and most other meals in town and around the island. "As a result, we saved hundreds of dollars for a family of four," he says, "and we sampled a wide variety of foods and met a lot of interesting people."

 

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