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We work aimlessly to earn enough time to take a week or two away from the jobs that stress us out. The problem is once we have the time, getting out of town isn't always affordable. Well maybe it is more affordable than you think!
First and foremost, decide what your limits will be. Of course you have to know how much you are willing to spend. However, don't forget to take the other end of the spectrum into consideration. Are you comfortable with staying in a hostel, or does the thought of sharing a bathroom with a bunch of strangers make you ill? If you want to stay in a hostel, do you want to stay in a European style hostel? Do you want to stay in one of the more "modern" Hostelling International locations? Can you deal with the basics of a budget hotel, or is a good deal on a major chain more your style? Remember if you go too far out of your comfort zone, you may be quite miserable during your trip.
Once you have set your limits, do your homework. For instance, lets say you are going on a trip to Chicago. If you do a search on Hotwire or Expedia, you will find that three and four star hotels are much more expensive than hotels of the same quality out by O'Hare airport. While the O'Hare hotels are further from many of the attractions you may want to see, this really isn't too big of a hardship. If you pick a hotel with a complementary airport shuttle, you can ride the shuttle and pick up the Blue Line. The Blue Line will take you downtown in about forty-five minutes. The Chicago Transit System is pretty effective, and it is much cheaper than driving and trying to find parking.
That's another thing. Do you really need a rental car? Find out if the place you are going has decent public transit. Sometimes the rental car is a necessary evil, but other times you can forgo it. Some places, like San Francisco can be tricky. As long as you are not leaving the city, you can avoid the rental car. However, if you want to leave the city limits, a car becomes more and more imperative. In that case you can rent a car for a day or two as opposed to renting one for the whole duration of your stay.
How are you getting there? How much will it cost to drive? How long will it take to drive? Are those costs worth it? Search multiple sites for airfare. You may even be able to find some good deals through the airlines themselves. Expedia, Hotwire, Orbitz and alike can sometimes save you quite a bit of money. If your days and times are flexible enough, you can make an offer on Priceline and see if anyone take you up on it. Don't forget about Amtrak! If you book far enough in advance train fares can be cheaper than flights. Plus the seats are more comfortable and you actually get to see the scenery. Greyhound is another option for cheap travel, but even it can be more expensive than Amtrak.
What do you do once you are there? Sites like City Search often have listings for free/cheap events. Those can be a resource. Another option is to join forums like Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com), Fodors (www.fodors.com) and Trip Advisor (www.tripadvisor.com). There you can ask other tourists and locals what is out there. When you post a comment, please remember: These people don't know you. Just simply stating you will be in Chicago from Date A to Date B and you are looking for something fun to do does not work. Give them a little help. Tell them a little about yourself, your age, some of your interests and what you are looking for. Otherwise you may find people will either not respond to you, or the suggestions you get just aren't all that helpful.
Just because you save money in the planning doesn't mean you can blow the rest on food and souvenirs. Budget your money carefully. Set aside enough money for food and enough money to buy a few things for yourself. If you are staying in a hostel you can save on food costs by utilizing the kitchens they many times have.
Vacations are not just for the rich! Every once in a while everyone needs to get out of town, now you can do it with out draining your checking account.