Money may be tight, but a summer family vacation remains a must, parents say. Not only does a week away recharge everyone’s spirit and help the entire brood reconnect, but it’s a fundamental part of the summer experience.

According to a new survey from Jiffy Lube International, 88 percent of people say they plan on taking a summer vacation, down only 4 percent from last year. Unlike years past, however, the 2009 family vacation is being planned on a budget and chances are it includes a roadtrip.

How To Save

Where to?
According to a recent survey by Jiffy Lube International, the top 2009 vacation destinations are:
· The beach (63%)
· Historical sites (51%)
· A national park (46%)
· Museums (40%)

Because they’re unwilling to ditch the vacation, parents are finding ways to reduce the expense. The most popular dollar-stretching strategy: ditching air travel. Airlines may be dropping fares like hot potatoes, but the reality is that even if you find a great deal, a family of four still has to plunk down $1,000—or more—just to get to and from a destination.

“We are definitely keeping it local this summer,” says Lori Polefka, a New Jersey mom of two boys, ages 15 and 10. “With the economy the way it is right now, we don’t want to spend unnecessary money on airfare.” Lori’s summer travel plans include the always popular week-at-the-beach and a long weekend visiting our nation’s capital.

Sticking close to home isn’t the only way parents are saving on cash. Forgoing non-essentials like expensive meals and luxury accommodations can save bundles.

“Restaurant meals are so 2008,” says Kim Orlando, founder of Travelingmom.com. “Taking a family out to breakfast and lunch every day is a budget buster. In 2009, families are seeking vacations where meals are covered in the price, or accommodations that are equipped with a kitchen so they can prepare meals themselves.”

Vacation rentals and home swaps are other ways to drive down prices while still getting a fully-loaded vacation. “Vacation ownership resort rentals (aka, “timeshares”) are a smart option because they’re usually equipped with a kitchen and washer/dryer,” says Travelingmom.com’s Orlando. “My personal pick is house swapping. You get a slice of life in a new neighborhood—plus salt and pepper are included!”

What can you offer me?
Claire Newell, author of Travel Best Bets and founder of Jubilee Tours & Travel, says the soft economy is making it tough for travel companies, which in turn are focusing on what customers really want. Take advantage of their efforts by asking for some of these extras. You may get zilch, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
· Room upgrade to a family suite
· Free breakfast
· Hotel or resort credit (for use in on-site restaurants or shops)
· Extra rewards program points
· Special packages that include admission to local activities and attractions

Make a Deal

Mom-of-two Melissa Brady is always up for a beach or lake house rental, but this year she’s also seeking out the best possible deals. If there’s a deal to be had, the sky’s the limit. But where, exactly, are these deals of the century? Many advertised specials are little more than bait-and-switch. As always, there are deals floating around, but it can take quite a few hours of fishing to reel the right one in.

For mom Linda Rondinelli, this year’s deal includes a trip to Beaches Turks and Caicos. The all-inclusive resort’s meal and activity plan affords the greatest value for their travel dollar, she says. “And it takes away the guesswork in our budget.”

Claire Newell, author of Travel Best Bets and founder of Jubilee Tours & Travel, says these budget-friendly strategies are really nothing new. “Since I started in the travel industry (35 years ago), the things people look for when planning a family vacation have never changed. Families want good value, kid-friendly services, and most importantly, a memorable experience for the whole family.”