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You can still afford a vacation no matter how tight the financial squeeze

As inflation soars to 9 percent and a recession looms, millions of families are wondering if they can really afford a summer vacation this year.

But there are creative ways to keep costs down, and even get a free vacation, if you know how.

Here are our top tips for saving hundreds of pounds on travel, accommodation and while you’re away.

Life is a beach – there are creative ways to keep costs down, and even get a free vacation, if you know how.

Life is a beach – there are creative ways to keep costs down, and even get a free vacation, if you know how.

Save hundreds of pounds on travel

go by bus

Most tourists prefer to travel by car, plane or train, but going by coach is usually cheaper. For example, Megabus has tickets from London to Cardiff for less than £7 or from Manchester to Edinburgh for £10. The BlaBlaBus bus service has tickets from Paris to London for £25.

Share an elevator

If you go to an event or festival, share an elevator. GoCarShare and LiftShare are two websites that connect people who drive with those who need a lift.

Lifts to the Reading Festival, Womad World of Music, Arts and Dance Festival in Wiltshire and the Hay Festival in Wales are offered for just a few pounds from across the country.

Book a cheaper flight

Often it’s all the extras that add up, rather than the plane ticket itself. Make sure you keep them under control. Buy your ear plugs and eye masks before you go. Avoid buying expensive travel-size toiletries by packing the products you use into small containers.

Pack yourself a snack for the plane and check your baggage allowance so you don’t overpay. You can also save costs if you are not fussy about reserving your seat in advance.

Save on the cost of car rental

Car rental prices increase during the summer, but it’s often the add-ons that add up. A little planning can save hundreds of pounds.

For example, renting a child car seat costs an average of £58 and a sat nav £82 for a fortnight, according to research by iCarhireinsurance. Remembering to bring them can ensure significant savings.

Also be sure to purchase your excess waiver insurance in advance. Most car hire services require you to pay the first few hundred pounds of the cost of repairs if you damage the car, or offer excess waiver insurance.

But if you buy the insurance separately, instead of with the car rental company, the cost will be much lower. Use a price comparison website to get the best deal.

Your accommodation can even be free

Home Swap Find a home to stay for free by swapping it with yours for a week or two. If you know someone who lives near where you would like to stay and who would like a change of scenery in your home, contact them.

Otherwise, there are several websites that connect owners who want to switch places for a week or two, for a small subscription fee. They include lovehomeswap.com, home-exchange.com, and trusthousesitters.com.

You can do a direct exchange on the same dates or stay at someone’s house with the agreement that they can stay at yours at another time.

Alternatively, home exchange websites allow you to earn points when you let someone stay in your home. You can then use these points to stay in someone else’s home. Websites typically charge £10 a month and offer a resolution service if something goes wrong.

When you stay at someone’s home, you may have to do extra work, like watering plants or feeding pets. But the good thing is that the guest of your house can do the same for you.

Check with your home insurer that your policy will not be affected. In general, accidental damage and theft are not covered by your insurer if you trade in.

Aviva, for example, says its standard homeowners insurance allows people to rent out their homes on a temporary basis, but the coverage excludes accidental or malicious theft or damage by paying guests.

Adventure: Anna and Hugh Tatton-Brown and children in Santa Fe

Adventure: Anna and Hugh Tatton-Brown and children in Santa Fe

Anna Tatton-Brown, 40, does two or three home swaps a year through Love Home Swap and regularly rents out her London home.

She and her husband Hugh, 41, have stayed at places in Spain, the UK and Santa Fe, New Mexico, with their two sons, five-year-old Jake and one-year-old Zach.

Florida is his favorite place. She says: ‘People think I’m a billionaire because of the places we stay. But if you only pay for the flights and your accommodation is covered, it is much cheaper.” She adds: ‘You can stay in areas you wouldn’t necessarily visit and you can explore neighborhoods you wouldn’t visit if you stayed in another accommodation. As a parent of two young children, having a well-equipped kitchen and a place to spend the night is ideal.’

Reduced Price Travel Assistance

Volunteering is another way to cut vacation costs, as you receive free or reduced-price lodging in exchange for helping.

Opportunities are listed on websites such as helpstay.com. Options include gardening at a home in southern Italy and helping run a B&B in Quebec, Canada.

Some charities offer vacations for volunteers. The Waterway Restoration Group has week-long stays where participants help with waterway restoration, where they can learn traditional skills such as masonry and stonemasonry.

If you want to learn about organic farming, consider Global Opportunities at UK Organic Farms. Your host will provide you with basic food, lodging, and knowledge in exchange for your help on the farm. Go to wwoof.org.uk.

Find a hostel or a mountain lodge.

Hostels aren’t just for teens – they can be great for families and people of all ages on a tight budget. The Youth Hostel Association has hostels everywhere, from city centers to rural getaways. Go to yha.org.uk for more details.

If you feel like going somewhere remote, stay in one of the 100 bothies spread across remote parts of the UK. These are basic free shelters ideal for walkers looking for an alternative to camping. See mountainbothies.org.uk.

Other ways to save while having fun

Pay in the local currency

When you use an ATM or make a card payment abroad, you are often asked if you want to pay in pounds or in the local currency. The latter is always cheaper.

Pay in pounds and you’ll be subject to the exchange rate offered by the retailer or bank, which is unlikely to be better than that used by your own bank.

Control data costs

Millions of British tourists will once again have to pay roaming charges to use their smartphone in Europe this year.

Telephone operators have been allowed to charge for roaming since we left the European Union and have gradually reintroduced fees.

EE, Vodafone and Three have introduced them for some customers, although O2 and Virgin Mobile have said they have no plans to do so this year.

Check the rules of your telephone operator

To keep costs down, connect to free Wi-Fi on the go instead of using phone data.

If you use data, you can save costs by purchasing a data package from your provider in advance, instead of paying the daily roaming charge. You can also reduce data costs by downloading movies, ebooks, and podcasts to your home Wi-Fi before you travel.

You can download maps using a feature in Google Maps, which you can access even offline.

Save on currency exchange

Whatever you do, don’t wait until the airport to exchange money: the fees represent poor value for money. Instead, compare prices and shop early.

If you prefer to pay by card, consider a debit or credit card with no foreign exchange fees.

Among the best credit cards for traveling abroad are Halifax Clarity and Barclaycard Rewards Visa.

They do not charge exchange fees for foreign spending or ATM withdrawals.

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