The economy may be booming but that doesn't mean we want to spend more than we need to on vacation -- especially when we're feeding and entertaining kids who are demanding a souvenir at every stop.
Besides, it feels good to snare that elusive family vacation bargain, whether it came from a neighbor's tip or a late-night session surfing the Web.
I get more questions about how to save vacation bucks than any other topic. Family reunions run a close second, especially now that millions of us are opting to vacation with extended family every year.
As we head into the summer-vacation crush, I'm hoping we can help each other: Send me your best vacation and money-saving bets. I'll use them in an upcoming column. E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Taking the Kids, Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053.
Meanwhile, here are answers to some recent questions that I hope will help all of you plan:
QUESTION: We want to take a long vacation by auto, picking up grandchildren who will accompany us at different intervals. Can you advise the best sources -- no Internet or fax -- for renting a minivan for 30 days? -- Los Angeles Grandfather
ANSWER: A motor club or AARP membership typically guarantees discounts, according to Kimberly Mulcahy, who works for Budget and serves as spokesman for the American Car Rental Association.
Her best tip: Book in advance for good deals. And if you're not flying, but simply need a larger vehicle for your trip, rent from downtown or suburban locations. They often have special offers the airports don't. Figure on paying at least $300-plus a week, but you might save more on longer rentals. All grandparents and parents over 50 also will be interested in Dollar's new Silver Dollar Club, which guarantees discounts and unlimited mileage at participating locations. Call 800-800-4000 or www.dollar.com.
Q: My daughter's a single mother on a low budget and has promised to take the kids to Orlando. Do you have any tips?
A: She can find hotel rooms for under $100 a night and suites for not much more at www.quickbook.com or 800-789-9887. Quickbook has just entered the Orlando market and provides hotel discounts in cities around the country, including Boston, New York and San Francisco.
Stop in at the Orlando Visitors Center at 6700 International Dr. (407-363-5800) to purchase discount theme-park tickets, saving as much as $9 on multiday passes. You can also request a free Magicard by calling 800-643-9492 or from www.go2orlando.com that offers price break at local hotels, restaurants as well as to attractions, including Sea World, the Kennedy Space Center and Universal Studios, saving $2 or more per ticket.
If you're willing to wait until you arrive in town to find a hotel -- not a good idea, however, during the busy summer season -- ask the Visitor Center for its famed ``blackbook'' listing last-minute hotel deals a third off.
Q: My grown daughters have never met their many Irish cousins. I have rented a house in the west of Ireland to give us plenty of time for sightseeing and meeting all the relatives. Are there any suggestions you have for creating a memorable family reunion? -- Anne Marie Clifford, Deming, Wash.
A: Ask the Irish relatives to suggest a good local restaurant for a big ``reunion dinner.'' Invite them to a meal at your ``home,'' too. Divvy up the cooking and cleaning chores. Even grocery shopping can be an adventure overseas. You'll save big on meal costs and be able to reminisce around the table. Splurge on getting each ``family'' their own rental car so that everyone can head off in different directions. Certainly you want to plan some activities together, but there's no reason to force everyone into lockstep, even on a reunion vacation. Encourage the Americans to head off with their Irish cousins to bike, hike or shop while the older generation catches up over a long lunch. Bring lots of old photos -- and plenty of film for new ones.
Q: My husband and I are planning a trip to the Caribbean and have decided to take our 8-year-old son on a Carnival Cruise. Are there late-night activities for a child his age in case we want to go to the casino?
A: Rest assured that Carnival, like other major cruise lines carrying a lot of children, offers organized activities well into the evening and group baby-sitting for a $5 hourly fee ($3 for additional children) afterward.
Growing numbers of tropical resorts also offer evening activities for youngsters so that parents may enjoy some ``alone'' time. However, don't assume until you check that your hotel or cruise ship will offer these amenities. You also want to make certain your child is old enough to participate or that qualified sitters are available.
Q: I'm a mother of four, and we're planning our first long road trip. Where are the best resources for planning our trip? -- Los Angeles Mom
A: The short answer is the Web. But before turning the kids loose at the computer, spread out a big map and decide your route. Every state now has a Web site crammed with information on don't-miss sites and happenings. Go to the Discover America area of the Travel Industry Association Web site at www.seeamerica.org and link to any state as well as many travel sites.
Meanwhile, keep those e-mails and letters coming!
(c) 2000, Eileen Ogintz. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate