Okay, I admit it: I've been on a bit of an interviewing kick lately. From airport security  and airline fees  to family road trips  and cross-country RV adventures , I've explored a range of travel-related issues and experiences with the help of some very interesting folks. Well, before I get back to sharing my own on-the-road escapades, I thought I'd offer one more enlightening interview.
This time, the focus is on affordable family vacations. After all, though a struggling economy and ever-fluctuating gas prices have made it even tougher for many people to travel (whether by car, bus, plane, train, or boat), SmarTravel  CEO David Wise believes that it's a terrific time for families to go on vacation – no matter how small or large their budgets might be. One reason for this belief is that, according to David, while many families have been saving their pennies this summer and opting to stay home, hotels and resorts have been offering extra deals to entice them to take that postponed vacation.
For a bit more inspiration, I decided to ask David a few pertinent questions. Here's how the conversation went:
American Nomad: According to the SmarTravel website, the company “was founded in 2001 to provide quality discount vacations at a fraction of the retail rate.” How does SmarTravel save travelers money in the United States?
David Wise: Many families save up for months or even years to go on just one vacation. We believe families should travel together on a more regular basis. In order to help, we offer vacations in bulk at wholesale prices and offer clients payment plans, so it’s not just one lump sum all at once. In addition, our accommodations themselves can help families save money. For one, many accommodations are within walking distance of beaches and other attractions, saving transportation costs. They also largely feature kitchens, so families can save money and cook in house.
AN: How has the current state of the economy affected SmarTravel?
DW: Sadly, the economic downturn put so many families in financial hardship, many losing their homes and their savings accounts. Many families had to eliminate costs that weren’t deemed absolutely necessary, including vacations. Still, there are others who took advantage of the low cost of travel during this time and are still embarking on memorable vacations through our company.
AN: Rising gas prices and overall concerns about the economy have made some people wary about making travel plans, so why do you think people should find a way to travel? In other words, what are the benefits of traveling?
DW: The benefits of traveling are endless! We feel that vacations are critical in reducing stress and bringing families closer together. In reality, trips don’t have to be expensive; you can hop in the car and find a town two hours away that offers excursions and attractions that don’t exist in your hometown. It’s not how much you spend or how long you’re gone, it’s just having the ability to get away and enjoy the company of those you love the most.
AN: Can you offer a few ways (such as hotel deals, attraction packages, RV rentals, etc.) that will help travelers save money, no matter the season in which they plan to travel?
DW: Absolutely! We definitely recommend buying vacations in bulk as a way to save money and keep your options open. Our clients can take a quick trip whenever their schedule allows. Staying flexible with your dates ensures you’re getting the best prices. Families should also set a budget for how much they want to spend. Limiting excursions and meals out at restaurants is a great way to save. Enjoying nature (beaches, forests, hiking trails, etc.) is a wonderful and free way to enjoy time off.
AN: In your opinion, what are some of the more budget-friendly destinations in America – or is it possible to save money pretty much everywhere?
DW: It is absolutely possible to save money everywhere, but there are some locations that are especially wallet-friendly. Naples, Florida, is lovely and is one of our many coastal accommodation options. Staying in destinations that offer nature as the number one attraction will always be a great bet because a day at the beach or at the park is free! Of course, there are multiple tips for saving money  on vacation no matter where you stay.
When David mentioned “tips for saving money,” I took a closer look at the SmarTravel website, where I found several helpful suggestions, such as booking flights early, avoiding non-stop flights (which tend to be more expensive), only renting a car if absolutely necessary, keeping shopping and pricey excursions to a minimum, and opting for group discounts whenever possible. In addition, you'll be better able to stick to your budget if you and your traveling companions choose accommodations with kitchenettes, plan your meals carefully, rotate the cooking duties, and take advantage of lunch and dinner specials at area restaurants. It might also help to use smartphone apps that offer restaurant deals and reviews of budget-friendly activities.
As always, I hope that this interview has given you some food for thought. If money is tight right now, I still encourage you to take a small trip away from your day-to-day routine, even if it's relatively close to home .
So, do you have any additional tips for making a family vacation more affordable?
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad blog and Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.
Photo of family at Michigan's Tahquamenon Falls © 2012 Daniel Martone / Text © 2012 Laura Martone
Laura Martone is Moon’s American Nomad  and the author of Moon Michigan , Moon Florida Keys , Moon Baja RV Camping , and the upcoming Moon New Orleans , which will be published in September 2012.