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The secret to a great, low-cost summer vacation: Get outside

Fresh air, sunshine, activities for the whole family, and new sights to see: outdoor vacations offer many advantages, including the opportunity to do more for less money.

Budget-conscious families looking for a memorable summer vacation may be concerned about the impact funding a trip might have on their credit. It's one thing to use a credit card for extra protection when booking hotels or airfare, but another if you won't be able to pay off the cost of the vacation right away.

Fortunately, camping, visiting national parks, and other outdoor vacations can offer a cost-effective alternative to popular summer trips such as a famous theme park or a week at a beach resort. If you're interested in the possibility of an outdoor vacation, consider these perks:

Lower lodging costs

Staying at a national or state park or in a family-friendly campground often costs far less than a few nights in a hotel room at a popular destination. Many national and state parks offer lodging options. Even at popular destinations, like the Grand Canyon, lodging choices are often less costly than in nearby commercial ventures.

For example, at the Grand Canyon, you can get rooms with nearby bath facilities or accommodations with in-room toilets for less than $100 a night. Larger rooms with full baths range from $92 to $440 per night, depending on when you visit.

Vast variety

Whether you're interested in amazing sights, fun activities or savoring some history, chances are you'll find what you're looking for in a national park. America's National Park System has more than 397 parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreational areas, scenic rivers and trails in every state (except Delaware).

Educational opportunity

Whether you're taking in some history or just reveling in the beauty of nature, an outdoor vacation offers a wealth of educational opportunities to get your creative juices flowing. Many popular sites are linked to our nation's history, and the great outdoors also teach lessons about science, natural history and health. Another option is to participate in a trip sponsored by a nonprofit like the Sierra Club. Not only will your family reap the fun and learning of an organized outdoor trip, your vacation money can help support important environmental work done by such organizations. Learn more about Sierra Club outings on the organization's website, www.sierraclub.org.

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