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For families who hope to take a family vacation this summer but have put off the planning and the budgeting, there are still plenty of options. Organizing a last-minute family trip can be fun without breaking the bank, if you know what steps to follow. Here are tips from local travel and tourism experts about planning a getaway in a hurry.Do your homeworkBefore pulling out the credit card, make sure you’ve done thorough research on vacation deals, packages and the location of wherever you hope to go. This is not only the trick to finding great deals, but also avoiding scams, said Joy Ross, who runs a travel agency, Travel Journeys, in Castle Rock.“There are so many scams out there,” said Ross, who has been a travel agent for 33 years.Too often, families pay to rent someone’s home as their lodging, only to arrive and learn the home does not exist, she said.Jean Gordon, director of the Arvada Visitors Center, said families should check ahead of leaving for a vacation and ask hotels and restaurants what specials they’re offering. Often, businesses run promotions “on the fly,” she said. Scan an attraction’s website, and never hesitate to pick up the phone and call, Gordon said.“I just don’t think you can say it enough: Do your homework before you leave,” Gordon said.Travel at the right timeVisiting vacation destinations during the off-season can save a few dollars, as well as booking flights during periods of low travel. Many mountain towns and popular winter destinations offer summertime specials, Ross said, noting Breckenridge in particular. Resorts in Mexico or the Caribbean also offer lower prices in August and September, she said.If flying, Ross recommends families avoid flying over the weekend. Book flights on Tuesdays, Wednesday or Thursdays, which are the lowest days for travel and typically the cheapest.Finally, Ross advises families to check with the tourism board for where they are traveling to see what big events — such as concerts, festivals or sporting events — are scheduled throughout the year. Then, avoid traveling at that time unless visiting for that specific reason. Big events can drive up travel and lodging prices, Ross said.Consider a travel agentLike most travel agents, Ross said, she works in a particular niche or specialization. She focuses on family and couple vacations, and specifically beach vacations outside of the United States. As part of her job, she receives roughly 100 emails a day about discounts and special packages for her clients.Travel agents don’t just have access to vacation packages, she said — they know what the last-minute offers are. When families want to plan a trip in a hurry and score the latest deals, she recommends they find a travel agent specializing in the type of trip they hope to take.Mostly, Ross said, working with a travel agent saves families time and stress.“When I do a package I put everything together. It’s going to include everything for them. They don’t have to search,” she said.Day trips and weekend getawaysAlthough trips abroad are her specialty, Ross says families needn’t go far to plan a good vacation. The perfect family trip could be right in your backyard, or just a few hours drive away.“If it’s really last minute, you just need to get away, summer is getting long and the kids are getting bored,” Ross said, “pack up the car.”Gordon said people in the Denver metro have a great nearby resource through the visitor centers in Arvada and nearby towns. The Arvada center alone places between 600 and 800 events on its calendar a year and has about 200 brochures on things to do in and around Arvada.“Every weekend there is something going on. We are very festival-driven and event-driven,” she said. “We are positioned so well to have communities around us with great things to do as well.”Hannah Button, the community marketing manager for Visit Golden, said a great resource for families looking to plan day trips or weekend trips are the websites for visitor centers in nearby communities.There, families can find information about local attractions, such as the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Coors Brewery and hotels to stay nearby.“We always say it’s like a mountain town that’s right here in the metro area. You feel like you’re a world away but you’re only a short drive from home,” Button said of Golden. “It feels like you get an actual vacation but it’s still really close to where you might live.”
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