Need a vacation? Go local

Last weekend, I was invited up to Grand Lake, Colorado, for a quick early-season getaway. The area is idyllic (think Lake Como, but adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park), but what I loved most was the fact that it was within a couple hours of my front door (less gas, less stress). Plus, once I was there, I walked almost everywhere—from my lodging to the marina, restaurants and cafes, hiking trails, etc. I know. We're spoiled in Colorado. But why not ditch the car, breathe some fresh air, and save mega bucks at the pump—all at once?

Here are some great tips my friend Gaylene Ore, owner of Colorado-based Ore Communications, put together on how to go lean and green on your vacation. And check out some our favorite places to chill out in this month's "Destination Rejuvenation."

1. Stay put. Instead of a driving trip incorporating several stops, head for one destination. Cities where attractions are accessible by foot or public transportation can help cut costs. In Telluride, Colorado, visitors have no need for a car at all once they arrive, thanks to the town’s free shuttle bus system and the world’s only energy efficient free gondola.

2. Consider going all-inclusive. Staying at one resort that offers a multitude of services, amenities, and activities can mean significant savings. For families with children who like to try their hand at many activities—and then get tired or bored—it can be especially helpful. In the West, dude ranches are increasingly popular all-inclusive options for singles, couples, and families, and can range from rustic adventures on working ranches to world-class resorts.

3. Bypass the rental car. If you won’t absolutely need a car when you arrive at your destination, use public transportation to get there when possible. Airport shuttles, buses, and trains offer good alternatives. If you’re in an area where you’d be using taxis frequently, however, compare costs to determine if a rental car would be more economical. Better yet? Vacation in places where you can walk to everything. Even in the wide reaches of the American West, walkable towns, such as Ouray, Colorado, abound. Try scenic Ouray (), picturesque Grand Lake , or world-famous Telluride (

4. Get out of your car. Think about constructing a trip that isn’t all driving. Go hiking, bicycling, or horseback riding. Not only will it be less expensive – You’ll likely lose a few inches, too.

5. (Don’t) follow the crowd. Off-season doesn’t have to mean winter in New England. Many U.S. destinations offer plenty of off-peak and shoulder-season rates in late spring, early summer, and late summer. And no matter where or when you travel, be sure to ask about any discounts. More lodging properties, restaurants, and attractions than ever are offering discounts this year thanks to a sluggish economy.

6. Create your own meal plan. Bed and breakfast inns and many hotels include breakfast. Spend a few minutes in the morning making sandwiches, or pay a visit to the local market, deli, and/or produce stand to make a fun, inexpensive lunch. Agritourism, one of the tourism industry’s fastest-growing sectors, allows adults and kids alike to learn first-hand how and where food is produced. Buying straight from the source saves in the big picture, too: You eliminate food’s travel and transport, and lessen your carbon footprint.

7. Think outside the (lodging) box. Bed and breakfast inns, historic inns, and rentals of condos, townhomes and houses all can offer interesting, value-priced accommodations. In many areas, hostels are no longer just for the college crowd. Home exchanges are becoming popular vacation options, and some Web sites listing exchanges also list homes in which the owners are open to renting part of their homes without an exchange.

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