Planning a fall vacation? A trip for the holidays? Next year’s getaway? No matter when or where you’re planning to go, your first stop on the Internet (or via phone call) should be the local convention and visitors bureau or state tourism office. (In smaller cities, the Chamber of Commerce may handle these duties.)
These offices exist to help bring visitors to their communities so the staff is more than eager to answer questions from prospective tourists to their areas and may even provide you with itineraries.
Not only can you usually order (or download) a free visitors guide — often chock-full of coupons for local attractions — but you’ll often learn about package deals the agency offers. In many instances the website will have coupons you can print out that will save you money on your vacation.
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For example, Explore St. Louis, the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission website, offers a treasure trove of discounts and deals. To find them, click on “Travel Tools” under “Visitor & Explore,” then click on “Coupons and Deals.” There you will find lodging discounts, deals on tickets to attractions, a unique “Treasure Hunt” package and even car rental savings.
Also from the CVC site you can access the St. Louis Family Attractions Cardwith many discounts, some lasting the entire year. The “card” can be downloaded from the Internet and used as needed. If you’re on the road and don’t have access to a printer, you can pick up a Family Attractions Card brochure at the customer service counter at any area Dierbergs, Shop N Save or Schnucks supermarket. (LOTC Extra: Here are the top five free things to do in St. Louis.)
Other CVBs offer similar coupons for savings in their areas. Here’s a sampling:
- The More Card lists savings for those visiting the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
- The Mobile, Ala., tourist office offers a host of coupons on its website.
- Indianapolis’s CVB offers “discounts, coupons and general savings” under a button at the bottom of the website’s opening page that says “Play, Eat and Save.”
- The Milwaukee CVB lists a wide variety of coupons on a page called MKE 4 LESS.
- The Chattanooga CVB website not only has coupons for lodging, restaurant and attractions, but also coupons for shopping and local services.
- For deals in the San Diego area, click on “Offers” on the website’s home page. (LOTC Extra: Here are five free things to do in San Diego.)
- If you plan to visit several Wichita, Kansas, attractions during a week, you can get a Wichita Go Card from the Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau. (LOTC Extra: Here are the best five free things to do in Wichita.)
- The free Orlando Magicard from Visit Orlando offers deals on attractions, restaurants, shopping and hotels.
- The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau has a LauderDEALS section, which includes special offers for cruisers, visitors from Latin America and Florida residents.
- The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau organizes promotions throughout the year, including the current Miami Attractions Month, which provides 2-for-1 admission to popular sites in October. (LOTC Extra: Here are free things to do in Miami.)
Sometimes you may have to dig a little to find the coupons. In some cases, you can find them by entering “coupons” in the website’s search.
Some CVB websites also list free things to do in the area. The Baltimore CVB site, for example, lists 30 free things to do in the area under its “Deals & Discounts” tab, and you’ll find free things to do in Dallas under “Great Stuff!” on the Dallas CVB website.
So let the planning begin. Visit the local tourism agency’s website and start scouting out ways to vacation on the cheap.
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