With money for everyday living at a premium nowadays, extra cash for family vacations may be a bit harder to find this year.
But there are "buys" to be had locally and regionally, from summer days and nights spent right here in Philadelphia to bargains not too far afield in other parts of Pennsylvania and nearby.
And what better time to celebrate than on a July 4 weekend?
Where to start? Backyard, anyone? Philadelphia has garnered a "Top Ten Best Summer Trips on a Budget" rating from StudentUniverse.com, a leading online student and faculty travel provider.
"We find that students are looking for alternative cities to explore. They are definitely keeping in mind their smaller budgets, but still want to have a good trip," said Danielle Carlson, the site's manager for research and marketing. We are seeing that Philadelphia offers a lot of the day and night activities that larger cities offer, but at a more reasonable price. Philly has a flair of its own that really attracts students."
According to Carlson, summer -- and July 4, especially -- is the best time to visit Philadelphia because of the city's nonstop outdoor festivals, concerts and events, such as the Independence Day celebration that begins at Independence Hall in the morning, and includes the annual July 4 parade through Center City, followed by a free evening concert on the Parkway and fireworks.
All So Ducky
You don't have to be a student to enjoy the city's appeal, of course. But you may have to be a kid at heart.
If you're "staycationing" this summer, be a tourist in your own backyard with Ride the Ducks (www.phillyducks.com ), a combination bus/boat that offers 70-minute tours of Philadelphia's historic streets and a ride in the Delaware River.
Another bargain city is Washington, D.C. Our nation's capital is regarded as a relatively inexpensive place to visit because, for one, there is no admission fee to its outdoor monuments, including the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, and many of its museums, said Carlson.
Just sitting on the National Mall, she continued, affords views of the White House and most of the monuments. There's also to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (www. ushmm.org).
In Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains (1-800-POCONOS), budgets can be stretched at hotels, such as Split Rock Resort, where holiday room rates are kept reasonable.
Among the inexpensive activities on July 4 in the Poconos is a two-hour boat ride on Lake Wallenpaupack (570-226-3293), which includes fireworks.
And let's not forget the Jersey Shore, where Atlantic City has as much action on the boardwalks as it does inside its many casinos. And if Kohr's Custard doesn't cost a quarter anymore, it's still a great treat.
On about a tankful of gas, New York State offers inexpensive camping, nature trails and water sports in and around Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains, while Niagara Falls comes through with boat tours of the falls aboard the Maid of the Mist (www.maidofthemist.com ) and a chance to see the area's beautiful gardens.
And if you're a Phillies fan, well, what could provide better fireworks than the weekend's home series against the New York Mets -- with first place at stake?