Save on six unforgettable summer vacations

The traditional rules for a budget vacation are to stay close to home, sleep cheap, eat your own cooking, and seek low-cost thrills. But how much fun is that? Here are a half-dozen vacation ideas that you and your family may still find affordable—and enjoy a lot more.

1. Chip in with friends to rent a house at the beach or lake.
Many summer rentals big enough for two families aren't much more expensive than a place for one. Splitting the cost will save you money or help you afford a longer stay. Tip: Your kids may have a better time if your co-renters are relatives-or better yet, their best friend's family.

2. Pamper yourselves at a high-end hotel. Out of your price range? Not necessarily, if you start with nearby cities that have a convention center. Since there are fewer conventions in the summer, hotels catering to businesspeople may offer you a special rate. (If you can stay for several days, call the hotel directly and negotiate.) Typical amenities include air conditioning, free movies, free Wi-Fi, big breakfasts, and access to a pool, spa, and/or gym. During the day, you can go out and see the sights.

3. Go cruising. Fares are cheaper because summer is off-season in the Caribbean, but the food, lodging, and entertainment on cruise ships tend to be just as good. One all-inclusive price covers nearly everything. Your kids can take part in programs just for them, while you enjoy onboard shows, go on port tours, or simply chill out in a pool or deck chair.

4. Sign up for summer camp with the kids. You won't exactly rough it at Medomak Camp in Rockland, Me.: the cabins have queen-sized beds and hot showers. Mom and Dad can do yoga or have a massage while the kids practice archery or arts & crafts. After lunch, everybody goes swimming, kayaking, or sailing. All-inclusive weekly rates for an average family of four (including a lobster feast) range from $2,980 to $4,120. You'll save by coming earlier in the summer. For more information:

5. Take a summer break in Boston. Never been there? Don't drive! You'll want to walk and take the "T" around town (plan your route with the Trip Planner at One of the best buys in Beantown is the Go Boston Card, which admits you to 58 regional attractions including the New England Aquarium, Boston Children's Museum, a whale-watching excursion, the Salem Witch Museum, and a tour of Fenway Park. Prices start at $60 (adult) and $40 (child) for one day, up to $195 (adult) and $145 (child) for seven consecutive days. Google "Go Boston Card" for details.

6. Camp in Yellowstone National Park. The scenery is gorgeous, the wild animals awesome. For just $10 to $25 a night, you and your family can camp in the park's two million acres, mostly in Wyoming. (Reserve one of the 2,000-plus campsites at Unsure about the cost of getting there? See if you can cash in credit-card or airline mileage rewards. Discounts may apply if you book travel through your rewards program. Like the other choices, this is a vacation your family will never forget.