However big or small - your vacation budget, there are plenty of ways to make your dollars go farther.
So says Roberta Sebo, a professor of travel and tourism management at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I."Most people know that Washington, D.C., is packed with free attractions," she says. "The Smithsonian Institution, national monuments and the like are financed by your tax dollars and therefore do not charge an admission fee.
"But wherever you vacation in the United States this year, you're likely to find plenty of fabulous free events and attractions. For families, especially, that can mean significant savings."
A survey of five popular U.S. vacation destinations reveals the following travel "freebies":
Boston-Cape Cod: In Boston, tour the U.S.S. Constitution (the world's oldest commissioned warship). And see the famed Fourth of July Boston Pops Concert and Fireworks Over the Charles River. (1998 marks the event's 25th anniversary.)
Throughout the summer there are outdoor evening concerts on City Hall Plaza, Wednesdays through Saturdays; and "Friday Flicks," family movies shown on the Charles River Esplanade.
On Cape Cod, take self-guided tours of the Cape Cod Potato Chip plant in Hyannis, the French Cable Museum in Orleans, and the Green Briar Jam Center in Sandwich.
You can also visit the Cape Cod National Seashore (a parking fee may be charged), Woods Hole Aquarium, the State Fish Hatchery in East Sandwich, glassblowing demonstrations at Pairpont Crystal in Sagamore, and flea markets in Wellfleet and Mashpee.
Plus: the Cape Cod Canal bicycle and walking paths, lighthouse tours during Maritime Week (May 9-17), the Harwich Cranberry Festival (Sept.11-20) and the Provincetown Art Festival (Sept. 25).
Central Florida: Galleries and museums with free admission include the Albertson-Peterson Gallery, Albin Plasek Galleries, Cornell Fine Arts Museum (at Rollins College) and the Creadle School of Art, all in Winter Park.
New York City: Tour the New York Stock Exchange, and visit the Museum of American Folk Art and Steuben Gallery. Take advantage of "free" nights at the Whitney Museum of American Art (Fridays), and the Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design (Tues-days). Friday nights, "pay what you wish" at the Guggenheim Museum.
Children can enjoy interactive exhibits at the Sony Wonder Technology Lab. Also free, Harlem's Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture.
San Diego: Enjoy access to the 33 ocean beaches stretching 70 miles (a nominal parking fee may be charged); Mission Bay, a 4,600-acre aquatic park; Torrey Pines State Reserve (1,000-acre wilderness enclave); Anzo-Borrego Desert State Park (600,000-acre desert wildlife park); Mission Trails Regional Park (California's largest urban park); and the Stuart Collection of Sculpture at the University of California.
The Museum of Contemporary Art is free on the first Tuesday of the month. Balboa Park (the "Smithsonian of the West") offers free admission on varying Tuesdays to the Spanish Village Arts Center, Japanese Friendship Garden, Natural History Museum, Museum of Photographic Arts and the Museum of San Diego History. The Timken Museum of Art is free every day (closed Mondays). Access to Balboa Park is free on the Balboa Park Tram.
Washington, D.C.: Visit the Bureau of Engraving & Printing, where money is made - literally. The FBI offers a tour of crime labs, a history exhibit and firearms demonstrations.
And the Daughters of the American Revolution House (33 period rooms with a superb collection of pre-1840 furnishings); Ford's Theatre & Lincoln Museum (site of Lincoln's assassination); and Frederick Douglass National Historic Site (former residence of the famed African-American abolitionist and diplomat).
Also free: the National Arboretum, U.S. Botanical Gardens, National Museum of Health and Medicine, and the Navy Museum (fun hands-on exhibits for children).
Boston tourist information: (888) SEE-BOSTON.
Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce: (888) 33-CAPE COD.
Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau: (800) 551-0181.
New York Convention & Visitors Bureau: (800) NYC-VISIT.
San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau: (619) 236-1212.
Washington, D.C., Convention & Visitors Association: (202) 789-7000.