Staycation(iStock)

Mary Beth Schofield is getting ready to take her two girls to Paris, where they'll stay free for one summer month, just as they've done in Scotland, England, Italy, Spain and Holland.

She estimates she's saving $10,000 (Cdn.) in hotel costs given that the family is going during high season when Paris is bursting at the seams with tourists. She'll also be saving about $4,000 in rental car fees, as her lodging provides full access to a car in addition to a kitchen and washing machine.

Also see:

Schofield is a house swapper. She's a member of a home exchange service where she has listed her Toronto home as a vacation rental in exchange for a swap with another home abroad. For about $120 a year -- the annual membership cost -- Schofield and her family have travelled the world living like locals.

"It's as economical as you can get," she said. "You're living locally as opposed to just skimming the culture. You have to figure out how to use their washing machine and dishwasher. Basically, you're living out someone else's life in that country. It's a very different experience compared to that of a tourist."

Home exchanges are just one of the many creative ways families can plan a summer vacation while sticking to a strict budget. If you're not willing to open up your home to strangers, Shannon Hurst Lane, creator of Traveling Mamas suggests taking a vacation with relatives or close friends and splitting the costs of a beach-front condo rental. When Lane and her husband were young parents working entry-level jobs with two young kids, the couple rented a condo in Florida with relatives, taking turns cooking meals and splitting the grocery bills.

"You just have to make sure that you actually like their kids and that the adults all get along," said the Louisiana resident. "And don't spend too much time together. A week is too long."

Lane remembers one of her family vacations with fondness. The kids would be gently roused from their slumber by the smell of biscuits baking in the oven. After a hearty breakfast, everyone would head out to the beach and bake under the sun. After lunch, a leisurely afternoon nap, and some more beach tomfoolery, Smith would cook her trademark crawfish fettuccini dinner, garlic bread and salad, feeding nine people for about $12.

Another surefire way to save money on vacation is to find a hotel with a kitchenette, or one where kids eat free, adds Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, co-founder of WeJustGotBack.com.

"People underestimate how much it will cost to eat," she said from Saratoga Springs, N.Y. "A kitchen can go such a long way to saving money."

Cutting costs with food is easy, adds Jamie Pearson of travelsavvymom.com. Fine dining experiences are lost on children and their appetites are small. Skip starters and desserts and opt to dine out for lunch which is cheaper than dinner, Pearson suggests.

"We don't let our kids order drinks with their meals. Water is the healthiest drink," she said from California. "When you're eating with your kids, they finish so quickly that it's just not a good way to spend money."

The same principle applies to the hotel, says Toronto-based freelance travel writer Kate Pocock, author of Fodor's Around Toronto with Kids. More than the fancy decor, Egyptian cotton sheets or marble tubs, there's only two things kids really care about when it comes to lodgings, she said.

"Don't spend a lot of money on the hotel. Because all they care about is the pool and breakfast pancakes."

Another must-do when planning a wallet-friendly vacation is to check out local tourism websites for deals, Kelleher said. Local blogs could also direct you to great discounts and inspire trip ideas. And if you're hitting a metropolitan city, check to see if they offer entertainment or coupon books which offer discounts and 2 for 1 offers on local restaurants, museums and attractions. Most major Canadian cities like Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Halifax, for example, offer entertainment books.

"It may seem counterintuitive to buy something to save money, but the savings can really add up," she said.

But the cheapest summer vacation, is one where you don't have to pay to see the sights and attractions, Pearson points out.

"The number one thing is to go somewhere that has a lot of free fun - basically the natural world, where there's lakes, rivers, beaches, forests and trails. You don't have to buy tickets to attractions or passes to the museum and you don't have to dress up."

The summer is also a great time to try out low-season mountain holidays and ski resorts like Vail, Colorado.

"Overall, lower your transportation costs by driving, find a hotel with a kitchenette to save money on food, and buy an entertainment book," advises Kelleher. "That's how you make your family vacation affordable."