By Catherine McManus, Associate Director of Marketing Communications, Women & Co.
Traveling to a big city on vacation this summer? You're not alone. According to this report from the travel team at Citi Cards, major U.S. cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco will be this summer's most popular destinations for travelers -- with London, host city of the 2012 Olympic Games, taking the top honors this year for international travel.
If you want to make the most out of your trip -- whether it's for a quick weekend getaway or a full week of sightseeing -- follow these pointers for ways you can enjoy some of the most expensive cities in the world without breaking the bank:
To avoid peak season hotel prices, look into an apartment swap. It may be a leap of faith, but can save you tons -- especially if you're staying more than a few days -- and a kitchen will help you save on eating out, too. Check out Craigslist postings in your destination city or home swap sites like HomeExchange.com to find accommodations and fellow swappers that are the right fit.
Consider a hop-on hop-off bus tour on your first day to cover a lot of ground for one price. You'll not only save on transportation to and from various neighborhoods, you'll also be able to get the lay of the land so that you can figure out which spots are worth a return visit for further exploration.
If you're planning on visiting a number of museums and major tourist attractions during your trip, look for city-pass deals that offer admission to several attractions for one price. You'll get the tickets in advance, and will sometimes be able to skip the lines -- which can save you precious hours during the busy summer months. CityPASS offers discount tickets in eleven different cities, including New York, Atlanta, Chicago and Boston.
Don't be intimidated by public transportation. If the millions of people that inhabit your destination city can figure out the subway and bus system, so can you. It's usually the fastest and most inexpensive way of getting from point A to point B, especially in cities like London where cab fares are notoriously high.
Shop flea markets and street fairs for souvenirs. Don't be lured in by the glittering windows of pricey "I love [insert your city here]" trinkets lining every block surrounding major transportation hubs. You can often find the same items for a lot less by venturing outside the obvious shopping destinations and visiting a summer street fair or flea market.
Search local publications and web sites for free event listings before you go. Most major urban parks and outdoor venues have a full calendar of free festivals, concerts and movie screenings during the summer months -- like Chicago's Millennium Park, with its World Class Jazz series on Thursday evenings, and the New York Philharmonic's Concerts in the Parks across the five boroughs in July.
Keep daily deals in mind. Check the schedules of attractions you plan to visit before you map out your itinerary, since many offer free admission or discounts on certain days of the week or month. Admission to the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles is free the first Tuesday of every month, for example; and you can visit New York's world-famous Bronx Zoo without paying full admission every Wednesday.
Be a lunchtime gourmand. Dying to dine at the fancy five-star spot that's at the top of every guidebook's restaurant list? Make your reservation for lunch instead of dinner. Your meal will be just as delicious -- and will most likely be close to half the price of what dinner would cost. And you'll have more opportunity to burn those extra calories by walking them off during the afternoon while continuing your sightseeing.
Embrace street food. Take advantage of the food truck craze that's been sweeping virtually every major U.S. city, and enjoy small bites of gourmet goodies as you explore. Check out reviews from fellow diners on Yelp or local foodie sites, then find out where your favorites are parked by following them on Twitter once you arrive. Click here to find out if the street food in the city you're visiting is ranked one of the world's best!
Take the road less traveled. To avoid the throngs of tourists in your destination city -- and the tourist prices that follow them -- don't forget to venture off the beaten path every now and then. So instead of eating in Times Square, walk three blocks west to Hell's Kitchen for a wider variety of excellent restaurants at much more budget-friendly prices. If you simply can't resist the urge to savor a treat in tourist central, just grab a small bite -- like the fresh clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco -- and then head inland a few blocks for a less expensive meal.
Looking for more ways to cut costs? Check out seven strategies for smart vacation spending.
About the Author: Catherine McManus leads public relations efforts for Women & Co. --her goal is to raise awareness for the site by leveraging insights from our content and partnerships to create news, build buzz and activate social influencers as ambassadors for the Women & Co. brand.