How to plan a vacation without breaking the bank

Dream vacations don't have to be a dream if you play your cards right.

Just ask Brian Waterkotte.

"We've never done anything like this before. Two weeks on the other side of the world. It's pretty exciting," said Waterkotte.

Waterkotte and his wife are headed to Thailand this summer to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.

"People have their bucket list of places of where they want to travel," said Molly Hart, AAA spokesperson. "They're opting not to wait until retirement. They want to go now and they're doing it. We're seeing that by our travel volumes and also our travel agents telling us where people are going."

A recent AAA survey showed 57 percent of Illinois residents plan to take a summer vacation this June or July, while a Forbes survey said about 39 percent of consumers said they will spend more money on travel this year than last.

"Here's the thing: you don't have to go into debt," said Andrea Woroch, consumer savings expert. "There are a few strategies that you can put into place to help you make a great vacation for yourself and your family without overspending."

Woroch said the most important step when planning a vacation is to be flexible.

"If you take time off during the week, you are going to find better rates on flights and hotels rather than just going away on a weekend when prices are up because that's peak travel time," said Woroch.

While some websites only track flights to and from one destination at a time, Woroch said others allow you to select a few destinations at the same time to see which has the best travel deal.

She also said buying a one-way plane ticket may be your ticket to some travel savings.  

"I think a lot of people when they look for flights, they just look at round-trip flights. The reality is that limits you to just that airline option," said Woroch. "So there could be higher fees for return flights. Maybe they don't have as many options in terms of time or connections."

Additionally, if you want to save on your hotel room, Woroch said you can buy someone else's room. 

"There's a site that allows people to sell their nonrefundable rooms to other travelers," said Woroch. "Because these people are stuck with a nonrefundable room, they're usually willing to sell it at a discount, so this is a great way to find top hotels at a really good price."

Woroch said it can also pay to skip the skies and hit the road instead for your vacation. 

"Driving is going to be much cheaper for a family rather than flying, plus you don't have to worry about checked baggage fees. Also, the high cost of food and drinks at the airport," said Woroch.

To ensure a road trip saves you money, take a trip to see your mechanic before you go. 

"You want to have your car looked at," said Hart. "You want the belts, you want the hoses looked at. You want to check the tires."

As for Waterkotte, he followed a few of the golden travel rules when planning his trip to Thailand. Like planning ahead and bundling some of the costs, like airfare and hotel. 

While some travel agents say six weeks out is the sweet spot to start planning your trip, others say you should start as early as four months in advance.

If you are worried your plans might change in that time, travel insurance might be an option for you.