Planning a Spring Break trip with a looming war and terrorist alerts is hard enough. But you can be certain of some things, like the actual cost of your vacation.

Travel is a budget-buster for many. Sorry to sound like a broken record, but the key is to plan ahead. Given that Spring Break is just around the corner, we'll assume you haven't put as much thought into your vacation budget as you would've liked.

As with any big purchase, it helps to set up spending guidelines. Transportation, food, and lodging will be your biggest expenses. So take a few minutes to jot down general ideas of your costs. If you're traveling with another adult or little adultlettes with math skills, enlist their help in comparison-shopping on the major line items.

Once the sticker shock wears off, consider a few of these money-conscious, family-friendly travel ideas from the folks at Money Management International.

  • Road trip! No need to go on a cross-country, gas-guzzling excursion. Find out more about attractions in your home state from your local Chamber of Commerce. Visit battlefields, zoos, monuments, factories, and unique unnatural wonders like the world's largest ball of twine. Fools from 50 states are willing to share what makes their hometowns special.
  • Turn your kids into documentarians, and give 'em a Polaroid camera and a blank journal to record the high points of the excursion. (Hint: Lock the bathroom door to put the kibosh on incriminating photos.) Keep the critters busy on the road by having them take turns being the navigator or DJ. As the parent, however, you get to control the volume.
  • Recreate the scary forest scenes from the Lord of the Rings and take the kids camping! (However, make them wear shoes. Hobbits have had centuries to build up calluses.) Many state parks offer rental cabins and low- or no-cost amenities such as canoeing, horseback riding, and hiking tours.
  • Pack up the kids on the fly. Last-minute travel deals can be found for a song if you're willing to be flexible with travel times and locations. Check in with the folks on our Cheap Air Fares discussion board. And remember to bring a stash of granola bars to keep kvetching kids sated at the airport.
  • Lodging can cost an arm and a leg. Look for hotels where kids stay free and rooms that include a kitchenette. And don't forget to ask for any special rates if you are a member of AAA or carry a particular brand of credit card. Need a little guidance on negotiating a better deal? Get input on your predicament on the How to Negotiate Anything discussion board.