Whether you’re looking for a vacation within a few hours’ drive from home, or looking to travel to a dream destination a little farther, you don’t have to break the bank. Check out some military deals available.

There are military cottages, lodges, campgrounds and RV parks around the country in beautiful settings accessible only to those in the military community, regardless of branch of service.

Beyond those, discounts abound on tickets, hotels, cruises, air travel, rental cars and more.

Some places to start:

  • American Forces Travel, the only official Defense Department site for travel discounts on airfare, flights, hotels, car rentals, travel packages and cruises, was launched earlier this year. Those eligible include active duty, Guard, Reserve, Coast Guard, retired military, and their eligible family members. The site is connected to the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, or DEERS, and authenticates you quickly. You have access to more than 1.2 million properties in more than 76,000 destinations worldwide, with discounts of up to 60 percent on hotels. A help desk is available 24 hours a day.

When you’re searching for prices, make sure you do some comparison research ahead of time to get the best deal. The vendors must at least have a military exclusive price to be part of the website, but there are other additional properties and deals listed, too. You’ll see military deals in the mid-range properties, for example, as well as in high-end properties.

The site is run through a contract with Priceline, and there’s a price guarantee to at least match the best rates offered by airlines and other travel sites. There’s a best price guarantee for airfare and all the product lines.

Check back frequently for special promotions. Discount tickets for various attractions will be available within the next three to six months.

  • Always check with your local tickets and tours office on the nearest installation for other exclusive deals on a variety of deals on tickets and other offers.
  • Check with on-base lodging facilities for space available.
  • Check with www.vettix.org for free tickets (with a handling fee of less than $20) to various family programs, concerts, sporting events and performing arts.
  • Two other sites offer military-only travel discounts: Armed Forces Vacation Club, and MWR Exchange Vacations, operated by Government Vacation Rewards, at the shopmyexchange.com website, in the mall section.
  • Paths Across America: Some of the best-kept vacation secrets are found in camping and recreational vehicle parks across the country, operated by all the branches of service. From lakes in South Carolina to beaches in Washington state, many sites have cottages or lodges as well as camp sites and RV sites. Various recreational activities are offered at the sites. Visit this website and click on a state. Although it’s an Army MWR site, it features locations operated by each branch of service in each state. Prices vary. Each site lists available types and number of campsites/RV sites/cabins/lodging, along with contact information.
  • Armed Forces Recreation Centers: Visit Dragon Hill Lodge in South Korea; Edelweiss Lodge and Resort in Germany’s Bavarian region; Hale Koa Hotel in Waikiki Beach, Hawaii; or Shades of Green at Walt Disney World Resort, Florida. Visit this website for information about availability, pricing and reservations. At this writing, for example, there was still availability in July and August for Shades of Green. All branches of service are eligible.
  • Other military discounts are offered by countless other hotels, recreation parks and others. In just one example, Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys offers discounts to military and veterans starting at $129 per night, plus discounts on activities. Their annual program runs from Aug. 1 until Dec. 19. Visit www.hawkscayheroes.com for more information and to book reservations. Among the many hotels offering military discounts year-round are La Quinta by Wyndham, Red Roof Inn, and Westgate Resorts. Many attractions offer discounts, too. One example: At your choice of SeaWorld, Busch Gardens or Sesame Place, one free admission per year for military personnel.
  • Blue Star Museums: More than 2,000 museums nationwide are offering free admission through Monday, Sept. 2. This year’s participating museums are located in all 50 states, as well as Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, and include fine art, science history and children’s museums, zoos, aquariums, gardens and more. For a list of participating museums, hours of operation and other information, visit arts.gov/bluestarmuseums.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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