Even if you feel strapped for cash, there are still ways to manage a relatively inexpensive vacation for you and your family this year. Some ideas you might want to consider are:
* A group tour with the American Youth Hostel Association.
* A package tour to a destination within the US.
* A driving vacation in historic areas.
Costs range from about $800 a week for a family of four and go up to about $2 ,700.
American Youth Hostels Inc. (AYH) offers several nine-day tours within the United States that range from $195 to $325 per person. These include cycling tours of eastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, the Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Wisconsin, the Continental Divide, and the Adirondacks. More expensive nine-day tours include canoeing on the Potomac and skiing in New England, New York, Colorado, or Oregon.
The price includes accommodations, meals, entrance fees to sights, tips, taxes, transfers while on tour, and AYH membership for nonmembers.
Although most AYH trips are geared to a sport - cycling, hiking, canoeing, or skiing - less demanding vacations are also available. These are more expensive - available are historic cities of the East, New England during foliage season, and upper New York and southern Ontario and Quebec.
''Most trip participants are individual travelers and young people,'' says Tom Hill, marketing coordinator at AYH, but there are ''open'' trips that families and individuals of all ages are welcome to join.
A package tour to Disney World is another option available for a low-budget family vacation. According to Kathy Currier, a travel agent with Modern Age Travel in Haverhill, Mass., Disney World is the most popular family vacation spot. A popular alternative, she says, is a fly-drive vacation to the West Coast. ''It's more expensive to go to the West, but driving between Los Angeles and San Francisco gives families a little more flexibility than the Disney World vacation.''
Comparing package tours with making one's own reservations, Mrs. Currier says , ''One option is not necessarily less expensive than the other. Even the package tours offered vary greatly in price.''
When considering a package, it is important to find out what is and is not included in the package price. The items not included can add up, making the trip more expensive than originally planned.
One Disney World package tour including seven nights' accommodation, airport transfers, and air fare ranges from $199 to $429 for an adult and $189 to $229 for children under 12. But food is not included, and neither are transfers into any attractions. The base price for this tour, at low season (summer), would be could add an additional $700, and a small rental car could cost an additional $ 40, plus gas. A ''budget'' package might end up costing you close to what a more expensive package would. Also, a more expensive package tour will allow you to stay in hotels at Disney World.
Auto trips have been the old standby of budget family travel ever since Henry Ford put America on wheels.
Says Richard Hoover, director of public affairs at the American Automobile Association in Brookline, Mass., ''The rule of thumb when figuring out the cost of a driving trip for two people is $50 a day for food, $51 a day for lodging, and $7 per hundred miles driven,'' Mr. Hoover says. For each child, add $10 a day for meals and about $10 a day for lodging.
Hoover says popular destinations are Washington, D.C., and Williamsburg, Va., Pennsylvania Dutch country, and Florida. Canada, also popular, is a bargain because of favorable exchange rates. The fly-drive vacation is also popular, he adds, even if it costs a bit more.