The recession probably has many American families reconsidering their summer vacation plans, but with some smart travel strategies, it is possible for the whole family to enjoy a budget-friendly summer getaway.

“Travel bargains will abound this summer, especially for families who look for value-focused destinations,” says Brad Dean, president and chief executive officer of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. “Like any other industry, tourism has seen a lot of belt-tightening among travelers; however hotels, attractions and communities are eager to woo summer travelers with great deals and incentives that push their dollars further.”

Here are five tips for making the most of your summer vacation dollars:

1. Demand the most — If past summer vacations have consisted of a single destination with just a handful of attractions nearby, look for more value-focused locations this year. You may only be able to afford a single trip, or perhaps just a long weekend this summer, so you should look for a destination where you will be able to make every minute meaningful. From amusement parks and museums, to parks and recreation, look for a location with the greatest variety of accommodations, attractions, dining and shopping venues your budget allows.

2. Find the freebies — True, traveling during peak demand times like the July 4th holiday may mean a higher room rate, but in locations like Myrtle Beach it also means free entertainment. Popular destinations often host free events and celebrations throughout the summer, and especially on holiday weekends like Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day. Instead of paying to see an attraction, you can enjoy these events for free. Myrtle Beach area communities host dozens of free festivals and events each summer, from a traditional Fourth of July boat parade to the famed Sun Fun Festival.

3. Don’t spend on the commute — One of the biggest dents your summer travel budget can take is the cost of the commute. Flying may still be the fastest way to go, but it’s also still the most expensive. Although gas prices are creeping up across the country, it will still be much cheaper to drive to your destination this summer than it was last year, putting the cost of travel within the reach of more families in 2009. Look for destinations that are within driving distance of home. Myrtle Beach, for example, is easily accessible from much of the east coast and Midwest. Driving will also save on car rental costs.

4. Think alternative accommodations — Who wouldn’t love to stay in a luxury five-star hotel for a week every summer, but who can afford it in this economy? Be open to alternative accommodations, and seek out destinations that have a variety of accommodation types. If you usually book two or three rooms when you travel with the kids and grandparents, it may be cheaper to book a suite or rent a vacation home for a week. Additionally, check with your accommodations to see what kinds of package deals they have available.

“Many hotels partner with local attractions, making it easy to cut costs and keep everything all-inclusive,” says Dean. “Myrtle Beach in particular is chock-full of accommodations that include everything from amusement parks to theatre shows in the price of the hotel package. It’s a great way to save a few dollars here and there.” Another way to cut costs is to choose accommodations with a kitchenette so you can save money by preparing your own meals instead of eating out the entire trip.

5. Don’t wait to make your move — Travel experts agree: book now. Prices rarely fall as the season gets into full swing. Booking early, when hotels and attractions are eager to draw business, can save you a bundle. “Once high season arrives, you may find higher prices and lower availability,” Dean predicts.