How to Have a Vacation Every Year Without Breaking the Bank

Did you know a vacation has the potential to be lifesaving? Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but a study conducted by the State University of New York at Oswego did determine that a man’s risk of “soon death” was reduced by 20 percent if he took an annual vacation. The benefits of a vacation aren’t specific to men either, everyone who regularly vacations is treated to decreased depression, less stress, and improved productivity. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to partake in these benefits if you can’t afford to.

The following lists a few ways you can save money on your next vacation so you can take vacations more often and take advantage of these health benefits.

All-Inclusive is Budget-Friendly

All-inclusive get-aways will get you more bang for your buck because your food and beverages are included in the flat fee, including alcohol. Oftentimes, the cost of an all-inclusive resort is comparable to what a standard hotel would charge, but a standard hotel doesn’t come bundled with all your dietary needs. Choosing this sort of resort ensures that even if you’re cash poor, you can still enjoy a relaxing vacation, and eat and drink as much as you want.

Although all-inclusive is a great way to save, not all resorts are created equal. Sometimes resorts claim to be all-inclusive, but in reality they are limited in what they offer. Look for a resort that includes everything in the package, including on-site activities.

Guarantee the Same Cost Year after Year

Also, it may be wise to choose a destination that you want to return to again and again and purchase a timeshare. Property ownership ensures you’re not dealing with the rising cost of lodging, but also that you’re treated to some of the finest amenities available. For example, if you visit, you’ll see their timeshares include the standard resort fare, but also a number of activities, such as waterslides, rec centers, and on-site theaters.

Eat What the Locals Eat

Do yourself a favor and ignore Zagat, Frommer’s, and Lonely Planet. Once these guides recommend a restaurant, prices go up and portions go down. Instead, ask a local what they’re eating. Oftentimes, the local fare is cheaper than what you’ll find on the menu at home. As the saying goes, “When in Rome…

Local markets also offer lots of delicious foods at cheaper-than-restaurant prices. If you do go the timeshare route, your room will most likely include a stove and refrigerator. Stock up on cheap essentials, such as bread, lunch meat, cheese, and more.

Join Free Rewards Programs

Hotels, airlines, and restaurants sometimes offer loyalty cards to consumers. Whenever it’s economical, sign up for these programs and start earning points toward free stuff on your next vacation. Never purchase a hotel stay simply because the hotel offers a rewards card unless the hotel is truly budget-friendly.

Credit cards also offer travel rewards, and these are often more lucrative than the free rewards programs you can join. Travel hackers sign up for credit cards that offer frequent flyer miles, and the most valuable cards include enough bonus miles (just for signing up) to take a flight. Forbes says the key is to “find cards that offer 2 percent or more on purchases when redeemed for travel.”

A luxury vacation doesn’t have to break the bank; in fact, you can take the vacation of a lifetime after saving for just a few months. The secret is knowing where to spend and where to cut corners. A vacation is supposed to be relaxing, so don’t bother with all extra costs. Take advantage of what’s free and local, or just lay in the sun and soak up the vitamin D.


How We Travelled to France for Under $500, Twice

Kai running through field near Arc de Triumphe

Kai running through field near Arc de Triumphe

I have a confession to make.

I’m addicted.

I’ve always been addicted to traveling, but with little means to do so. But this year I’ve figured it out! And to prove it, I’m going to tell you two short stories about how we were able to travel from San Diego, CA to France two different times for under $500, round trip, each time. Each trip was very different, but there’s a light at the end of this tunnel.

I hope this personal story motivates you to do this yourself and your family – to travel extremely cheaply to places which are definitely not cheap to travel to.

The first trip: San Diego > London > Antibes + Théule Sur Mer

We moved from the Pacific Northwest to San Diego, California intentionally. Of course there was the sunshine, which is fabulous. But we also made that move because we wanted a place to start over. We needed a reboot.

The plan was, in 2 years time, to save as much as we could and make an attempt at moving to France for at least 1 year, if not permanently. Long story short, we came home early, but the point of this post is that we made it there… for $250 per person flying Air France.


We got lucky on this one. The typical flights I was seeing at the time were in the $1500 per person range (round trip). We only needed a one-way flight, but at the time, they didn’t sell one-way trips for anything less than a round-trip ticket. But, since I’m the kind of person who searches out every nook and cranny and keeps looking regularly, I stumbled upon what’s called a “mistake fare”. I didn’t even realize it at the time, but there was no way that deal should have shown up. The airline made a mistake. Probably missed a zero when they published it as it should have been $1250 each way, but ended up being $125.

I booked it that day, and we were committed.

Now, when we got there, we were lucky (and broke and childless) enough to stay on a stranger’s (now friends) couch for a while, using They were outstanding hosts, helped us get settled into a place, and became good friends in the process.

Flight: $500
Home: Free for 2 weeks, paid rent after that
Status: Married, Childless, Backpack-carrying
Duration: 3 months

The second trip: San Diego > Paris

The next time we flew to France was much different. By now, I realized I’d probably never see a “mistake fare” again unless I was OCD. I’m diligent, but not nutso about finding deals.

But this time I was much better prepared.

We took a red-eye – which I’m now convinced is the best way to reduce jet lag – from San Diego to Paris. Dragging our double stacked kid-laden stroller and 140 lbs of luggage up and down the subway/metro stairs to the flat we were staying in (hint: don’t do this, take the bus in Paris). That was the worst part of our trip. After that it was smooth sailing.

We stayed in a 2 bedroom 1000 square foot flat (huge by Paris standards) with outside views of La Défense, l’Arc de Triomphe, and the Eiffel Tower. Are you kidding me? For free! For almost 4 weeks!


Miles and points.

We planned our travel dates right on the edge of off-peak season to capitalize on the best airfare deals (and lack of tourists). It took 140k in American Airlines points to bring all 4 of us. 2 adults, one 3 year old, and 1 lap infant, which funny enough was why we paid so much in taxes for the flight (tip: you pay taxes on the full rate ticket for a lap infant – don’t get me started on it).

We also used this house swapping service, which was encouraging people to put their homes up on their site by giving them 2 weeks worth of points (useable for non-simultaneous swapping) for simply offering the home – no commitment to actually letting anyone stay in your house. Just put your home on the site. We gave those points to our host in exchange for using his flat. Now, they were kind enough to give us almost a full extra week on either side of our stay just because they didn’t have anyone else coming at the time, so that’s a big bonus. But still. Even if it were just 2 weeks, it would have been amazing enough.

This post is getting a bit long winded. So, I’m going to write more posts on exactly how we earned and used all these points and miles later, along with some tricks on how to get better deals for homes and flights, even if you can’t get them for free. So stay tuned. But you get the picture now, right?

Flight: $500 (all taxes)
Home: Free
Status: Still married, 2 Children under 4 years old, Kid-stuff-toting
Duration: 4 weeks

More to come on the “how to” soon… but in the meantime, ask me any questions you have in the comments below.

Recent travels