Updated: Jul 11
Ah, it’s just another blissful day at the office. Mary has packed her second tuna fish sandwich this week, Bob's cackle is echoing across three conference rooms, and you’ve got back-to-back meetings all day. Naturally, your mind starts to drift and before you know it, you're daydreaming about your next vacation. You can almost see yourself swinging your afternoons away in that hammock, trailing your toe through the sugary sand, your worries a million miles away. And then reality creeps back in. You start thinking, “I have too many bills to take a vacation right now,” “everything is so expensive,” and of course, “can I even afford to take the whole family?’
I’ll be honest, I don’t like to talk about money when it comes to travel. It’s value that I find most important. I’m one of those people who knows incredible food is found in places ranging from a family farm down a lonely dirt road in Viñales, to the Michelin-starred restaurants in San Sebastian. Both are exceptional experiences that are worth no more or less than the other. But I also know that not everyone thinks the same way I do. There are about three main reasons the majority of people think they can’t travel, and money is one of them (you can find the other two here).
So I put together a list of 10+ effortless ways to save money on travel, both before and during your trip. And speaking of ways to save money, Manifesting Travel was named a top Austin, TX, travel expert by Redfin. Check out the article we were featured in:
Remember, you can’t afford not to take a vacation, your mental health and happiness depend on it. And while we’re at it, start making a plan to finally ask your boss for that raise. We both know you deserve it.
1. Stay flexible
Set up a Google Flights alert for destinations you’d like to travel to and let them do the work. Don’t have a particular destination in mind? Even better. Use the “explore” feature on Google Travel. Just plug in your home airport, the month or months you’re willing to travel, and the duration of your trip. Move the map around and you’ll be served up dozens of destinations at various price points. Are you a CapitalOne credit card holder? You can set up flight alerts with them too. Staying flexible allows you to book when the prices drop. One thing to note, you'll have to head to Southwest Airlines for their deals, they're not on Google Flights.
2. Use your credit card points
In this day and age, there is absolutely no reason anyone should ever have a credit card with no perks. The competition is too fierce between credit card companies. Each month, put as much of your ordinary living expenses on your credit card as you can, so you can start accruing the points. Some companies will even offer double the points on entertainment and dining out. This isn’t an evaluation of credit cards, just a note to say you’re missing out on free money if you don’t have the right credit cards in your wallet. Redeeming your points for flights and hotel stays can save you a ton of money on travel. I just booked two round trip flights to Europe using nothing but my credit points.
3. Travel in off seasons and shoulder seasons
Everybody travels in the summer, and why wouldn’t they? The weather is nice, the flowers are blooming, the kids are out of school. But you’re also going to pay for it because it’s high season. Here’s the thing, you aren’t going to have any less of an incredible time if you go during a shoulder season. September is one of the best months to travel anywhere and it’s cheaper because it’s just outside of peak season. We had a destination wedding in Italy in October, just one week outside the peak harvest season, and it saved us almost $10,000 (USD). Just by moving our wedding date one week later.
Here’s what you have to remember, it’s always the off-season somewhere. If you’re limited to summer travel because of the kids (and you’re in the northern hemisphere), try visiting someplace in the southern hemisphere where the seasons are flipped like Argentina or Uruguay. And read this if you’re looking for the best time to travel.
4. Stay just outside the prime tourist locations
Say you want to visit Las Vegas but don’t have a budget for the gorgeous, fancy hotels. You can stay one block off the Strip or in the bustling downtown Las Vegas neighborhood for sometimes less than half the price. The same goes for other cities you may visit. Staying as close to the prime location as possible, but not actually in it, will save you tons of money. Just make sure you’re not staying so far out, that you end up spending the money you saved on public transportation to get back and forth to the sites you want to see.
5. How to save money on food
Listen, nobody is advocating you eat off the dollar menu. But there are tons of ways to save money on food while on vacation. Do you plan to rent an apartment? Then stock the kitchen at the local market and cook for yourself. Are you staying in a hotel? Find one that serves a complimentary breakfast. If you don’t want to compromise on fancy restaurants (you’re in good company), then go at lunchtime. You’ll be absolutely shocked at how many exceptional restaurants offer a prix-fixe lunch menu, that is a fraction of what it would cost you to eat there at dinner.
Take the swanky Estiatorio Milos in The Venetian Resort Las Vegas for example. You can have an incredible three-course meal with a selection of chilled oysters on the half shell, wild salmon from the Faroe Islands, and a karidopita spiced walnut cake for just $38 (USD). And that's just what I would order, there are several other delectable choices on the lunch menu. Take it from me, let the expert sommelier choose your Greek wine pairings for an additional $19. This is literally one of the best kept secrets in Las Vegas.
6. How to save money on drinks
Want to head out for drinks? Go during happy hour so you can get a better deal on those highly coveted craft cocktails. While you probably already know you can save by not drinking top shelf brands, you’ll typically save quite a few bucks by ordering the house wine as well. Before you grimace at the recommendation, it’s worth mentioning that not all house wines are a Frankenstein blend of dusty old discarded bottles. They’re cheaper because the supplier gives the bar or restaurant a better discount when they’re ordered in bulk. And in some instances, house wines are made specifically for the restaurants who’ve ordered them; so it’s actually a signature blend.
7. Stop spending your money on crap you don’t really need or want
One of the biggest ways to save your money is to watch where you spend it. Too many people are at the mercy of their impulses; why do you think grocery stores put so many random items on the ends of the aisles? Because you walk by and think “oh that sounds good.” You weren’t searching for it, but they dangled it in front of your face like horse with a carrot. For the price of your Venti, no foam, no whip, double the pump, triple the calories with one ice cube latte costs you a week, you could pay for a ticket to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. I promise you won’t miss the cups of coffee you didn’t have…but you’ll remember seeing the Parisian city lights for the rest of your life.
8. Sell your old junk
You can’t tell me you don’t have something stuffed in the garage that you can’t put on OfferUp or Facebook Marketplace. Have your kids grown out of their strollers or car seats? Sell them. Are you still holding on to those old cell phones? Sell them. Those old work clothes that were headed for the donation bin…try to sell them first. Everybody has something they don’t need anymore, just gathering dust. So create some space in your house, and improve your mental well-being and happiness, while adding to your travel fund.
9. Get creative with your accommodations
You may have Four Seasons tastes and a campsite budget, so that means you’re going to have to get creative with the places you stay. Hostels, homestays, and couch surfing all provide extremely affordable options for places to stay all over the world. If none of those sound like something you’d be interested, then go where your money is the strongest. For instance, if you still have your heart set on the lap of luxury, the Four Seasons in Paris may set you back $1877 (USD) per night, but the same exact date for the Four Seasons in Jakarta drops to $215 (USD).
10. Go where your money goes further
Take the Four Seasons example from No. 9. The exchange rate is much more favorable in a country like Indonesia than it is in France. Arica over at Escape from Corporate was just in Thailand and telling me about all the 5-star experiences you can have for much less than you’d expect. At the current exchange rate, you get around 35 Thai baht for 1 U.S. dollar. And that means if you’re looking for a secluded, luxurious island resort, like The Racha Phuket, you can get it for around $214- $278 USD per night. Stay seven nights and the resort will kindly send their Mercedes limousine to pick you up from the airport in Phuket before you board the speedboat that takes you out to the island…and it’s complimentary. A vacation in regions like Asia and Central and South America are much more affordable than people realize.
11. Work while you’re there
Ok this one technically isn’t effortless, that’s why it’s No. 11 - but hear me out. I know working while you’re traveling doesn’t always sound like a dreamy option. But what if I told you, you could travel to wine country and work the grape harvest? In every single hemisphere… You could work in the sunny vineyards during the day, and sip world-class wines straight from the source each evening. Or maybe you’d like to spend a week caring for alpacas in Norway, in exchange for room and board with an awesome organization like Worldpackers. They specialize in pairing travelers with volunteer opportunities in more than 100 countries around the world.
Don’t be afraid to work for your spoils, learning how to do something new with your own hands sparks your curiosity and creativity. The reward centers in our brains are much more engaged when we are faced with new challenges or tasks and overcome them. Not to mention, you’d be helping a community who needs you. Sounds like a win-win.
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Ashley Oñoz-Wright has been a travel writer and editor based in Las Vegas, NV for the last nine years. Her work has been featured in Manifesting Travel, Modern Luxury, Sophisticated Living, Greenspun Media Group, Vegas.com and LasVegas.com. She holds a degree in Sociology & Anthropology from DePauw University.