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Should You Go on Vacation While Paying Off Debt?

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Going on vacation when paying off debt is a popular debate. Here are 5 ways to go on vacation while paying off debt and save money in the process.

Last week, my husband and I sat down to have a Very Important Conversation: where should we go on our next vacation? Clearly it was a fun debate about where we’d like to go this year, and we were dreaming big. Should we take a “rich people’s” vacation to Bali? (No.) Should we venture to D.C. with a preschooler? (Probably not.) Are we ready to take a 4 year-old on a plane? (Jury’s still out.)

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t enjoy going on a vacation; the disagreement usually comes in finding a location and experience everyone involved can agree upon. Vacations can be as expensive or frugal as you’d like to make them. Some are able to take family trips overseas for little or no out of pocket expenses by using travel rewards and making frugal choices when it comes to food and sightseeing activities. But one question I’ve been asked time and again is whether or not it is okay to take a vacation, even a very frugal one, when you are in the midst of paying down debt.

Vacations Are Expensive

 

I’ve never been one of those credit card hustlers that I mentioned above who can manage to book the fanciest hotels and fly to the most exotic locales for free thanks to my card-swiping, point-earning prowess (but I have serious respect to those of you who can.) I’d venture to say that most of us don’t have the kind of skills needed to travel for free, which means that planning for a vacation can cost a pretty penny.

Should You Vacation While Paying Off Debt?

 

So what are you to do if you want to take advantage of the vacation days that your employer offers you, but you still have lots of bills to pay? Should you vacation while paying off debt? Is it even worth the money?

Some people would say that you should kill your debt at all costs before you spend your money anywhere else. This is good advice because debt is stifling, and it inhibits us from doing what we want with our money.

However, I don’t think you should have to give up everything that’s important to you when you’re paying off debt. You don’t want to risk burnout with no reward, and I think there can be a healthy balance between traveling and paying off debt by taking a scaled-down vacation, as long as you don’t incur more debt to do it.

Here are five ways to afford a vacation without hurting your debt payoff momentum.

1. Pick an Affordable Destination

 

It’s probably not the best idea to jet to Fiji for an all-inclusive vacation if you’re still paying off tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt, but you probably already knew that. Your vacation doesn’t have to be extravagant to be relaxing.

Avoid high dollar destinations such as NYC, San Francisco, and Europe, and instead use online discount travel sites like Expedia to find on areas where you can get more bang for your buck. If you are close enough to go to a beach, try to stay somewhere a little off the beaten path to get the best deals, and enjoy the (free) beach every day.

2. Travel on One Tank of Gas

 

You don’t have to do a staycation every year. (In fact, I’m kind of sick of that term and its advice!) But think about where you can go to enjoy a simple, non-extravagant family road trip on a tank of gas or less. Hop over to the next state or somewhere within a four-hour range of where you currently live, and live like a local for a few days.

3. Shorten It

 

I believe that everyone should take advantage of every single vacation day available to them, even if that means staying at home in your PJs doing nothing, and sometimes all you need is a few days away from the grind to feel refreshed. In that case, why not take a shorter vacation to your desired destination? A few days in an affordable locale can be just as much fun as a week-long trip, and you can spend the rest of your vacation days at home unwinding before you have to go back to work.

My husband and I took a trip to New Orleans once, and we were actually refreshed and ready to leave after only a couple of days. The same thing actually happened on our week-long honeymoon to the Bahamas– a few days of relaxation, and we were ready to head home.

4. Visit Out-Of-Town Family or Friends

 

If you have family or friends who live in an area you’d like to visit, and if they are open to hosting you, crash with them for a few nights. You will have a comfortable place to stay and people who can advise you on where to go during the day. Just make sure to treat them to a nice dinner out during your stay to show your appreciation for opening their home to you.

Going on vacation when paying off debt is a popular debate. Here are 5 ways to go on vacation while paying off debt and save money in the process.

5. Share a Vacation

 

My favorite way to save money on a vacation is to share it with someone I love. This way you can get a bigger, nicer place to share and not have to foot the entire bill.

Many times we have rented big houses and condos through online sites like VRBO that we wouldn’t have been able to afford by ourselves, just because we were sharing it with someone we knew, which made the cost affordable. I’ve never regretted doing it, so if you have someone you can stand to hang out with for a few days, don’t miss out on your chance to save a lot of money on your vacation.

Whatever you do, don’t take on more debt just to go on a vacation. You won’t feel better after that vacation, only worse when the bills start coming in. And if you can’t manage to squeeze out any vacation money this year, start saving now for next year.

 

Do you think it’s okay to vacation while paying off debt? Have you ever taken a vacation paid for by credit card points? How do you save money on your vacations?

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Robin is a freelance writer who chronicles her financial missteps and victories on her blog www.TheThriftyPeach.com.

28 Comments

  • We scaled back our vacation plans while paying down debt because we didn’t want to lose momentum of the pay off. We still did some things like local trips or visiting family. There are still plenty of cheap and fun things to do. It wasn’t until we were fully debt free and could cash flow a trip that we took a full blown vacation.

  • In my eyes, it really depends on how much debt you have. If you can buckle down and become completely debt-free in 18 months or less, than I say “no.” Get serious for a while and pay everything off. If you have a lot of debt to pay off and it might take years, a vacation might be necessary to stay sane!

  • We take an inexpensive vacation each summer with friends, but anything more elaborate is going to wait until our kids are a little older.

  • We took a vacation last year even though we still had (and have) lots to pay off in debt. Reason being – we were going crazy. We hadn’t had a vacation in over a decade. The kids are getting older and we really want to enjoy some travel time with them before they grow up and move out. Our vacation did delay our debt payoff, but the whole family insists it was well worth it. We have no plans to vacation (outside of a staycation 🙂 ) this year, but last year’s trip was worth every penny we spent on it.

  • fehmeen says:

    I think it’s okay to go on vacation as long as it doesn’t hamper your on-going debt repayment efforts. That means you go on a low-budget vacation, simply as a momentary escape from the strict routine and the seriousness of life. Visiting your family in another town is a good idea, like you mentioned, as long as you follow good guest etiquette. Oh yes, that deserves a blog post of it’s own.

  • Chuck says:

    Last year we took advantage of a work trip for me and turned it into a mini vacation. We tried to keep it frugal as much as possible and just enjoyed the time in a different place. In 2014, we took a road trip that was only a few hours away and got the hotel through Groupon for super cheap because there was ongoing construction.

    I think that it’s ok to vacation if you can keep it under control. In our case, it was all about sanity and clearing out the doldrums. Very necessary

  • Jaime says:

    I personally wouldn’t take a holiday while paying off debt.

  • I think everyone needs a vacation, but it is important to not let taking a trip derail debt payoff. Like you pointed out, there are lots of frugal ways to travel, and being in debt payoff mode for a long time deserves a change of scenery.

  • A few years ago, I would’ve said no. But now I think it’s good for the soul, and it can renew your frugal efforts if you’re in danger of burnout.

    My husband and I have taken a couple of trips to Vegas. We go during the week for cheap hotels, and it’s about a tank and half of gas round trip.

    At some point, I’d like a more extensive (and expensive) vacation, but that’ll have to wait until we’re a little further ahead in savings/retirement.

  • Tawcan says:

    I think it depends on how much debt you have and what’s the vacation cost. It makes sense to keep the vacation cost low so you can still put some money toward debt repayment. I like the idea of using one tank of gas.

  • Jessica says:

    I think if you’re paying off a lot of debt you’d go crazy if you completely deprived yourself of all travel. We’ve used many of your suggestions to take inexpensive vacations over the years. When we lived in Kentucky we took road trips all the time. I enjoy vacationing to visit family because we usually stay with them and they feed us. One of my favorite trips was when we drove down to a lesser known beach town in Florida. We got a hotel on the beach for cheap and had an amazing time.

  • Jason B says:

    I’m actually in the process of paying off my debt right now. I have sacrificed a lot, but the one thing that I won’t give up is traveling. I just make sure that my trips are frugal.

  • This is a topic that is greatly debated in the blogosphere. Some people say ABSOLUTELY NOT. I personally think it’s okay, especially if you are going hard the rest of the year. My wife only takes about 5 weeks off from school and the rest of the year is working full-time while also taking classes for her masters. A vacation helps her avoid burnout. I work full-time and run my side hustles year-round, so vacation is the only time I lay off the gas. You can pay down debt while also going on vacation imo, and a vacation can even be + ROI.

  • Leslie says:

    Love your thoughts on this Robin! I feel that ultimately this is a decision that everyone has to make based upon their own unique situation. Travel might be too big of an expense for most to handle while in debt, but there are some frugal ways out there that can help you plan a getaway without breaking the bank!

    A little R&R can help you recharge so you can tackle your debt with a newfound energy! Just make sure your vacation doesn’t lead to you taking on even MORE debt.

  • We are paying off about $4,000 in credit card debt, but are planning a vacation next summer. All inclusive resort trips really aren’t that bad. Especially if you book last minute. We have a friend that just got back from Domincan Republic and her trip was only $800. She never had to leave the resort that was right on the beach.

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