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.
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?