Article Updated June 5, 2018 by Brian Acton
Vacations can be prohibitively expensive, a cruel truth for Americans who want to travel but don’t have the money. Many will resort to borrowing; a 2017 Learnvest survey found that 74% of Americans have gone into debt for a vacation, with the average debt accrued per trip at $1,108.
If you’re dreaming of a summer vacation but you don’t want to get stuck with a massive credit card bill, you may be wondering how you can travel debt-free. Here are some tips on making your next summer vacation a fond memory instead of a financial headache.
Set a Budget
Before you decide on a destination, you need to create a budget. Accounting for hotels, flights, meals, and other travel costs, you should set a realistic amount you can afford to spend on your trip. This number should be affordable, either through your normal income or by saving up enough to pay for your trip in full by the time the charges come due.
Setting a realistic budget may involve sacrifices or adjustments; a camping adventure or road trip may be more affordable than a luxury resort vacation.
Save a Little From Each Paycheck
Once you have a budget, you can set an amount to put aside from each paycheck to meet your goal. If you don’t have a budget yet, regularly putting aside small chunks of money will help you build up a sizeable vacation fund. The sooner you get started, the better.
“Many banks nowadays will let you open multiple savings accounts for different goals. If you are able to open up a vacation savings account, that will make it much simpler to track your progress,” said Jeff Proctor, Owner of DollarSprout.com. “You should also set up automatic monthly deposits into the account so you don’t have to worry about not saving.”
Get a Side Hustle
If you can’t afford your dream vacation on your current salary without going into debt, it might be time to look for other sources of income.
“Consider taking on a short term side hustle to pad your vacation fund. A few good ideas include driving with Uber or Lyft, renting out a room in your house on Airbnb, or perhaps taking on some freelance work in your area of expertise,” said Proctor.
Extra expenses, such as meals and entertainment, can break your budget if you haven’t planned for them. While all-inclusive cruises or resorts may seem more expensive up front, their food and beverage packages can be cheaper in the long run.
Parents might find this especially helpful, since affordable family friendly dining options may be rare and you could find yourself over budget early on. With all-inclusive trips, food and drinks are included and you won’t have to watch your spending as closely.
Hunt for Deals on Social Media
You should follow your favorite tourism websites and travel providers on social media channels like Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. These social accounts will often post deals you can’t find elsewhere.
“You can find some of the best deals available by following travel deal websites on social media,” said Jessica Bisesto, Senior Editor at TravelPirates.
Have a Flexible Travel Schedule
If you restrict yourself to traveling on weekends or flying during daylight hours, you could be missing out on the best deals. Weekday hotel reservations and redeye flights can slash your travel costs.
“Often times, it’s cheapest to fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday, and staying at hotels is also less expensive during the week,” said Bisesto. “If you normally work a Monday – Friday schedule, you can add a few days to your trip by incorporating the weekend.”
Use Credit Card Benefits
Just because you’re planning a debt-free trip doesn’t mean you should avoid your credit card. Some credit cards offer travel benefits that help you save on common vacation expenses. Just be mindful of your credit card spending so you can stay debt-free.
“Credit cards can save you time and money when traveling abroad,” said Bisesto. “Some, such as Chase Sapphire, don’t charge foreign transaction fees and even offer perks such as insurance on rental cars and double points for travel-related purchases. When you use your rewards cards for purchases you’d make anyways, you can accumulate an insane amount of points and then use those points to pay for your next trip.”
Wait a Little Longer
If you simply don’t have the money to cover the cost of a vacation, a debt-free trip may not be in the cards. If you wait until next summer, you’ll have plenty of time to save for your dream trip, and you might even be able to increase your budget.
“If you can, start planning one summer ahead. That will give you a full year to save, which means you can put away just a small amount of money each month and hit your goal much easier,” said Proctor. “If you are able to open up a vacation savings account, that will make it much simpler to track your progress.”
If you want to be sure your credit is ready for a trip, you can check your three credit reports for free once a year. To track your credit more regularly, Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card is an easy-to-understand breakdown of your credit report information that uses letter grades—plus you get two free credit scores updated each month.