What’s stopping you from taking a vacation? Time? Work? Family obligations? Maybe money?
Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics called paid leave “the most prevalent employee benefit” with 91 percent of full-time workers receiving access to paid vacation time1, an Oxford Economics study found Americans took fewer vacation days in 2013 (16 days) than they have in the last four decades (an average of just over 20)2.
Personal finance could have something to do with it. More than 7 out of 10 people who don’t go on vacation simply can’t afford one, according to a recent YouGov poll 3. What could be worse than returning home from your vacation, newly bronzed and sufficiently rejuvenated, to financial troubles because you and your family overspent?
Let’s break down America’s favorite ways to unwind and see what a little financial planning can do to keep costs low and vacation time rolling.
When people try to cram a vacation’s worth of fun into a 48- or 72-hour window, even a brief escape can easily turn into a no-holds-barred spending spree. Before ducking out of town, create an itinerary that doubles as a budget. Divide each full day into three sections: morning, afternoon and nighttime. Then, as you plan, cross off at least one of these sections for each day. That way, you’re not only investing in activities but also in downtime. You can’t spend if you’re too busy napping on the beach.
Long-distance road trips
By taking your adventure on the open road, you’ve already made a pretty cost-effective choice. National gasoline prices have fallen nearly $0.34 per gallon in the last year alone, according to the Energy Information Administration4. That said, what drivers gain in fuel savings they may lose in hotel costs. Depending on the length of your road trip, renting an RV may actually be the best way to cover two vacation expenditures in one investment.
Air travel might be a modern marvel, but even domestic flights may seem too expensive for the cost-conscious consumer to consider when vacationing.
If you do choose to fly, make sure you get the best deal by planning your vacation at a time when airfare is cheapest. For example, the Department of Transportation reported third-quarter fares in 20155 were $10 to $15 less expensive than in Q16 or Q27. You can also try bundling flights and hotels through a third-party app or service if the two would be more expensive separately.
Here’s another tip: Pick a hotel with continental breakfasts. That way, at least one meal every day is on the house.
Travel isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. For those people, “staycations” — or taking time off to relax at home — offer an even greater respite, one without TSA checkpoints, overpriced amenities and droves of other vacationers crowding your good time.
By far, staycations will forever be the wisest financial decision, but almost by necessity, they will also be the blandest. Spice things up by making yours a staycation to remember. Treat your hometown like an exotic destination and spend conservatively on a night of fine dining or theatre tickets, preferably to places and experiences you’ve never taken part in before.
Don’t let your bank account get between you and your family’s well-deserved vacation time. Let financial planning be the tiny paper umbrella in your poolside cocktail.