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Exploring a foreign city, lounging by the beach or taking a cross-country road trip may seem like an essential part of summer, but many Americans are planning to forgo the experience this year.

A new survey from Bankrate shows that just 52 percent of Americans are planning to take a summer vacation. More than a quarter (26 percent) are not planning any summer travel and another 22 percent are still on the fence.

Why aren’t people going on vacation?

The most popular reason (60 percent) respondents cited as to why they weren’t planning a vacation is simple: they can’t afford it.

Among those respondents who can’t afford to take a vacation, the two most common inhibiting factors are day-to-day bills (44 percent) and paying down debt (22 percent).

That’s in line with past Bankrate surveys that found only 40 percent of Americans would be able to cover a $1,000 emergency expense and 29 percent of American households have more credit card debt than they do savings.

“Paying down debt is important, but make sure you do it right so this isn’t the reason you miss out on a summer vacation next year,” says Ted Rossman, credit card analyst at Bankrate. “A balance transfer credit card with zero percent interest for up to 21 months [like the Citi Simplicity® Card] will help you pay down your debt faster so you can get back to spending your money on more rewarding things.” The Citi Simplicity has a regular APR of 16.24 to 26.24 percent variable.

Gen Xers, at 74 percent, are most likely to cite affordability as a reason for not vacationing. Baby boomers (20 percent) and the silent generation (48 percent) are most likely to say they’re not going on vacation due to health or age. Younger millennials, from ages 23 to 29 (29 percent), are the cohort most likely to simply be disinterested in a summer vacation.

Summer vacation spending

Those respondents who are going on vacation expect to spend an average of $1,979, or a median $1,000, on all related expenses.

Summer vacation-goers from the coasts will spend more than those in the midwest:

  • Those in the West expect to spend an average of $2,265.
  • People in the Northeast plan to spend $2,078 on average.
  • Vacationers from the South predict an average of $1,943 in expenses.
  • Midwesterners expect to spend an average of $1,607.

Older millennials (ages 30-38) plan to spend the most of any age group, with an average of $2,366, while younger millennials have the lowest expected average, totaling $1,297.

Most Americans aren’t taking advantage of paid vacation days

Not only are Americans not traveling this summer; they’re also not taking their allotted time off from work, even when compensated.

Just 38 percent of respondents who receive paid vacation days plan to use them all. Six percent of workers won’t use any of their paid time off and another 5 percent will use less than a quarter.

Among those who have paid vacation, only 59 percent plan to use more than half of it.

Even if you don’t choose to go on an expensive vacation, there are benefits to using your full allotted time off from work. Look for ways to improve your work-life balance without sacrificing your financial goals.

“Our financial lives require trade-offs, and we need to learn how to balance our obligations with an occasional reward,” says Kevin Mahoney, financial planner and founder of Illumint. “After all, we work hard and need to recharge periodically.”

Explore your own backyard

Relaxing away from work doesn’t only happen on a tropical getaway. If you can only afford a few days out of the office, use them to explore a nearby city or even just change up your daily routine in your own neighborhood.

Consider a short day trip or a staycation instead of a week away. “Almost every single state has something that is a draw for people,” says Melissa Ellis, financial planner and founder of Sapphire Wealth Planning. “Look at a map and say, ‘What’s in my area that I’ve never seen?’ and plan a driving trip. That’s a great way to see what’s around you. If you don’t like the area that you end up in, you can always get in the car and keep on driving.”

Funding a budget-friendly vacation

Summer vacation doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars. If you do want to travel, it’s possible to score a great deal without sacrificing any fun.

Responsibly use travel rewards credit cards

“If you want to take a summer vacation and think you can’t afford it, consider signing up for a travel or cash back credit card,” says Rossman. “There’s still time to turn a sign-up bonus and ongoing spending rewards into a free or discounted trip. Just make sure you pay your bills in full to avoid interest.”

Rossman recommends a no annual fee cash back card like the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card, which offers 3X rewards points on travel, dining and gas station purchases as well as a 30,000 point sign up bonus if you spend $3,000 within the first three months of account opening. That’s equivalent to $300 in cash back. The information related to the Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card has been collected by Bankrate and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product or service.

Look for cards with benefits that align with your expected spending, like dining and entertainment, in order to maximize any expenses you incur on vacation. The Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card, for example, offers 4 percent cash back on all dining and entertainment, plus 2 percent cash back at grocery stores.

“If you have a card that earns Amex, Chase or Citi points, you can use points from those cards to book activities at your destination,” says Sarah Silbert, senior credit cards editor at The Points Guy. She also advises looking into your credit card benefits, like monthly Uber credits, primary car rental insurance and no foreign transaction fees, which can help minimize travel costs.

If you’re not opposed to its $95 annual fee, Rossman and Silbert both recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which offers 2X points on all travel and dining purchases and a 60,000 point sign up bonus after spending $4,000 within the first three months of account opening. If you redeem using Chase Ultimate Rewards, that’s worth $750 towards travel. Other travel-friendly benefits include trip cancellation insurance, lost luggage reimbursement and roadside assistance.

Be mindful not to put anything on a card that you’re unable to pay off at the end of the month. Instead, treat it like a debit card while collecting points and miles on your everyday expenses. Travel cards can be an indispensable tool in making vacations more affordable, but you should never carry high-interest balances in order to make it happen.

Plan for the future

Even if it’s only a few dollars each week, set aside money into a dedicated high-yield savings account and earn more as you save.

Begin scouting airline and hotel deals online that can help keep your expenses low. Consider co-branded airline and hotel credit cards, which often reward loyal customers with bonus points and flexible redemptions or look for cheap alternatives like Airbnb.

Think about what is of most value to you before you take your vacation, Mahoney says. “If that’s an amusement park, then I would happily spend my money on those tickets and aim to remain disciplined elsewhere. A successful vacation, financially and personally, requires understanding what you enjoy most and knowing what your overall limits are.”

“Planning is key to everything,” Ellis says. “Not only financial planning—if you have a goal for travel and it’s a big trip, save a little as you go along, but plan for it in advance. Once you’re on vacation, know what your activities are going to be. If you know well in advance that you want to see an attraction, watch for coupons in that city that might give you a cheaper deal.”

Methodology

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2577 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 20th – 22nd March 2019. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all US adults (aged 18+).

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