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Poll: 7 in 10 changing summer vacation plans due to inflation

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Summer vacation is an opportunity to forget your cares with a road trip, beach vacation or city sightseeing tour. But a new Bankrate survey found high prices are putting a crimp in many vacation plans this year.

The late March 2022 survey of 2,676 U.S. adults found that 69 percent of those planning summer vacations this year say they are changing their plans due to inflation.

The most common vacation changes people are making to save money include:

  • Taking fewer trips this summer (25 percent)
  • Traveling shorter distances (25 percent)
  • Doing cheaper activities (23 percent)
  • Picking cheaper destinations or lodging (22 percent)

When we think about inflation, the price of a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread are popular indicators—and it’s true that the cost of groceries is rising and causing Americans to tighten their budgets. But travel costs are rising, too.

According to Hopper, the average cost of a “good deal” round-trip domestic flight on April 17, 2022 was $358. That’s just over $100 more than the same date’s average in 2021. It’s also more expensive than the pre-pandemic, April 17, 2018 average of $320. And with average gas prices continuing to exceed $4 per gallon, road trips are less affordable, too.

Still, the study indicates that pent-up demand may win over higher prices this summer.

“After being cooped up for a couple of years because of COVID, people are ready to get back out there this summer, even if it means paying higher prices and potentially cutting into their savings or taking on debt,” says Ted Rossman, Bankrate senior industry analyst.

Who will take a summer vacation this year?

Rising costs won’t nix vacation plans altogether for most Americans. The survey found nearly two in three U.S. adults (61 percent) plan to take at least one trip this summer.

The youngest U.S. adults are the ones most likely to be planning a summer vacation. Here’s the generational breakdown of those who say they are very or somewhat likely to take a vacation this summer:

  • 72 percent of Gen Zers (ages 18 to 25)
  • 65 percent of millennials (ages 26 to 41)
  • 61 percent of Gen Xers (ages 42 to 57)
  • 58 percent of baby boomers (ages 58 to 76)

Unsurprisingly, income also plays a big role, with only a little over half (56 percent) of households who make less than $50,000 planning a vacation. That number goes up to 75 percent for households making $100,000 or more.

And parents of kids under 18 are much more likely (75 percent) to say they will take a summer vacation than adults with no kids (56 percent).

Financial planner and author of “Financial Fives,” 33-year-old Gary Grewal is planning two weeklong summer vacations this year: a camping trip to the Pacific Northwest and a stay at a cabin in the Jackson Hole valley area in Wyoming.

Due to current high prices, he plans to camp, pack lots of snacks and “seek out cheaper activities like parks, trails and watersports such as paddleboarding rather than amusement parks, museums and ticketed-entry attractions,” he says.

Beaches win most popular summer vacation spot

Planning to head to some beach, somewhere? You’re in good company. The beach is by far the most popular summer vacation destination this year.

Here’s where Americans plan to vacation this summer, according to the survey:

  • Beaches (37 percent)
  • Staycations (28 percent)
  • Cities (27 percent)
  • National parks (21 percent)
  • Campgrounds (17 percent)
  • Amusement parks (14 percent)

Perhaps a reflection of changing travel preferences in the wake of the pandemic, “staycationing” at home is almost as popular as heading to the beach. Cruises (11 percent) and international travel (12 percent) are the least popular choices. Parents with young children are especially likely (46 percent) to say they will go to the beach this summer, the survey found.

A 47-year-old Boston-based travel blogger at Bon Voyage with Kids, Keri Baugh plans to take a beachy road trip to Florida with her family. Baugh and her family are drawn to the beach because it’s relaxing, fun and free.

“Whether you like to read and sunbathe, play sports on the beach, build sandcastles, look for seashells, snorkel or surf, it is full of entertainment and opportunities for family time,” Baugh says. “Beaches are the quintessential place to go in the summer for relaxation and to disconnect.”

Some plan to skip a summer vacation

Money isn’t just the leading cause of altered vacation plans. It’s also the number one reason people are canceling vacations altogether. Forty-eight percent of those planning to skip vacations this summer said it’s because they can’t afford it.

Surprisingly, given current inflation, a larger share of folks (60 percent) gave that answer when we asked in March 2019. One potential reason: the introduction of the pandemic as a reason for skipping vacations. This wasn’t an option in 2019, but it’s the reason 20 percent of vacation skippers are staying home in 2022.

Respondents’ top reasons for planning to go without a summer vacation this year include:

  • Can’t afford it (48 percent)
  • Lack of interest in taking a vacation now (27 percent)
  • COVID-19 concerns (20 percent)

Unused PTO

Only about one in three Americans (30 percent) who get paid vacation days plan to use all of their allotted time off in 2022, the survey found. That’s down considerably from 40 percent in the March 2019 Bankrate survey. And over a third (35 percent) plan to use fewer than half of their vacation days.

“I plan on using every single one of my days,” says Kimberly Swett, a 41-year-old HR professional from Nashville, Tennessee. Her company last year adopted a paid time off model in which employees lose unused vacation days.

This summer, Swett will take a Napa Valley winery trip with her friend of 20 years, and the two will stay in a cozy bed-and-breakfast and visit wineries. One of her strategies for using up extra vacation days is to tack on an extra day off before holiday long weekends.

Some workers may not take all their paid time off due to guilt about saddling coworkers with extra tasks or fear of falling behind in a competitive environment. As an HR pro, Swett says she emphasizes the importance of taking vacation time when training new hires.

“Vacations from work are important even if you don’t go anywhere,” Swett says. “Using the vacation time that your company gives you is a form of self care.”

How to vacation amid inflation

You can get some rest and relaxation this summer without breaking the bank. Here are some tips on how to get a vacation in while being mindful of money:

  • Put a creative twist on the staycation. A “staycation” can help you refresh and recharge if you get creative, financial planner Grewal says: “Cook up your favorite recipes, bike new neighborhoods or have a picnic at a local park you haven’t been to.” Need more staycation ideas? Consider a home spa day, a barbecue or camping in your backyard under the stars. The point is to spend a few days recharging—whatever that looks like for you.
  • Spread your expenses out over time. It’s smart to budget for your trip, plan ahead and pay for your vacation in chunks so costs don’t hit your wallet all at once, says Steve Morrow, a 49-year-old financial analyst from Phoenix who runs the kayaking blog Paddle About. He is planning a trip to Durango, Colorado with his wife and two teens this summer. The family spread out costs by paying for their rental house in December and their whitewater rafting trip in April. “It helps that we don’t have to pay for everything all at once,” Morrow says.
  • Use credit and gift cards to save on your trip. Did you rack up credit card points during the pandemic? Consider redeeming your points or miles to offset the cost of a summer vacation. You might also consider cashing in points for gift cards if you can find a good deal, Baugh says. Retailers often sell gift cards for gas stations, Airbnb or Hotels.com. “At Target, you can use your Target Red Card to get 5 percent off the cost of gift cards while still getting the full value, which can help save a bit of money,” she says.
  • Scout out package deals and free stuff. If you plan to visit a big city, look into getting a CityPASS, which can give you multiple entries to a variety of attractions at a significant discount over purchasing individual tickets, Baugh says. If you plan to visit more than one national park this summer, she recommends the U.S. National Parks Annual Pass, which includes entrance to most national parks and many historical sites for $80. “This is huge savings,” Baugh says.

What if you broke down and financed a summer vacation on a credit card? Consider buckling down after you get back, and lean on the memories you made for motivation—such as scrolling through your vacation photos while you eat a frugal home-cooked dinner, Grewal says: “Paying off the trip should be your number one priority when you get back.”

Written by
Allie Johnson
Personal Finance Writer
Allie has written about personal finance and covered credit cards extensively for more than 10 years. Allie covers avoiding credit card debt, choosing credit cards wisely and earning and maximizing credit card rewards.
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