If you’re in debt, you don’t deserve a vacation

Nothing makes me crazier than when people deep in debt try to persuade me that they are being financially responsible because they “saved up” for their vacation.

And I am not impressed that you saved for a summer trip to Walt Disney World with your children when you haven’t even set up a college fund for them.

Neither will I give you a high-five for paying cash for a cruise when you have continued to carry a credit card balance for years. Go have a picnic at a community lake.

Twenty-three percent of credit card debtors have been carrying the debt for at least three years, according to a survey by Creditcards.com. Another 14 percent have had the debt for at least five years, and 7 percent can’t even recall how long they’ve carried a credit card balance.

I’m sorry to tell you that you don’t deserve a summer vacation if you’re a financial hot mess.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t enjoy your vacation time. Take your time off. Relax. But you don’t have to go away.

And you won’t be alone. Millions of Americans won’t take a summer vacation because they simply can’t afford a trip, according to a recently released poll by Bankrate.com.

Forty-four percent of survey participants who said they couldn’t afford a summer vacation said day-to-day bills prevented them from taking a trip, and 22 percent said paying down debt is the biggest factor standing in the way of a holiday away from home.

“While a vacation is worth it, getting into debt isn’t. That just adds to the stress and takes away from the enjoyment of your vacation,” says travel expert Christopher Elliott, who writes the Navigator column for The Washington Post.

Elliott frequently writes about the joys of finding overlooked places to visit in your local area as part of a staycation. He says staycations may be another big trend this summer.

“Yes, people can stay home and have fun,” says Elliott, author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler.” “Think of all the time you’re saving by not having to go to the airport or spend hours or days sitting in a car. There’s no ‘Are we there yet?’ because you’re already there.”

Here are some pointers to make your staycation successful.

— Avoid the temptation to get to that list of things you need to do around the house. Would you fix a sink at the hotel? You are on holiday, so don’t do household chores.

— Do not tell people you are staying home. Act as though you’re gone by not filling your days with obligations with friends and family — unless they are part of your vacation-at-home plans.

— Plan your day just as you would if you were on a trip. Create a daily itinerary of things you want to do and places you want to visit. “Almost every city in America has a tourism bureau with a site that has suggestions for vacation activities,” Elliott says.

— To avoid overspending on your staycation, search for free events, concerts, movies or other things you can do on the cheap. If you live in a big city, various tourist attractions can still bust your budget. Your mission for your staycation if you’re in debt or your saving is anemic is to spend as little money as possible.

Definitely don’t go into debt for a trip. Or, take what you have saved for your vacation and use it to chip away at your debt, build an emergency fund or invest for your retirement. You deserve some rest and relaxation. But don’t sacrifice long-term financial security for a vacation you can’t afford.

Columnist

April 25 at 8:00 AM

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