Vacations are expensive, should we go or stay?

By Stew


As many people during these tough times, we are cutting out extra’s in order to make ends meet financially. We are doing everything possible to not add debt, to make our current income go farther and to try to increase and diversify our revenue streams. One of the items at which we are looking critically is vacations.

My wife and I have been married for almost nine years and we have yet to take what many people would consider a major vacation. I’m talking about a cruise or Disney or some kind of resort. A vacation where money is spent on travel, lodging, food and entertainment. Throughout our marriage, our vacations have basically consisted of traveling to visit family and maybe staying one night in a hotel en route. There have also been some instances where I have taken my family along on a business trip – my vocation allows for this from time to time – not really a vacation, but I think it feels like one to my family. We hope to someday take a major trip, but we have a lot of other financial priorities before that happens. Here are some thoughts as you consider different options for some R and R.

The first question is, do you need a vacation? I’m not kidding, our culture has conditioned us to see vacations as normative. Everybody goes away for a week or two, don’t they? The reality is, that as our economy changes, we might see fewer and fewer opportunities for vacations – and fewer options due to the expense. Prior generations rarely (if ever) took vacations. The family farm did not allow for it. Most of the vacation spots did not exist. Tourism was an option for only the super rich. For most of us, time for relaxation is a necessity, but a travel vacation might not be a necessity.

I think my number one recommendation to someone who is considering a vacation is, do not finance your trip! I can’t believe the number of people who go into debt for a vacation. Even a honeymoon is not important enough to take out a loan. We have all seen the home equity loan ads or received the credit card “checks” that suggest that you pay for your next vacation after you get back. Dumb idea. Take a trip that you can afford, better yet, save up for it in advance.

The second suggestion is to figure out your mission. What is the purpose of your vacation? Is it just rest? You might be better off staying home, sleeping in and going out to eat every night to give your household cook a break. Are you taking an educational vacation? I know, sounds nerdy, but I would love to visit an old battlefield or Washington D. C. and just read every historical marker I see – maybe you could stay with friends or family for a trip like this. Are you looking for an adventure vacation? Whitewater rafting, backpacking, water park are all great options, but remember that you might come home more tired than before you left. Maybe you want a decadent experience with lots of luxury. Maybe you are celebrating a special occasion – these are all great reasons to take a trip if you can afford it, but it is important to think about the purpose of your trip so that you can budget appropriately and so that you do not get to the end of the week and have regrets.

My family’s recipe for a frugal vacation right now?

  • A clean hotel booked on a week night and through a website that offers discount rates.
  • A good free breakfast in the hotel.
  • A swimming pool is a must. My kids are happy to swim all day.
  • A cooler to store food for lunch – we only eat out once a day.
  • We really try to get a two-room suite so that we can put the kids to bed early . . .

I know that my children will not always look on a 36 or 48 hour hotel stay as a vacation, but until their expectations get a little more sophisticated, we are more than happy to spend quality time in the hotel swimming pool. – Article by Stew

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19 Responses (including trackbacks) to “Vacations are expensive, should we go or stay?”

  1. Jason Says:

    We try to go to Disney every other year and one of the major helps is that I own my own business and my expenses are charged to a Disney Credit card and paid off in full every month. Over a two year span we can usually earn enough in “disney dollars” to go free including the dining plan so long as we dont go during the peak months. If not for this perk I am sure we would use a different card and try to use those rewards to pay for the vacation. If that were not the case then it would be really tough to justify the expense of a vacation.

  2. TJ Says:

    BOO for not taking vacations! My kids (as do I) remember which ride at disneyworld was their favorite, not which brand TV they owned. My money is spent on experiences. Europeans have it right with 6-8 weeks of vacation. Americans are slaves to the dollar.

  3. Travis Says:

    I absolutely love traveling. Unfortunately it’s very expensive. And with a baby on the way, it looks like our vacations are going to be put on hold, or become way more frugal. I have to be honest, I’m pretty depressed by this. But, right now, there’s a lot more things that take priority over a week of fun.

  4. Laurie Says:

    Unless you are traveling during a 3 day weekend or to a resort, I think you may find that hotels in many areas (especially those that cater to the business world) are significantly cheaper on weekends than during the week.

    We lived in a hotel in NYC last year for an extended period and the weekend rates were sometimes $200 per day cheaper.

  5. Dramon Says:

    The other type of vacation to consider is what I call a ‘service’ vacation. You use your vacation time to serve others. It can be to help an aging relative or people who are less fortunate than yourselves.

    I think it is good for kids to see how much we have ( even if frugal) compared to others.

    While sometimes you still have to pay your way, you get to have new experiences.

    The downside is that they are not always very relaxing.

  6. Charlene Says:

    We love to travel and cut expenses in other areas so we can take 2 nice trips each year. I am also good at finding great deals! Next month we will go on a 7 night cruise for 1100 and that is for the 3 of us, all inclusive. We work hard and those 2 weeks of relaxation are priceless!

  7. Laura Says:

    I am so glad to hear that we aren’t the only family that doesn’t take long vacations! The kids would love to go to Disneyworld, and my husband and I would love to take them – but the few thousand dollars it would take for a weeklong vacation (part of which we’d spend traveling) is much more than we can part with on our budget.

    I’m a SAHM, who homeschools, so our money is rarely our own… we do take long weekends several times each year to visit family in other towns (2-3 hours away), and we take day trips to nearby places – museums, parks, caverns, lakes.

    This November, my husband’s parents are visiting from Colorado, and his brother & family will be coming in from Tennessee the same week, so they are all (6 of them!) staying with us for a week, and we are taking several day trips around Central Texas – budgeting almost $1K to do it, for food, fuel, admission costs, and miscellaneous things that come up. There’s no way we could do that more than once every two years… I’d love it if we could, but it’s just not possible.

    Good for those of you who can make it happen! I’m sure it is a treat – prayerfully one day my hubby and I can take such a trip-of-a-lifetime, maybe before the kids leave the house – and I know at that time, all the scrimping and saving will be worth the memories we make on that trip. :-)

  8. Liane Says:

    We have never taken a long (at least one week) vacation to any kind of resort. I have absolutely no desire to ever visit Disney and do not feel deprived if I don’t.

    That being said, we like to take extended weekend getaways. Driving and finding the best hotel (or campground) rates that we can and getting to know the area we’re visiting. We’ve had a great visit to Hershey, PA where we stayed at a campground (we promptly came home and cancelled our cable TV service!); and we did drive to Gettysburg, as we were studying the Civil War. My husband was so taken in by the history and preservation of the area that we talked about it for months! For my daughter’s 16th birthday last year, I took her to a historic bed and breakfast in NH last spring. It was priceless!!

    I think when it comes to vacations, you should decide as a family what you ALL would like to do, plan and save accordingly, and not follow the ‘trends’ of everyone else. You’ll have a much more enjoyable, relaxing, and memorable time spent together.

  9. Stew Says:

    Laura, that is exactly where we are. Someday I hope to give my children “experiences”, but right now it’s just not possible!

  10. Credit Card Chaser Says:

    One good way to save money on vacations is not only to use a rewards credit card (of course you knew that I had to lead with that since I run a credit card site lol) but also is if you own your own business or even have some self employed income then look for a legitimate (note that I said legitimate) way that you could take a trip and then write it off as a business expense. Maybe there is an industry conference you could write off as a business expense and also bring the wife along, etc.

  11. ABCs of Investing Says:

    I couldn’t agree more Stew. Vacations are not a right!

    Jason, your kids will remember doing fun activities you do with them – not how much you spent (see Disneyworld).

  12. kenyantykoon Says:

    you should take the vacation, if just for the experience. this is one of the things that i spend a fair bundle of my money on and after a weeks in an exotic pristine beach and a dented wallet, the only thing that i hold dear is the experience. in retrospect, i dont regret spending the money that i have on vacations. in fact, they make me work harder so that i can afford better ones

  13. Lovin'Life Says:

    Go On A Vacation! It is a MUST in my humble opinion. Wether it be local..or somewhere Far away.

    I’m not a fan of Disney World, or places with large crowds. I Very Much enjoyed our cruise though, and will do it again.

    The excitement begins when eveyone is plannning the next trip. Ours will be the Grand Canyon. And I try to do Everything on the Cheap. If you plan ahead, you can save a TON!!!

  14. we_travel Says:

    Go on a vacation And save money – that’s our motto! We do that by renting a timeshare (we use For the real benefits of a vacation, you need to have Time away. When you rent a timeshare for a week, you get the time to relax and let stress melt off of you. The cost of a timeshare can be up to 50% less than hotel rates, and you get space to spread out in. Plus you get a kitchen that can really help save on meals. On top of all of that you get full use of the resort’s amenities. Choose a resort within easy driving distance of home, or one clear across the country – you’ll be astonished at how inexpensive but really great such a vacation can be.

  15. Linda Gentile Says:

    I guess I cheer for the historical marker idea, but then, that’s pretty much what I do anyway. ;) I found you on a Google alert and thought I’d point you at my historical marker siste. Have fun. I’ve always made my own fun on vacations.

  16. Kid Friendly Family Vacations Mom Says:

    Well – I am the one ion my family who would stay home if given the chance because I am usually most concerned with the family budget and expenses…. but my husband helps plan all of our family vacations, and I have to admit that I am always glad when we get out there together and really take the time to make the trips count for the kids….

    Come on, your kids will be gone in a few years…. you have to give them the experiences that will shape their lives!

  17. FinanciallySmartServices Says:

    Yes vacation is expensive but if you and the family has saved towards having this vacation then my advice is to go. What you can do is cut back on some of the sightseeing you were planning on. One’s body need rest and rejuvenation and so don’t deprive yours of one.

  18. kefalonia holidays Says:

    In these times unless you have particularly saved for one I would stay at home. Save up a bit of money.