How to Prioritize Debt and Still Take a Vacation

Taking that much needed vacation while on a debt payoff journey may seem impossible, but it doesn’t have to be. By planning a vacation that suits your budget and keeps goals on track, you can transport yourself somewhere new and recharge.

It’s an approach Jasmine Gillians, a leave of absence specialist and YouTuber at the channel Jazzie RayShaune, is taking with her husband. On their second debt payoff journey, the Kansas City, Missouri-based couple is working on eliminating around $64,000 in remaining debt. Previously, they took the stricter path of staying home all the time and avoiding spending on extras. She sums it up as “miserable.”

“We both work full time and we want to be able to get a breath of fresh air, but we also wanted to be mindful that we still have debt to pay off,” she says. “We like to get out, we like to enjoy ourselves, but we just realized that we can still do that on a good budget.”

Time isn’t promised, especially when it comes to vacationing with elderly family members or if starting a new job that won’t accrue paid time off for a while. When deciding whether to travel, consider the emotional and monetary cost. Choose the option of no regrets that allows you to stay true to your debt payoff plan.

Review the budget

Revisit debit and credit card statements to know where money is going. Know your numbers, including income, expenses and debt, suggests Tiffany Grant, a North Carolina-based accredited financial counselor. Understand how much to contribute monthly to pay off debts by your deadline, and prevent setbacks by building an emergency fund.

Use this information to see if it’s also possible to start a vacation fund. If money is tight, consider whether focusing only on debt makes more sense.

“If you are not able to make your payments — and like not even the minimum payments — and you’re running in the negative every month, then you probably shouldn’t be traveling,” says Grant. “Or if you do, something that’s super low cost.”

Also consider if it’s possible to cut back in certain areas to accelerate savings. Instead of taking the strict approach from the previous debt payoff journey, Gillians found ways to trim expenses to allow for more flexibility with spending.

“Things like a date night may not be dinner and a movie, it may be movie night at home,” she says. “We were already the majority of the time working out at home, so we canceled our gym memberships.”

For added savings, Gillians says she also switched to cheaper providers for things like streaming services. With these adjustments, Gillians was able to plan a vacation to Destin, Florida, to celebrate her husband’s 50th birthday.

Make a plan

Brainstorm destinations and research potential costs for transportation, accommodations, activities, food and possibly foreign transaction fees. Also leave a cushion in that vacation budget for unforeseen expenses.

Consider these options to find savings:

Redeeming rewards. On a debt payoff journey, it’s not ideal to chase credit card rewards, but using those already earned may help defray the costs of a vacation. Rewards earned through a loyalty program may also chip away at costs. Gillians says she was able to save $40 on her trip with rewards earned through Vrbo.

Exploring free or low-cost activities at your destination. Think about ways to experience a destination on a budget. For instance, consider going on a free walking tour (many cities offer these), exploring a national park on a free day or taking in some culture with free museum admission. If your budget permits, you may also get the resort experience without the high price tag. Companies like ResortPass allow you to pay for use of a hotel’s spa, pool or gym for the day. If you’re with a large group, though, these costs can add up.

Cooking your meals. By buying groceries outside of populated tourist areas and making your own meals, whether at a hotel or vacation rental, you’ll save money versus eating at restaurants. If that’s not for you, build dining expenses into the vacation fund.

Being flexible with accommodations. Where you stay depends on your preferences and needs. Weigh a variety of options, including camp sites, hostels, vacation rentals that you can split with a group, and last-minute hotel deals. A “mystery” hotel deal through a service like Priceline or Hotwire can save on costs, but the key details of the hotel are secret until you book it. You’ll see only the price, number of stars, guest rating, limited photos, a general overview of the location and a list of amenities.

Compromising on transportation. Make travel more affordable by staying local or traveling during the off season. Websites like Going, Fare Deal Alert and The Flight Deal can alert you to cheap flights. In addition to the cost of flying or driving to your destination, factor in the price of transportation once you arrive. If it’s safe to take, public transit may provide lower costs than rideshares, taxis, rental cars or other options.

Also, consider other ways to save. “I save gift cards that I get for Christmas and birthdays,” says Gillians. For her upcoming trip, she says she used three airline gift cards to save $300 on flights.

Checking for discounts. You might qualify for discounts based on employment, a credit card or another option. If you have a AAA or warehouse club membership, for example, you may be eligible for discounts on rental cars, hotels, or tickets to sporting events and theme parks. Some credit cards also provide discounts when you use them to shop with specific merchants. If you can pay off the purchase in full and avoid derailing your debt payoff journey, this option could allow you to save on dining, hotels and more.