Are You In Debt? Stop The Expensive Vacations!

Airplane Flight Wing flying to Travel on VacationI have been getting quite a few emails from loyal readers in the past few weeks, really ever since the start of 2013.  I enjoy getting reader emails because it not only shows that they want to engage with me, but they also are looking for answers from someone that has “gone through it”.  I may not be a financial professional, but I do carry around some common sense in the good ol’ brain bag.

A few readers have emailed me with similar questions regarding debt and vacations.  I won’t get into the specifics of the emails, but I will address my concerns here about the trends between the two emails.

Simple Concept

When I was digging myself out of my credit card debt mountain, I realized that I wasn’t going to be taking any vacations in the near future.  My wife and I like to have a good vacation at least once a year with some smaller, yet still equally good vacations spread throughout the year.  This was our lifestyle until I put myself on a strict money diet.

I realized that if I owed credit card companies over $50,000, then I needed to pay my obligations.  I used their money to finance my lifestyle and they wanted it back.  Yes, I could have added another expensive vacation onto my credit card and been done with it, but that is not how I roll (at least now that is not how I roll, a few years ago, maybe!).  Once I committed myself to paying off all of my credit card debt, I was going to complete my challenge.  Here is my word of advice to those thinking about vacationing while being in debt.


The readers that emailed me were asking about how I thought about spending money on a relatively expensive vacation when they were still in a good amount of debt.  My answer was simple and to the point.  It is NOT a good idea!  If you owe money to a credit card company, on student loans, or any other type of loan (I will exclude a mortgage), then you should not be spending money on expensive vacations.  There is no point to it.  You are just either adding to your debt or increasing the amount of interest you will pay because you are using money that could be going toward your debt.  It is a lose-lose situation.

Emotional Rewards

Some of you may remind me that I am an advocate of rewarding oneself when working on a large challenge such as paying off debt.  While this may be true, I do NOT advocate rewards costing a lot of money.  Vacations would be in this particular category.  When I was in the game, I paid myself with a dinner date with my wife.  I might have went to the movies, but I did not pull out my credit card and buy myself an iPad or charge up a vacation.  That would be just silly and without reason.  These are not the type of emotional rewards that people should be using.

The rise of the Debt-cation

camp viewYep, I just coined that term, Debt-cation!  What I mean by a debt-cation is when you create a vacation away from your usual life and don’t spend much doing it.  My debt-cations were usually camping trips or trips to the beach to stay with relatives.  These usually only cost me about $100 (gas and food) for a 3 day trip and you will be hard pressed to find something that cheap, even on the internet.

If I was going camping, it usually only cost me about $50 because I would share gas money with friends and the food is expensive when you are hiking (I don’t car camp often).  I want people to get away from their normal lives once in a while, but you should never spend a lot of money doing it.

If you are in debt and you want to go on a vacation, you better make sure it is a debt-cation.  Spending a lot of money is always ridiculous when you are in debt, but it is especially crazy if you want to spend that money on a vacation.  I don’t condone this activity and I won’t tell anyone to splurge on a vacation just to provide themselves with a little emotional reward when they hit a debt payoff milestone.  That defeats the whole purpose of getting your financials in control.

Do you think it is wise to spend money on a vacation when you are in a lot of debt?  I want to hear what you have to say!

Photos via and CseaWillis

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Grayson Bell

Grayson Bell

I'm a business owner, blogger, father, and husband. I used credit cards too much and found myself in over $75,000 in debt ($50,000 in just credit cards). I paid it off, started this blog, and my financial life has changed. I now talk about fighting debt and growing wealth here. I run a WordPress maintenance and support company, along with another blog. It is Empowered Shopper, which helps people get information about products they want to buy. You can also check out Eyes on the Dollar, which is a great blog that I co-own.


  1. January 23, 2013 at 8:32 am — Reply

    OMG, I recently met up for dinner with a friend from high school. She was talking about how they love to travel and about their honeymoom in Jamaica. Great.

    Anyway, as the conversation progressed, she started telling me about how they were in financial trouble and how they still owed $5,000 on their honeymoon on a credit card.
    Then the next day she posted on facebook that they bought a new mattress. I jokingly said “i hope you paid for that with cash!” and she said “no, but it was 12 months no interest!”

    Some people never learn.

    • January 23, 2013 at 10:03 am — Reply

      So true, some people never learn and those are the ones consistently in debt.

    • January 24, 2013 at 2:31 am — Reply

      WOW. I tried to have a conversation with a friend the other day about how going to St Maarten was a bad idea esp since it was going to cost them close to $4 (which was going on their cc) and she wouldn’t listen.
      I shook my head and walked away.

      • January 24, 2013 at 10:10 am — Reply

        I assume you mean $4,000 because I would go to St. Maarten for $4.

  2. January 23, 2013 at 8:49 am — Reply

    I love to travel and have always done it on a very small budget, so I wouldn’t even consider the expensive all inclusive resort if I needed to pay debt. There are so many things you can do for free, starting by exploring your own city and the nature around you. A nice debtcation is the way to go, although many people are unable to do it, they “need” to eat in restaurants 3 times a day, “need” a certain standard of hotels… habits are hard to change.

    • January 23, 2013 at 10:03 am — Reply

      I enjoy traveling as well, but I won’t go over budget in order to do it. I enjoyed many debt-cations when I was paying down debt.

  3. January 23, 2013 at 9:31 am — Reply

    I go on vacations and I’m still in debt. I do have a plan for all of my debt to be gone and I’m not really extremely worried about my mortgage since we do plan on buying a new house next year. However, I do think you should only do what you can afford. If you have $10,000 in consumer debt, I don’t really know if you should be taking a $10,000 vacation.

    • January 23, 2013 at 10:04 am — Reply

      I don’t think there is a problem with going on vacations. That is not what this article is about. It is about going on vacation while you are in debt. I don’t include mortgages in this scenario, so you are good Michelle.

  4. January 23, 2013 at 9:49 am — Reply

    If it’s credit card debt, then definitely get it paid off. If it’s longer-term debt like student loans or a mortgage, I don’t think it’s a huge issue. Some people are obsessive about paying down student debt and their mortgage, but I think taking a vacation every once in a while can be beneficial. I personally do not really relax unless I completely unplug for a week and I haven’t really found that to be possible unless I am on vacation somewhere.

    • January 23, 2013 at 10:06 am — Reply

      I am not obsessive about paying off my mortgage, but student loan debt is still a debt that should be taken care of. The rate is more than you will get by stashing money in a savings account, so it could be bad if not taken care of. I do think vacations are necessary to unwind, but spending a lot of cash on them is unnecessary and should be thought through.

  5. January 23, 2013 at 10:30 am — Reply

    Good post Grayson! I had built up a good bit of my credit card debt by going on vacations. While I had great times and created memories, they were thanks to me borrowing the money to do so. I still kick myself for doing that and have vowed to never do it again. Now, when we go on vacation it’s because we’ve worked hard to budget and save for it and the memories are so much better for it. I would tend to say that if you’re in debt, then a vacation should be one of the last things on your mind.

    • January 23, 2013 at 10:48 am — Reply

      Right on John. You said it perfectly.

  6. January 23, 2013 at 10:30 am — Reply

    I absolutely agree with you–I can’t fathom the thought of taking vacations while digging out of credit card debt now (even though I did that in the past). I love to travel, but I now make a concerted effort to fully save/budget for any trip I want to take BEFORE I book it.

    • January 23, 2013 at 10:48 am — Reply

      That is exactly how you are supposed to do it. Budget for it and save up for it. Don’t put it on plastic unless you have the cash to pay for it and not when you are in a lot of debt.

  7. January 23, 2013 at 11:29 am — Reply

    I’ve noticed that, at least for me, there is no relationship between the cost of a vacation and how much fun it is! Why do we think a better vacation will be had if we go to a faraway, exotic location? There are beautiful and fun areas and spots everywhere I think, no? And I truly believe the kids will enjoy a day camping at the local spot with lots of fun activities with Mom & Dad just as much as a costly day or two at Disneyland. (But perhaps I’m naive 🙂 .)

    • January 23, 2013 at 11:57 am — Reply

      I agree with you Kurt. I have a lot of fun getting away from technology and enjoying a great hiking trip. It costs very little and I just enjoy it. I think Disneyland is overpriced and doesn’t reward you as much as you would pay.

  8. January 23, 2013 at 12:57 pm — Reply

    Back in October, we took a little 3 day mini-vacation and our destination was only a 2 hour drive away. We saved up for it and paid cash. There is no way that we would put anything on a credit card, especially as we are trying to pay it off. But, we also needed to just get away for a little bit (haven’t had a vacation in 4yrs!) and a 3 day break was long enough 🙂

    • January 23, 2013 at 1:01 pm — Reply

      That is exactly how you should do it Mackenzie. Save up and get away, but don’t put it on the credit card. Nice job!

  9. January 23, 2013 at 2:19 pm — Reply

    You (and your spot on photo) nailed it. Vacations are necessary to relieve stress or celebrate milestones along the debt-free journey. But expensive ones? Probably the wrong idea….

    • January 23, 2013 at 2:48 pm — Reply

      Thanks Joe. I appreciate the feedback.

  10. January 23, 2013 at 3:06 pm — Reply

    I think it depends of the debt that you carry. If its a 12% credit card then no you shouldn’t be going on vacation. If its a 2% car loan then sure.

    • January 23, 2013 at 3:51 pm — Reply

      It does depend on your debt, but you should never borrow to go on a vacation, no matter what debt you carry.

  11. January 23, 2013 at 6:09 pm — Reply

    I think it’s fine to go on a vacation to reward yourself for paying off a huge amount of debt, even if you aren’t to a zero balance. We did that halfway through our credit card debt payoff. However, you can never put it on the credit card. With my office, I have always gotten tons of reward points,so we used those and money from Ebay sales, and we had a strict daily allowance of what we were willing to spend. It was a road trip. We could have paid that toward the debt and been done a month earlier maybe, but I think sometimes you need to refresh. Winters here are long and cold and if we don’ t go somewhere warm for a few days in the spring, everyone gets cranky. You just can’t use that as a spring board to go back into debt and over spending.

    • January 23, 2013 at 7:29 pm — Reply

      Sounds like you have it under control Kim.

  12. January 23, 2013 at 6:11 pm — Reply

    I just wouldn’t enjoy a vacation unless I could afford it. I definitely would not put it on a credit card unless I can pay it off in full att the end of the month.

    • January 23, 2013 at 7:28 pm — Reply

      Same here. Nice to see most agree with me.

  13. Tackling Our Debt
    January 23, 2013 at 7:44 pm — Reply

    We haven’t been on a good vacation in a few years but we will once the debt is paid off.

    • January 23, 2013 at 10:17 pm — Reply

      It will feel so much better when you are debt free!

  14. January 23, 2013 at 8:49 pm — Reply

    Debt-Cation that is brilliant, Grayson. I did a vacation this way once loading up all my credit cards to go to a convention out in LA and I can tell I will never do that again. To me it’s just no fun to go on a big vacation and be broke at the same time, especially in LA where the cost of things are a lot higher.

    On the other hand this year since I’m building a new house their is no way we will go on any big vacation at all. Instead we might do a small weekend getaway with the kids and go to the zoo.

    • January 23, 2013 at 10:19 pm — Reply

      Thanks Chris. I am sure it will take some time to get over the home expenditures.

  15. January 23, 2013 at 9:51 pm — Reply

    I think that if you have a lot of debt, but you still want to get a vacation in, there are lots of cheap and/or free options you can do. My wife and I went on a staycation last year and used our vacation fund to pay off her car. We actually did a lot of amazing things in the city that we’ve never done, and we had a lot of fun on about a hundred bucks!

    • January 23, 2013 at 10:20 pm — Reply

      Nice tip Alex. Staycations have bad perceptions, but it sounds like you did it right.

      • Jen Faiz
        June 20, 2014 at 11:43 pm — Reply

        Sounds weird, but working from home, if your job allows you to do so, can be a stay cation of sorts. I find that just being out of the office sometimes and working from home can be a nice break from the routine. And I’m getting paid for that break. That’s my debt-cation as I work my way through what is owed. I should be debt-free except the mortgage in two years. Worth the wait.

        • June 24, 2014 at 11:46 am — Reply

          I agree there Jen. There are times when I get to work from home and it feels like a little vacation. Thanks for stopping by!

  16. January 24, 2013 at 12:13 am — Reply

    If we had credit cards with balances and lines of credits we would not be going anywhere but our backyard, day trips, free entertainment in the city, the beach, hiking etc. Getting away doesn’t always mean we have to spend money. With so many beaches and provincial parks in Canada I’m always shocked to hear how many jet off during the summer. That’s what we would do but everyone values their finances differently.

    • January 24, 2013 at 10:10 am — Reply

      I am in the same boat as you Mr. CBB! I didn’t go anywhere that cost over $100 for about a 3 day trip, including getting there and back. I had to make sacrifices and costly vacations were one of them.

  17. January 24, 2013 at 8:30 am — Reply

    I know a few people who’ve done a house swap to get a free holiday. They swear by it but it comes with obvious risks!

    • January 24, 2013 at 10:11 am — Reply

      Yeah, that is an option, but you better trust the people going in your house.

  18. January 24, 2013 at 1:46 pm — Reply

    It really depends on the situation and I think it’s crazy to paint a broad brush and simply say it’s not to go on vacation while you’re in debt.

    I started with $110,000 worth of debt and we’ve been paying it off for 6 years. Saying that, I think it’s absolutely fine to go on vacation while you’re in debt. Anybody that’s willing to put off vacation for 6-10 years while they’re getting out of debt is insane (in my opinion).

    Saying that, if you can get out of debt within 1-2 years then you probably shouldn’t go on vacation. If it’s going to take you longer than that to get out of debt, then I see no issue with going on vacation while you have debt. Furthermore, how much it’ll set you back in regards to debt payoff should also play a factor. If going on vacation is going to delay you getting out of debt by 1-2 years then you should ABSOLUTELY not go on vacation; however, if going on vaca means it’s only going to set you back 1-2 months then it’s really not a big deal in my opinion.

    • January 24, 2013 at 2:13 pm — Reply

      I am not painting with a broad brush. The article is speaking to expensive vacations. There are many ways to have a great vacation for little money. They might not be as extravagant, but they are just as effective. The purpose of a vacation is to get away from your “normal” routine. This doesn’t require that you spend a lot of money doing it. I think it is crazy to spend thousands on a vacation when you owe thousands in debt.

      I think everyone should enjoy a vacation, but you should think about what kind of vacation you are going to take. A great vacation just doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. We all get creative in order to get out of debt and save money, but why can’t we get creative when we take vacations?

      I appreciate your comment Jason, quality argument.

  19. January 24, 2013 at 2:23 pm — Reply

    This topic is definitely one of the most challenging for me. We’re out of credit card debt, but my husband is in medical school (only in 2nd year of med school, already surpassed $100k in loan debt). I’m not naive enough to think that we’ll be diving into a pool full of coins once he’s done school, but I know we’re smart people and we work hard and are good with our money. We also really love to travel. Right now is our time together before we have children, so even though we have this student loan debt looming, we still go on them. The way I justify it in my Type A budgeting brain is that we only go on vacation with money I make on the side and use my paychecks to pay off some of this loan strategically to make it easier for us on the other side.

    • January 24, 2013 at 2:54 pm — Reply

      That is a great way to handle it Cat. The problem with most people is that they don’t budget for the vacation and don’t save up for it. They pull out the plastic and just ring it up. They only see the minimum payment of their debt and not the whole picture. I think you have it under control.

      • January 24, 2013 at 3:16 pm — Reply

        Thanks! I have a little envelope going right now for a sailing trip around the island. 🙂

        • January 24, 2013 at 3:26 pm — Reply

          Well I hope your envelope gets filled and you enjoy your sailing trip.

  20. January 24, 2013 at 8:58 pm — Reply

    Debt-cation, Love it! I personally wouldn’t take a big fancy vacation when I had debt, heck, it’s hard for me to spend on a mediocre vacation now and I’m debt free (minus the mortgage). I guess part of me really enjoys paying things down, so as long as I still have a mortgage it’s something in the back of my mind telling me to pay on that instead. But with that being said I don’t think there’s anything wrong with going on a vacation when you have debt as long as you’re not doing something crazy expensive that will put you back in debt.

    • January 24, 2013 at 9:02 pm — Reply

      Yep, I think and this post is centered around expensive vacations.

  21. K.K. @ Living Debt Free Rocks!
    January 24, 2013 at 9:09 pm — Reply

    While I was paying off my huge mountain of debt, whenever I would take trips I had rules. It would have to be paid in cash and funded with money from extra income and not from my primary paycheque. It was tempting at times since many friends were going on last minute trips but I knew that no one else was going to save my financial ass so I didn’t cave.

    • January 24, 2013 at 9:58 pm — Reply

      Great job keeping strong K.K.. I know that I can be hard, but you are always still responsible when you get home from vacation. I think everyone should enjoy a vacation, especially when they are paying down debt, but it doesn’t need to be costly.

  22. January 25, 2013 at 9:07 pm — Reply

    While I totally agree with you, I personally wouldn’t enjoy my fabulous vacation given I know I could have used the money for debt repayment etc, and when we do get away it is a tent in the woods haha; we haven’t been away since our honeymoon and we NEED to get away. Not necessarily a 5star super resort thing but we need a break (a well planned and budgeted) break SOON or we’re going to burn out. Again, I totally get what your post is about- like my best friend who has thousands in CC debt, which ”stresses her beyond belief” but spends her extra 2k overtime cheque on a trip south…every year….hmmm….

    • January 25, 2013 at 10:34 pm — Reply

      I’m glad you understand what I’m talking about. I think people should be able to take vacations, but use a wise budget.

  23. Mellisa Turner
    February 21, 2013 at 9:32 am — Reply

    As for my holidays they don’t need to be expensive in any way. I mean the idea of staying in expensive resorts and hotels doesn’t appeal me much because we travel in order to explore the place not to sleep in over priced hotels. So, it has always been simple for me. 🙂

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