Vacation. An eight-letter word that has been in the back of my mind since early on in the pandemic. I’m guessing it is on yours as well.
Now that the world is opening back up and travelers are wasting no time booking their reservations, you might be ready for a relaxing vacation of your own.
But before you start dreaming about drinking Pina Coladas on a beach, take a breath and determine just how much vacation you can truly afford. After all, the pandemic took a toll on many of our finances, and I can assure you that you aren’t alone if you don’t have tropical beach vacation kind of money. For some, a realistic vacation might look more like a weekend by the lake or just a little time off of work.
Here are my recommendations for planning a safe, post-pandemic vacation.
First, figure out if you can afford a vacation
First things first, ask yourself this question: can I afford a vacation? Vacations, depending on how elaborate, can be expensive. Not only do you have to think about the cost of lodging, but you also have to consider the cost of food, transportation, souvenirs, taking time off of work, and more.
Before beginning to plan a vacation that you may not be able to afford to go on, I suggest taking an honest look at your finances. If you have a budget (and you should), give it a look and try to answer the following questions.
- Can I afford my basic expenses? (i.e. housing, food, utility bills, car payments, etc.).
- Do I have enough money saved to cover any lost hours at work?
- Do I have any outstanding debts or monetary obligations that will be left unpaid, or pushed to the side, if I decide to take a vacation?
- Will paying for a vacation have an impact on my savings goals?
- Will taking a vacation put more stress on my budget than I am able to handle?
After asking yourself these questions, you should have a better understanding of whether or not you can afford to dish out the money necessary to pay for your post-COVID-19 getaway.
So, what if you can’t afford a vacation?
The good news is that even if you came to the conclusion that you can’t afford to take a vacation, you can change that! Consider ways that you can make (and in turn save) more money, like getting a side hustle or a second job.
If that isn’t enough, remember that you don’t have to stress out about a timeline either. After all, your post-COVID-19 vacation does not have to happen right away, even if your best friends from college invited you to jet set off to Tahiti this weekend. Be patient with yourself and your finances.
Next, create a vacation budget
Once you have determined that your budget can handle a vacation, consider creating a budget for your trip before you pick a destination. This will help you keep yourself in check and avoid planning for more vacation than you can afford.
First, determine how much you are reasonably willing (and able) to pay for the following:
- Transportation and travel.
- Activities (i.e. guided tours, amusement park tickets, surfing lessons, etc.).
- Fun spending.
- At-home expenses (i.e. a house sitter, animal boarding, etc.).
Once you know how much you are willing to spend, double-check to make sure that what you are willing to pay fits into your budget. If not, consider lowering your vacation budget until it does. Unfortunately, this means that you will also have to find ways to cut back on where, or how, you will spend your vacation.
Consider covering costs with travel rewards
Credit card travel rewards are one of my favorite ways to save money on travel. If you play your cards right, you could even go on a vacation for next to nothing. If you already have a credit card with travel rewards, it is time to take a look at your account and see just how much you have to cash in.
If you don’t have a travel rewards credit card, let me make a recommendation. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is one of my absolute favorite travel cards, and for good reason. When you sign up and spend $4,000 in your first three months from account opening, you’ll receive 60,000 bonus points. When redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, this is worth a whopping $750 in airfare or hotel accommodations.
Beyond the sign-on bonus, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card rewards its cardholders with 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X points on dining, 2X points on all other travel purchases, which means that spending money on or during your vacation can actually earn you money in return.
Now to the fun part: pick a destination
Picking a destination can be one of the most exciting parts of planning your next getaway. Here are a couple of tips to consider, especially for a post-pandemic world.
Keep your budget in mind
If I had my way, my husband and I would be on a plane to Paris right now, where we would eat our weight in pastry and sip wine on scenic balconies. Unfortunately, my vacation budget just can’t stretch that far.
When choosing a destination, always keep your budget in mind. If you find yourself making too many sacrifices in your budget in order to go to the destination of your choice, it may be time to dream of different sights.
Avoid tourist destinations
Sticking with destinations that are off the beaten path could help you avoid the travel surge that is happening now that the pandemic has begun to slow. I mean, do you want to be stuck in line at Disneyland with everyone else that promised their kids that they would bring them after the pandemic? Well, some people already have, and it doesn’t sound like my kind of vacation.
The best thing about choosing these kinds of destinations is that they are usually more budget-friendly. This is because prices are often marked up in places with high tourism rates.
Stay with me here. You may not think of your town or state when thinking about a post-pandemic vacation, but it is worth considering. Staying local and exploring your own backyard can help you feel more well connected to your community. Plus, for those who are nervous to venture out into the world again, this could be the right move.
Think about the timing of your vacation
Considering the timing of your vacation can help you choose a destination where you can avoid bumping elbows with other travelers. Before you pick a destination, I recommend researching peak travel times in all of the places that you are considering visiting. If you can book your vacation outside of the peak, you’ll not only have more room to relax, but you’ll get a good deal as well!
Try a no-destination road trip
If you have ever dreamt of revving up your engine and getting out of dodge, give it a try! Although those who love to have a well-detailed plan (Leslie Knope, I’m looking at you) might not appreciate this type of vacation, there are plenty of us that would.
A “no-destination road trip” can bring out your adventurous side and they’re great for those who haven’t gotten enough of living on the edge.
Don’t forget to make reservations far in advance
Making reservations far in advance can help you save money and a lot of financial hurt in the event that you have to cancel your plans. When booking accommodations, I always recommend checking to see if your lodging of choice has a cancellation policy. In the case of booking a post-pandemic reservation, I recommend only doing so with places that allow for refunds if you must call off your trip.
This is important because not only are we not completely out of the woods yet, but since many places are understaffed, you may be asked to postpone your time off of work.
To save money and avoid crowded hotels, I suggest thinking about your post-pandemic lodging a little differently. Instead of booking a hotel or resort, why not consider some less traditional ways of finding a place to rest your head? You could find yourself saving even more money in the process.
Here are a couple of my favorite ways to lodge:
If you don’t care about turndown service or having an ice machine down the hall, Airbnb‘s are a great alternative to booking reservations at a hotel or fancy resort. Not only are Airbnbs unique, but they exist in just about every corner of the world. This means that no matter your destination, you are sure to find at least a couple of Airbnb hosts willing to rent you a room, or a whole house.
If you consider staying in an Airbnb for your post-pandemic vacation, make sure to read potential host profiles thoroughly before booking. Each host’s available accommodations are different, so their cleaning schedule, cancellation policy, and house rules will be as well.
This one might not be for everyone, but hear me out! Camping is an extremely cost-effective way to find a place to sleep during your vacation. You can even find free campsites that are easily reserved online or are simply first come first serve.
One of the best things about camping is that it can be as luxurious, or simple, as you want it to be. Depending on your preferences, you can camp with a sleeping bag under the stars, or in a tent with all of the creature comforts of home (including your electronics). If you don’t have camping equipment of your own, ask around amongst your friends and family or consider renting it from stores like REI.
Airfare and transportation
No matter how far away you plan to travel, you will need to decide how to get there. If you are traveling further than a couple of hours by car, I recommend checking to see if you can take advantage of current airfare deals, which tend to come with generous cancellation policies.
You can search for rates on everything from airfare to rental cars on websites like Expedia. To save even more money, you can even search for package deals that include everything you need to travel to your destination of choice.
Make sure you have travel insurance (seriously)
You never know when you will need to reschedule or cancel your trip. If this happens to you, you could be out hundreds, or even thousands of dollars. Travel insurance can, well, ensure that you won’t lose that money.
When looking for travel insurance, I like to reach for my credit cards. This often forgotten about perk is as easy to use as swiping your card. This is the case for the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, which offers trip cancellation and interruption insurance, in addition to travel and emergency assistance services.
With the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, you will also receive a 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% cash back on dining and drugstore purchases, and 1.5% cash back on all other purchases. With no annual fee and the potential to earn an additional 1.5% cash back on purchases in your first year (up to $20,000 in the first year), this is one of the best travel cards you could have in your wallet.
To find out if your specific credit card offers travel insurance, as well as its limitations, check your specific card’s benefits guide.
Be flexible and patient
Flexibility and patience are key to planning a successful post-COVID-19 vacation. If you aren’t flexible, you could find yourself with ruined plans and a major case of the blues. As COVID-19 continues to affect every corner of the world, albeit on a much smaller scale, be prepared for your vacation plans to be impacted as well. You never know when local, state, and federal offices will determine we are in need of another lockdown (at least things are looking up now!)
Keep up to date with health and safety guidelines
Even though cases of COVID-19 have significantly decreased, you can expect to still be required to follow certain precautions to prevent future outbreaks. Due to this, you will want to stay up to date on all health and safety guidelines, especially those surrounding travel, and those at your destination.
COVID-19 is unpredictable, unprecedented, and everchanging, so your health could depend on your cooperation.
Traveling after COVID-19 is undoubtedly different. In fact, people are already experiencing long lines and packed flights as everyone rushes to finally take a vacation.
Keep the tips above in mind and try looking for a destination that’s off the beaten path. Also, make sure you have precautions in place just in case things don’t go as planned, since we all know now that can – and does – happen.