6 Personal Finance Tips for Post-COVID Travelers

With the COVID vaccine rollout gaining steam, travel is beginning to seem possible again. While there are still safety precautions to keep in mind, everyone could use a vacation after enduring the past year. Hitting the beach or visiting family for the first time in months will add a silver lining to the many clouds of 2020.

While travel is beginning to pick up again, many people’s personal finances have taken a major blow from the pandemic. Jobs were lost, and expenses ate into savings, so many families are steps behind where they used to be financially. However, vacations can still happen by implementing a few tips to make travel feasible post-COVID:

1. Set Enough Aside

If you were laid off or furloughed during COVID, your primary financial worry was probably having enough money to cover your expenses. Whether work slowed down or medical bills shot up, making sure all of your needs are met is vital. While you certainly deserve a vacation, it shouldn’t put your personal finances at risk.

Before you embark on your journey, make sure you’ve set enough money aside after estimated expenses to cover your bills. This ensures that when you get home, you won’t have to stress about an upcoming rent or utility payment. You’ll be able to enjoy your time off without worry. Avoid relying on credit, which can cause you to overspend. Opt for cash or a debit card instead.

2. Research the Best Deals

With tourist season kicking back into gear, there will be hundreds of cities and attractions begging travelers to make their return. You’ll see all kinds of promotional advertising and special offers being waved in your face. Definitely capitalize on one of these deals, but do your research before making a commitment.

For starters, consider the overall costs of your target destination. Getting a steal on your hotel won’t mean much if the cost of every restaurant meal leaves you wincing. While lodging may be cheaper in the suburbs, account for the cost of transportation to the attractions you want to visit. And speaking of attractions, many cities sell multi-museum passes that offer significant discounts over tickets to individual venues. They may allow you to cut the line, too!

3. Book Early … But Not Too Early

You will find the best rates for your hotels, flights, and excursions by booking in advance. Prices go up when availability goes down, so punch your ticket early. That way, you’ll be paying a lot less than your fellow travelers for the same vacation. Booking early also gives you more flexibility to adjust or cancel a trip if that becomes necessary.

Research by travel agency Expedia shows the best time to book a vacation is three to four weeks in advance. Travelers who booked in that time frame saved 15% on flights alone. On the other hand, those who booked a trip more than 90 days in advance actually spent more than average. So clearly there’s a sweet spot to be found when making plans. Just remember that a last-minute vacation is almost guaranteed to be expensive.

Another important thing to consider is the time of year you decide to travel. While summer offers excellent weather and schedule flexibility, prices tend to hit the roof due to high travel volume. Different parts of the world have different travel seasons, but picking off-peak times for your target destination will grant you some major savings.

4. Use Travel Rewards

Many travel rewards programs don’t put an expiration date on the miles and points you receive. Others do, but they typically give you plenty of time to use them. Regardless, you need to keep your account active to enjoy those rewards, so put them into play for your first post-COVID vacation.

Any points you’ve accrued will help make your upcoming trip more affordable. You won’t have to spend nearly as much, giving your bank account more time to recover from any pandemic-related losses. If you aren’t a rewards member yet, consider signing up and enjoying a sizable signing bonus to use on future trips.

5. Start Small

The virus hasn’t been fully vanquished yet, so it’s OK if you still feel a bit hesitant about traveling. That means you probably don’t want to go whole hog on an all-inclusive cruise around the globe just yet. For that first post-COVID vacation, it’s better to start off small.

Take a weekend road trip to get a feel for what hotel accommodations are like in the not-quite-post-pandemic environment. Or take a short flight on a safety-conscious airline to a destination that has received good reports on its handling of the virus.

Along with being easier to manage, smaller trips are much easier to stomach financially. Especially if your finances are still rebounding, a short vacation will give you needed time away without breaking the bank. It’s easier to relax when money concerns aren’t on your mind.

6. Leverage Your Stimulus Check

The reason they call those checks you’ve been receiving from the federal government “stimulus” checks is that they’re meant to stimulate the economy. And while many hard-pressed Americans use them to buy food and pay rent, there’s no reason you can’t put yours toward travel. Leverage them the right way, and you’ll be taking off before you know it.

If your finances are in decent shape, your latest stimulus check might enable a nice vacation for you and your family. Otherwise, use it to take care of expenses or get a handle on debt payments. Doing this will free up more of your future budget planning that will allow you to fit in a vacation in the coming months.

Tax refunds are another government windfall that can go toward paying travel expenses. Before plowing a refund straight into a plane ticket, though, determine whether you can set yourself up for longer-term success. You’ll be able to take a lot more vacations if you use your tax refund to eliminate debt payments or make high-yield investments.

Ready to break out the old Hawaiian shirt and enjoy a well-deserved vacation? Do it the right way so you can enjoy every second away without worrying about money. Implementing a personal finance and travel strategy with these tips will enable many vacations in the years to come.