Should you go on vacation if you have debt?

Managing your money and paying off debt can feel like a never ending process. And, if you have a long term debt repayment plan, you may find yourself wondering if you can realistically take a vacation without feeling guilty and/or potentially wrecking your financial progress. Whether or not you travel while having debt is a…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: December 28, 2023

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Managing your money and paying off debt can feel like a never ending process. And, if you have a long term debt repayment plan, you may find yourself wondering if you can realistically take a vacation without feeling guilty and/or potentially wrecking your financial progress.Managing your money and paying off debt can feel like a never ending process. And, if you have a long term debt repayment plan, you may find yourself wondering if you can realistically take a vacation without feeling guilty and/or potentially wrecking your financial progress.

Whether or not you travel while having debt is a personal decision.

Personally, I did travel when I had student loan debt (read more about how I paid off $40,000 in student loans in 7 months here). They were usually short trips, and I always made sure to budget for them while keeping them as affordable as possible.

And, we still had a great time!

We went to Puerto Rico, Kauai, and many other places, and each trip was done affordably.

Plus, it was a great way to feel refreshed so that I could enjoy life while working towards my financial goals.

See, I believe the key is finding a healthy balance. Luckily, I didn’t have any super high-interest rate debt, so going on vacation didn’t stress me out as bad or derail my financial progress. I also didn’t add to my debt by going on vacation, and I knew not to splurge on travel either.

I know others who have debt but still spend thousands of dollars on each of their vacations, and they also believe that this is the only way to travel.

That is not correct at all!

You can still enjoy life on a budget, but it’s all about having a good balance and seeking out what will work best for your situation.

For example: If you have high-interest rate debt that is building up each month and becoming more and more unmanageable, then I do not recommend going on an expensive vacation. Instead, enjoy the area that you live in for free, which is still very possible to do! In my opinion, spending money on a vacation would just add to the stress while money would be better used towards paying off your debt. This will make sure that you don’t put yourself into a deeper hole.

For today’s post, I would like to start a discussion in the comments below. Below is my opinion for traveling while having debt, and I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments as I know that opinions will vary.

Related content on how to travel on a budget:

How to travel if you have debt:


Find a way to travel affordably.

Travel is great. However, it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to enjoy your vacation.

If you still have debt, especially a lot of high-interest rate debt that is causing you to live paycheck to paycheck, then you will want to find a way to enjoy yourself affordably while on a trip.

This may mean taking a staycation and exploring the town you currently live in, instead of splurging on an expensive vacation across the globe.

Here are tips for traveling affordably:

  • Take a staycation. Like I discussed above, if you have a lot of debt and need to put as much money as you can towards your debt, then a staycation is probably your best bet. I recommend finding free events and other free things to do in your area so that you are spending as little as possible.
  • Budget for the whole trip. Budgets are always a good idea!
  • Don’t slow down your debt repayment plan. If you don’t have the money to travel, then you may just want to skip the travel or find a way to make/save extra money in order to do so.
  • If you have the gear to camp, camp! Camping can be expensive, so I wouldn’t recommend that everyone go out and buy new gear to do it. However, if you already have camping gear, then it can be a great way to travel somewhere affordably and see the beautiful outdoors. Read How To Find Free Camping for budget friendly camping ideas.


Whatever you do – don’t take on more debt.

I’ve heard countless stories of people taking on more debt in order to go on a vacation and to travel more.

In fact, one story I often share here on Making Sense of Cents is one of the worst stories I’ve heard about this. This person would take out thousands of dollars in extra student loans to pay for timeshares and cruise vacations.

And, they would actually brag about this!

To take a vacation, you should never take on debt (using credit card travel hacking is a different story and can be done wisely). Taking on debt to travel will just dig your debt hole even deeper, which will cause a lot of stress and probably make you regret taking a vacation in the first place.

You want good memories to come from the trip that you take, not stress, regret, and other negative feelings when you think about your vacation.

Vacations are great and all, but taking on debt to go on them is 99.999999% of the time not worth it.

Let’s start a discussion. Do you think people should take a vacation if they have debt? Why or why not?

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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. Michelle, I think the key is not taking on more debt. I understand wanting to get away and feeling like you need a break. But, don’t dig yourself more of a hole because of it. That said, if you’re close to your goal or the debt is small, make the vacation your reward. Again, make sure it’s paid for though!

    1. Yes! I’ve heard of people taking on debt to go on vacation and I think that’s just crazy.

    2. Agreed with Dave. It’s important to recharge and take some time to relax – it will make you more productive and effective when you do get back at doing whatever you might be working on. But there are ways to take a vacation or find something special do without going into debt further or without going crazy on spending. It’s important to find a balance.

  2. Currently – we’re still in debt. But, in November of this year, we’ll be taking a much-needed vacation. We didn’t take on more debt to pay for vacation and we currently have a debt-repayment process to pay it off. Increasing our income (through side hustles is one), budgeting and properly allocating funds will get us there. God willing.

    1. Sounds like you are doing it the RIGHT way, for sure 🙂

  3. I agree with both you and Dave (previous commenter)… it can be extremely healthy and necessary to take a break and recharge/refresh with a vacation, but I would caution anyone in debt (or not for that matter) against going into debt for a vacation.

    I also like the ideas of getting creative with a vacation. Can you find an Airbnb or a bed and breakfast a few towns away so you can drive vs. pay for plane tickets? Can you travel hack (as long as you use credit cards responsibly)? Can you do a staycation and “play tourist” in your own town… maybe even getting a hotel downtown in your area and exploring the city/town that way?

    Once a vacation is planned, I also think it can help to be creative with how time/money is spent. Planning to make 50% (or more) of your meals, buy a bottle of wine for the hotel room later, and finding lower cost/free activities like walking around, enjoying a hike/beach/sunset, etc can end up saving a lot of money and be more enjoyable 🙂

    1. Yes, there are many affordable ways to go on a vacation.

  4. I must to confess some years ago I had my american holiday to visit a friend of mine in Michigan, well I’ve did a little loan for this holiday and some days later my return at home I lost job so I starte d to looking for several side hustle, understood the importance to have budget and financial goals an since September 2015 I am completely debt free…so now are been 3 summer that I spent in my hometown and I enjoyes my sort of staycation so now I can say that “No I am not going in a holiday if I am in a debt”, also becaus ethere are a lot of different ways to enjoy summer also without go in a real holidays -day trips count too)

  5. Ember @ An Intentional Lifestyle

    I agree with you. Debt paydown, especially a long term one, is really tough and wears you down. So having a break is definitely necessary sometimes to keep you focused and committed.

    That said, you can’t go on what most think of as a trip. Like you said, try a staycation or a camping trip. If camping isn’t your thing, most of us have a city close by that we haven’t fully explored. Try an inexpensive Airbnb and check it out. To save more, watch all the Airbnb rates and go on a weekend that is cheaper bc it isn’t booked at all or go during the week. Weekdays are typically cheaper on Airbnb, so that can save a bit of money there.

    I think taking a small trip on occasion helps clear your head and refocus. But the debt paydown has to continue despite the trip. That’s just my thoughts!

  6. I agree that one should not take on debt to go on vacation. One thing to do is simple travel hacking. For example, some people have to travel for work, with all expenses paid by their employers (some people in consulting travel virtually every week, for instance). In that case, just try to always use the same airline and hotel chain, to rack up points in their loyalty programs. Then, redeem those points for free travel.

    1. Yes, travel hacking can make a vacation possible!

  7. Tina@Growing My Pennies

    If vacations are important to you, then do your best to make it work. Taking a break from the daily grind can be so refreshing. We like to go camping or go on day trips which are inexpensive and still feel like a getaway.

    As others have mentioned, it’s ok to treat yourself as long as you don’t take on more debt.

  8. Charlie

    I think you make a great point. As long as you are not adding to your debt then why not go on vacation. Everyone needs a break sometimes. This was a perfect article for me right now. My mom loves to complain to me about going away when I have debt. And I do understand her argument BUT sometimes you just need to relax and live life.

    1. Yes, exactly! It’s all about being smart.

  9. Clarissa

    I prepared almost a year in advance for our 10th anniversary vacation. we went to the Outer Banks. We did it off season for the cost savings and closer to our anniversary. it is 7 1/2 hours away. I rented the place through Homeaway. I ordered books and travel guides for coupons. I wrote list of activities I was interested in doing and paid for the couple tours we did (dolphin and wild horse) online with side hustle money and coupons. I also have a friend that goes every year so she picked me up coupon books to use. I planned eating out once a day based on coupons. We also packed all of our own snacks, drinks TP, paper towels that I bought with coupons or survey amazon rewards the months before. All in all we spent less than $2k and that includes two hotels (we traveled through the Blue Ridge on the way back and hit Williamsburg on the way down), the condo 6 days beachfront), food, gas and souvenirs. Now if we go back next year we don’t need as many souvenirs and I wont be extending it to the other places in VA so it would be cheaper.

  10. Shana

    Vacations are necessary and reset the vibe for yourself. And like you said, just don’t add more debt for a vacation. I definitely went on vacation and still pay debt and bills. It was lavish enough for me.

  11. Yes, cheap/affordable vacations are definitely possible.

  12. I think it’s good to go on vacation when you’re in debt. There are many ways to do it now affordably, including using credit card points for plane flights and hotels, and even using services like Trusted Housesitters to stay somewhere for free. I get most of my flights for free using my credit card points! Everyone needs time to relax so they don’t suffer from burnout. My one huge mistake was taking a high-interest loan out for not one, but TWO vacations. So dumb!! I don’t recommend that at all and will never do it again.

  13. I think traveling while having debt is okay as long as you don’t splurge too much. That means in general, staying in country, and doing activities that don’t cost too much!
    Luckily there are some awesome things to do on the cheap, like museums, hiking, or anything outdoors really.

    Treating yourself is definitely important on the journey to financial freedom. 🙂

  14. Life can be shorter than we expect and therefore it’s important to me at any rate to keep living while we are paying off debt. If you can meet the goals you’ve set for yourself for debt repayment then I think it’s ok to also plan for travel. However, I wouldn’t go into debt to have a vacation. You can’t really enjoy it if you’re thinking that it’s taking money you don’t have.

  15. I think there is a difference between long term debt like student loans, mortgage, car payment, maybe even the new fridge vs credit card debt for multiple items that have piled up over time. I am not comfortable putting travel on credit card if I have a high balance or multiple things I’m trying to pay off. I didn’t travel for a long time b/c I felt I couldn’t afford it. If I can’t can’t come home and pay off all if not the bulk of the trip expenses I can’t afford to go. I just got back from Europe and it’s all paid off, but i understand that it is normal to put travel on a credit card and pay it off over an extended time (as long as it’s not adding to piles of old credit card debt). I have a friend who is now on her 2nd vaca and the first isn’t paid off (and she has multiple debt payments). I think that’s when you get into trouble.

  16. In my opinion, people should take vacations while they are in debt as long as they don’t go overboard. I’ve been paying down my debt for almost three years. Traveling was one thing that I said I’d never give up. Traveling is one of the best experiences that you can have. I take those trips because who knows when the opportunity could come around again.

  17. William @ E Online Business Education

    Definitely agree with not going on vacation while in debt! Build capital (using the tips on this site), and the vacation will be much more enjoyable.

    Also, if someone/family really needs a vacation, there’s usually many options close to home. A small trip near where you live for a few days could do the trick to break away from the norm, and it won’t break the bank!

    Thanks, great post.

  18. Why do so many people feel like you have to go a long ways away to go on vacation? Staycations or just driving an hour or less away can be great. I know I feel bogged down by work and would love nothing more than to rest and hang out at home for a week. The true problem is that we are given only a limited amount of vacation days, 2 weeks usually in the US, and we feel we have to maximize those days.

    Also, camping is super cheap, even if you don’t have the gear. You don’t need anything fancy, just a cheap tent and sleeping bag from Walmart will do. Most people will never camp enough to justify the fancy gear anyways. The first guys to thru-hike the AT did it in jeans, cotton socks, and a cheap external frame pack. Goes to show there is nothing special, just marketing.

  19. Last year I got into credit card churning and earned a Southwest Companion Pass. Now whenever we fly Southwest, I only have to pay taxes on my husband’s ticket! I also received some signup bonuses so we were able to fly to FL in February for $22 and stay at his parent’s condo for free.

    We will only fly with Southwest until the Companion Pass expires at the end of 2018, thus frugalizing our vacations.

    Other vacations that we have paid for in almost completely in points are an upcoming trips to Mexico & Puerto Rico. Flight tax was out of pocket, but flight and accommodations were all paid for in points.

    Next year we’re scaling way way back on the traveling. We have a good deal of debt to pay down which I’ve recently started attacking, but it’s nice that we still get to enjoy ourselves.

  20. Oliver @

    Yes you still can. Take advantage of mystery shopping jobs that offer free travel, or day tours as part of your staycations.

  21. The problem of going of vacation with borrowed money is not so much an issue if it is not repeated. We all have bad years, sometimes we have unforeseen expenses that might eat up our rainy days funds. The problem appears when we start building up a debt to go on vacation year after year. It would be a smart thing to make a vacation envelope and save through out the year for the next vacation. This way your vacation is not such a burden on your budget.

  22. Jenn Dabal

    I took a vacation despite having credit card debt. However my vacation was planned for, saved for and booked months in advance after doing tons of research to make sure I was getting the best deal. my credit card debt had been transferred to a 0% interest card for a year so I did not incur more debt nor did I ignore the current debt that I had. I think if you’re smart about it vacations are an absolute necessity they are a way to recharge – otherwise it’s like you’re putting your life on hold.

  23. That is a good question. If you’re taking a vacation on someone else’s money and they’re aware what you’re using the money for “a vacation,” then yes, despite the fact that a person might have debt. One should also diversify their debt repayment strategies by paying @ least some money instead of leaving the debt outstanding. One can also be productive in their side hustle to achieving “side hustle millionaire” status, by having their smartphone ready to create content on the fly for their blog or website and post anytime of the day throughout the day. This way, they’re being counter-productive while on vacation.

  24. My answer is No, don’t go on vacation if you have debt. But, there is always a BUT! What if it is a once in lifetime opportunity, or maybe you know that you’ll return the debt in time, or you have financing that is sure to come later on time. Wherever you take you must give back, that is the rule. Judge carefully all the possibilities.