Summer travelers are looking to make up for lost time and that could spell debt for some Americans

  • Research shows three quarters of Americans plan to travel in the next 12 months 
  • Many Americans say they are more likely to splurge on travel or an experience than before than pandemic 
  • Among respondents who plan to travel in the next 12 months, nearly a quarter plan to knowingly take on debt to finance their travel plans
  • Paying more than usual isn’t an issue for a majority of Americans with travel plans

There’s no denying the impact COVID-19 had on people’s everyday lives. Travel plans were canceled, weddings and social events were postponed and everything from happy hours, funerals and birthday celebrations were moved online. 

Now, as COVID restrictions start to lift, cases continue to drop and vaccination numbers rise, consumers are eager to ditch Zoom and hit the open road — or waters and airways, in some cases. 

The question is, are consumers financially prepared for a hot vacay summer?  

Research from Credit Karma reveals 75% of Americans plan to travel in the next 12 months with nearly half of respondents (44%) saying they are more likely to splurge on travel or an experience when COVID restrictions fully lift. What’s more, the majority of respondents (52%) say they will still take a vacation even if travel prices are higher than usual. 

What exactly are Americans willing to splurge on? 

Among those who said they’re open to a post-pandemic splurge, a majority say they would consider splashing out on dining out (51%), hotel and airbnb stays (32%) and airplane tickets (32%), among other things. Here’s the full breakdown of what hopeful travelers are prepared to drop some cash on:

Dining out51%
Recreational activities for myself or family members34%
Hotel or Airbnb stay32%
Airplane ticket32%
Amusement parks27%
Music festival or live music event23%
Sporting events20%
Train ticket12%
Bar tabs12%
Attending a wedding11%
Attending a bachelor / bachelorette party7%

This trend could spell debt for some Americans.

While 58% of respondents who plan to travel in the next 12 months have enough money saved to travel, nearly 25% say they plan to take on debt to finance their travel in the next 12 months. Of those who plan to take on debt, 68% say they’re willing to take on $500 or more in debt and 35% say they’re willing to take on $1,000 or more in debt. 

Comfort with the amount of debt respondents were willing to take on varied among those who said they were planning to finance their travel with a credit card or personal loan. Here’s a breakdown of how much they are willing to take on to finance their travel in the next 12 months:

Less than $1005%
$100 to $29913%
$300 to $49915%
$500 to $69920%
$700 to $99913%
$1,000 to $1,49918%
$1,500 or more17%
Among respondents that will either take on credit card debt or take out a personal loan to finance travel in the next 12 months

These figures seem to mirror trends in consumer spending throughout the pandemic. 

According to the study, nearly one-in-five respondents said their spending increased during the pandemic. Of those whose spending increased, 40% say they don’t feel prepared to resume pre-COVID level of spending, citing loss of income, lack of savings and loss of job as the top reasons behind this feeling.   

On the flip side, many respondents say their spending stayed the same (49%) or even decreased (34%) during the pandemic, potentially  resulting in a little extra cash in the pockets of some Americans. 

People are willing to spend, but what are they willing to travel for? 

Most consumers who plan to travel in the next 12 months, plan to take a personal vacation (46%), visit family (41%) or take a family vacation (35%). Worth noting, 11% of those who plan to travel say they will do so for a social obligation, with a quarter (26%) of Gen Z planning to travel for social obligations, such as a wedding or birthday celebration — the highest percentage of any other generation. 

That makes sense when you consider more than half of respondents had at least one event or celebration postponed as a result of the pandemic. Of those who had an event postponed, 81% expect to attend one or more of these events in the next 12 months. The good news: 87% of those who had an event postponed feel financially prepared to cover the cost.

“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been encouraged to see consumers make smart financial decisions, including paying down debt, making more regular on time payments and even starting to build emergency savings funds,” said Colleen McCreary, financial advocate and chief people officer for Credit Karma. “As COVID restrictions lift, I hope consumers will maintain some of these positive financial behaviors and avoid sliding backward, especially more vulnerable generations like Gen Z and Millennials.”


On behalf of Credit Karma, Qualtrics conducted a nationally representative online survey in April 2021 among 1,010 American adults to understand how COVID has impacted their travel plans and how they plan to finance travel as COVID restrictions are lifted.