Young adults traveling on fiscal thin ice

Travel prices remain stubbornly high. The price of airline tickets in February was 27% higher than the same month a year earlier, according to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. And rental car prices – after soaring during the pandemic – remain high today, being 37% more expensive in February than they were in the same month in 2019.

Still, more expensive travel isn’t deterring younger Americans who are eager to hit the road (and the sky) this year. A whopping 87 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds and 90 percent of 30- to 44-year-olds intend to travel this summer, according to a March survey by The Vacationer. If the economy slows down, younger travelers aren’t heeding the memo.

“When I meet with people, they don’t budget,” says Dylan Snowden, a financial coach. “Most people will just think about hotels and flights, but not the fact that they have to eat three meals a day.”

Ignoring broader economic trends (such as the rising cost of eating out) could mean rough financial waters for these vacationers. In addition to inflation, savings decline, debt increases, and the economy may head into recession. Add in the potential for student loan payments to restart this year, and a grim picture begins to emerge for the under-40s.

Could this be the year the pandemic-related ‘revenge trip’ turns into a ‘regret trip’?


As savings built up during the pandemic begin to dwindle, vacationers facing high travel costs have two choices: cut costs or turn to debt. And younger Americans seem to be choosing the latter.

Gen Z racked up 6 percent more credit card debt between the first and second half of 2022, according to a January 2023 report from Credit Karma, while millennials racked up 5 percent more. Baby boomers added just 2% more credit card debt over the same period.

“Because people don’t budget, they underestimate how big their debt will be,” Snowden says. “They don’t go on these trips expecting to go $7,000 in debt, but they do.”

And younger Americans are struggling to pay off those debts. Credit card delinquency rates have risen sharply for Americans in their 20s and 30s, surpassing pre-pandemic levels, according to a 2023 report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Not so for older Americans, whose crime rates have remained relatively flat.


Another potential factor in more expensive travel: the rise in popularity of “buy now, pay later” travel expenses. These services break down payments into installments, easing the sticker shock of plane tickets and hotel stays while creating more debt under another name.

“Someone doesn’t sign up for Klarna just once,” Snowden says, citing the popular “buy now, pay later” service. “They’re going to do it for multiple purchases, so that debt is going to grow.”

Buy now, pay later has proven particularly attractive among younger consumers. An August 2022 NerdWallet survey conducted by The Harris Poll found that 50% of millennials and 44% of Gen Zs have used one of these services in the past 12 months, compared to 25% of Gen Xers and just 14 % of baby boomers.

Mounting debt and delayed payments could hit travelers hard, especially as layoffs increase and some economic forecasts predict a recession later in the year. And another $1 trillion shoe could drop: student loans.


The average student loan debt for borrowers ages 35-49 was $43,280 and $32,750 for the 25-34 age range, according to 2023 data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Assistance Service. Yet those loans haven’t had much of an impact on finances, as the pandemic-era payment freeze remains in place.

“It’s been a long time since people didn’t have to think about it,” Snowden says. “It’s really hard for people to realize that it can actually start again.”

Still, those payments may resume soon — possibly by the end of the summer. This can create a perfect storm of financial pressure as mounting debt mixes with a weak economy and increased student loan payments.


Is it all doom and gloom for the young travelers? Not necessarily. Some can still work through excess savings. And the labor market remains strong, boosting incomes.

Experts are recommending young travelers take a hard look at their finances before booking another vacation this year and potentially racking up more debt.

“Save now, vacation later,” Snowden pleads. “You’ll enjoy every minute of this vacation and won’t be stressed when you come home with a big bill.” You deserve to feel good before you go, when you’re there, and when you get back.’


This column was brought to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Sam Kemmis is a writer at NerdWallet. Email:


This 2023 summer travel survey was conducted by SurveyMonkey on behalf of The Vacationer. A total of 1,017 Americans over the age of 18 were surveyed March 1-2. Of the respondents, 46.02% were men and 53.98% were women. The age breakdown of participants included in this study was 22.32% in the 18-29 range, 26.55% in the 30-44 range, 26.35% in the 45-60 range, and 24.78% over 60. This study has a confidence level of 95% and a margin of error of ±3.136%.

The vacationer. (March 2023). “2023 Summer Travel Survey & Trends – Nearly 85% Travel, 42% Travel More Than Last Summer, More Than 54% Fly, 100 Million Travel 250+ Miles.” https://thevacationer .com/summer-travel-survey-2023/

The analysis uses the Consumer Credit Panel (CCP), which is based on anonymous credit reports from Equifax. The panel uses a random sample of individuals over the age of 18 to calculate nationally representative estimates of the levels and changes in various aspects of individual and household liabilities.

Freedom Street Economics. (February 2023). “Younger borrowers are struggling with credit card and auto loan payments.” loan-payments/

This report uses 78.2 million Credit Karma users who have been active on the site in the last 36 months. All aggregated data analyzed was downloaded on January 6, 2023 and comes from members’ TransUnion credit reports. Averages are based on information from the previous 90 days.

Credit Karma (March 2023). “Credit Karma State of Debt and Credit Report.”

This online survey was conducted in the US by The Harris Poll on behalf of NerdWallet from August 4-8, 2022, among 2,065 US adults aged 18 and older. Sampling precision of online Harris polls is measured using a Bayesian confidence interval. For this study, sample data are accurate to within +/- 2.8 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

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