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Summer travel season for some comes with one big catch — a bunch of hidden costs.
It's natural to loosen the purse strings on vacation. Many American travelers rack up about $1,500 in credit card debt, on average, when they are away, according to the Australia-based personal finance site Finder.com.
Considering the high interest rate on that type of debt, which averages over 15 percent, according to CreditCards.com, some Americans' overuse of credit cards on their vacations adds up to about $2.7 billion in interest and fees by the time it is finally paid off, Finder said.
"People splurge when they go on a vacation," said Finder's Michelle Hutchison. "They don't plan their spending when they go away, which makes over-spending really easy."
Finder polled more than 3,000 Americans in April and calculated the compound interest paid based on the amount of credit card debt reported and the time taken to pay the debt off, given an average credit card interest rate of 17.7 percent. (The website also asked the same group about their biggest travel rip-offs; see chart below.)
Even among those travelers on a budget, over half exceed their plan, and 25 percent of those polled said they overspent by as much as 20 percent, Finder said.
The amount of vacation debt, or "debtlag," also increases with age, Finder said. Young millennials, ages 18 to 29, accumulated $1,100 on average from their trips, while those over 60 averaged $1,600.
Although millennials travel more than any other generation, it's clear they are more budget conscious about their vacations. About half paid for their last trip with a credit card, according to a separate report by NerdWallet.
Meanwhile, the rest of the population seems to be wising up. About 8 in 10 Americans overall who plan to take a vacation this summer will pay for it with savings, according to a report by CreditCards.com. Just 15 percent said they're financing their vacation with a credit card and about two-thirds of those vacationing this summer expect to pay off their vacation in a month or less. Only 11 percent said that it will take four months or more.
"Most Americans want nothing to do with debt these days," said Matt Schulz, CreditCards.com senior industry analyst. "People seem to bare some of the scars of the Great Recession and that has changed some folks' minds when it comes to how they spend on things. People are willing to rethink vacations in order to avoid getting into debt or getting deeper into debt."
"That's generally a positive thing," he said.
For those getting ready to get away, Schulz recommends creating a budget and tracking all expenses. As for those who plan to finance part of their trip with credit, Schulz suggests looking for zero percent balance transfer offers as well as negotiating lower interest rates on your current credit cards, if possible.
Hutchison also recommends putting some money into a vacation fund each week or month ahead of time and while away, keeping the receipts so you can take a tally of your spending at the end of each day.
Another good option: traveling with a stash of cash, or a prepaid credit card, and committing to rationing just that amount over the course of your vacation.