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Note: NerdWallet strongly discourages traveling in the near future while the coronavirus continues to spread. Check the CDC and State Department websites for current guidance and travel restrictions. Please use the content of this article only to help inform future travel plans.
Frequent travelers have passed through every stage of grief as our plans for the year have eroded bit by bit. And although glimmers of hope remain that late-summer travel may be salvaged, it may soon be time for the final stage: acceptance.
However, canceled travel plans can have a silver lining, especially at economically turbulent times. Instead of spending thousands to fly yourself or your family across the world, you now have more time and money to spend (or save) on other pursuits.
From splurging in 2021 to donating to relief efforts, here are some useful ways to repurpose your summer 2020 travel budget.
Save for a rainy (or rainier) day
Remember that emergency fund we were all supposed to build back when times were good? It’s not too late to bolster it. In fact, the money you would have spent on airfare and lodging — or may have received as refunds for canceled travel — can go directly into your “rainy day fund” right now.
» Learn more: How to prepare for a recession
If you’ve been laid off, furloughed or otherwise negatively impacted by the slowed economy, that rainy day might be approaching quickly — so it’s worth tucking away what you can. NerdWallet has loads of resources to help.
Save now, then splurge
If your savings and finances are stable, you might consider simply rolling the budget earmarked for this summer into next year. That could mean taking a longer trip once the pandemic subsides, or splurging on a fancier one.
The same principle holds for trips booked using points and miles. You can hold onto these rewards for another year and then spring for an upgraded airline seat or swanky hotel room. Generally we recommend spending rather than saving points and miles, but these are special circumstances where you may want to break that rule.
Make a donation
As the human scale of this crisis comes into focus, many are looking for ways to help. Unfortunately, social distancing makes normal volunteer efforts all but impossible, so donating money is a uniquely important way to aid this relief effort.
Donating some or all of your summer travel budget to an organization or individual in need offers a concrete way to make a difference right now. Services like Charity Navigator offer ways to search for organizations providing help during the pandemic, including health care services and medical supplies.
Take an 'all-clear' road trip
While it might not make sense to travel by plane for much of the year, later in the year might be the perfect time to take a road trip if restrictions are eased. Why?
Gasoline prices are likely to remain very low as demand plummets.
Although gas station restrooms aren’t the most sanitary conditions on earth, they beat a packed airplane cabin.
Visiting nature might sound more attractive than a bustling international city after several months of hunkering at home.
Of course, we’re likely not the only ones with this idea, so consider targeting lesser-known road trip destinations and skipping the most popular national parks.
Do something stress-relieving and meaningful
Although it often carries its own share of anxiety, travel serves an important purpose: to reduce stress and create meaningful experiences. Whatever you choose to do with your summer vacation funds, try not to lose sight of those goals.
Once normalcy returns, you could:
Take an art class.
Start a side project to help the elderly in your neighborhood.
Try a meditation retreat.
Visit local museums.
Plant a garden.
The point is: Travel is a means, not a goal. Setting it aside for a season doesn’t mean giving up on building lasting memories.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2020, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card