Who Can Afford Time Off? The Real Cost of a Vacation. Travel is a very big part of the economy nationally but the cost of taking a vacation is a real burden for many families.

By John Rampton

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


The travel industry is very lucrative. How lucrative? The U.S. Travel Association states that U.S. travelers spend an average of "$2.6 billion a day, $108.1 million an hour, $1.8 million a minute and $30,033 a second" on travel. Overall traveling, generates a whooping $2.1 trillion in economic activity -- $947.1 billion in direct travel expenditures that spurred an additional $1.2 trillion in other industries.

So, how much does a vacation really cost a traveler? The travel site Hipmunk put together a handy infographic that gives us a pretty good idea by examining the cost involved for a family of four visiting Disney.

The average cost to visit either Disneyworld or Disneyland ranges between $3,227 to $4,954. Surprisingly, that falls in the average range of what we spend on vacations annually -- $1,145, or $4,580 for a family of four.

Even college students looking for a quick escape during Spring Break can expect to easily spend around $1,000. For example, heading to Hollywood, Florida would cost approximately $1,132. This includes $298 for a six-night hotel stay, $374 for airfare and taxis, and $460 for food and drinks.

Looking at data collected and shared by ValuePenguin and Stuffed Suitcase, we spend between $4,000 to $4,700 each year thanks to following expenses.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics writes that the "largest travel expense was for transportation, which represented 44 percent of the total amount spent. " In fact, most households spend an average of $2,100 annually for vacation transportation costs.

Of course, transportation costs can vary throughout the year depending on the modes of transportation and when you're traveling. Booking an airline ticket during summer breaks and holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas tend to be more expensive than traveling during the off-season. In that case, it's suggested that you purchase your airline tickets sooner than later.

With that in mind, the average transportation cost ranges between between $224 to $1,755 depending mainly where you're traveling to and the distance involved. So, a train ticket from Philadelphia to Washington D.C, could fall between $9 to $54 each way if taking a bus. However, a flight from Philly to Los Angeles could be as low as under $300 to as high as $700 round trip.

Here's a breakdown of the annual vacation transportation costs spent on travel.

  • Airline - $3,304
  • Buses between cities - $252
  • Trains between cities - $521
  • Local transportation on out-of-town trips - $202
  • Taxis/car service on out-of-town trips - $119
  • Ships - $2,456
  • Gas for out-of-town trips - $669
  • Parking for out-of-town trips - $172
  • Tolls for out-of-town trips - $71

Since actually getting to your destination eats up most of your transportation you can use this handy calculator from Travelmath to help you decide whether it's cheaper to fly or drive on your next vacation.

Related: The U.S. Has Become the No Vacation Nation


The average lodging cost per trip is around $150 per night. Again, depending on where you're staying and when you're traveling that cost can fluctuate. For example, staying in a downtown hotel is generally going to be more expensive than staying in the outskirts of a city.

Thanks to sites like Airbnb, there are now more affordable lodging options. In most cases Airbnb is cheaper than hotels. For example, if you visited Toronto, it would cost you at least $148 for a hotel room, but $89 through Airbnb.

You can also cut down your lodging costs by not traveling on the weekends or during holidays. Also, look into discounts through coupon sites like LivingSocial or by signing-up for hotel reward programs. Also keep in mind that payments in some countries charge up to 5% surcharge on lodging paid with credit cards.

Related: American 'Work Martyrs' Are Too Afraid to Take Time Off, Study Finds

Food and drinks.

We spend on average $33 on food per day. If you prepare your own food, however, that amount could drop to just $6. International travelers typically spend more, approximately $35 per day per person. Those meals can get pricey if you add alcoholic beverages like beer and wine. How much more? Around another $380 in expenses.

Besides your three main meals, don't forget about any snacks and drinks in-between meals, as well tips and taxes that you'll have to include. Kimberly from the Stuffed Suitcases plans to budget around $100 per day on food - $20 for breakfast, $30 for lunch, $50 for dinner, and another $10 for snacks.

If you have lodging that comes equipped with a kitchen you can save a lot of money by purchasing your own groceries and cooking some of your own meals.

One way to save is to find hotels with a breakfast included, or try eating a dish of cereal in your room, make sandwiches for lunch - then eat out somewhere great for dinner. Or, eat a great dinner at lunch, since it will cost less in the middle of the day, and just grab a pizza later for dinner.

Related: Why You Should Make Vacation Time a Priority This Year


Travelers use their vacation time to participate in cultural activities and special activities, such as visiting a museum, theatre, theme park, or sporting events. Domestically, we spend roughly $52 for and $293 internationally for entertainment. Of course, that amount can vary depending on how many people are traveling and where you are vacationing. For example, a one-day pass at Disney World's Magic Kingdom costs around $105 per adult ticket. In other cities, however, you can visit a museum for free.

If you want to save some money on entertainment, do your research in advance. You may be able to take advantage of package deals, such as a museum pass in Paris that allows you entrance into 50 of the city's museums from anywhere between 12 to 21 Euro per day. You can even do a search for any free events taking place in your destination when you're there.

Check with your hotel, they often have brochures with local events listed and usually the person at the front desk has some great suggestions for activities.


One of the most overlook costs that can incur during a vacation are taxes. Take for example a hotel stay during a trip to New York City. You'll be faced with "Hotel Room Occupancy Tax Rate (5.875%); New York State Sales Tax and New York City Sales Tax (combined rate of 8.875%) and the New York State Hotel Unit Fee ($1.50 per unit per day)."

If you're flying and your ticket costs more than $300 you'll be subject to federal taxes and fees that can increase your ticket by another 20%. And, depending where you're traveling, you could have expensive taxes on food and drinks and activities.

There's no way in getting around taxes, but you should at least do your research in advance so that you can budget accordingly. There are also many side jobs you can pick up to help you save a little extra cash.

Taking a vacation can get expensive, but don't let that deter from traveling. If you plan your trip in advance, set-up a dedicated savings account for your trip, and do your homework, you can get the most bang for your buck the next time you travel.

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John Rampton

Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

Entrepreneur and Connector

John Rampton is an entrepreneur, investor and startup enthusiast. He is the founder of the calendar productivity tool Calendar.

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