Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of sitting down with local CBS reporter Alanna Autler for a story she was working on regarding vacation layaway plans, which aired today.
The topic gave me an opportunity to think critically about the industry as a whole and consider how larger systemic issues affect people’s (in)ability to travel. I prepared a few talking points for the interview, which – for the sake of time and storyline – won’t all make it into the segment. So, I thought I’d put them out there in this post.
The “vacation layaway plan” is not a new concept. Sears started offering theirs back in 2012 and other travel companies as early as 2008. What we’re seeing now is a re-emergence or re-imagining of them driven by the rise of social media and travel blogging.
On the surface, the idea of a layaway system is a great way for people to make flexible payments towards their dream vacation.
In an ideal scenario, these would be risk-free installments without added fees or interest charged. There are several travel companies that offer payment plans like this.
For example, I just booked a cruise last week that sets sail in May 2021. The cruise line was offering a great deal, so I paid a minimum deposit to lock-in the rate, but the next payment isn’t due until March 2021, which gives me time to either save up that money, or if I already have it, I can earn interest by keeping it in a savings account.
Unfortunately, some of these “vacation layaway plans” are actually just financing options or loans, and with those come stipulations and sometimes hidden costs. Like most personal loans or retail credit cards, for example, the interest rate is based on the applicant’s credit history and score.
People whose money is tight right now – and could benefit from a payment plan – are also more likely to be penalized with a higher interest rate.
Another thing to consider are terms about cancellation and missed or late payments. What happens if you need to alter your travel plans? This “dream vacation” can quickly snowball into more debt.
There’s this almost predatory model of lending exploiting people who are already in a vulnerable financial position.
But this is just a symptom of a larger issue which is that we live in a country with such a high income disparity and travel is considered a luxury. So what are we doing to close that wealth gap and make it attainable for everyone?
It would be shortsighted for me to sit and talk about saving or budgeting for a trip or how to find the best airline deals, when there are people not being paid a living wage, who are crippled by student loans or credit card debt, whose employers won’t give them time off of work.
I think travel influencers, myself included, need to do a better job acknowledging our privilege and taking responsibility for the messages we send out.
The danger is that what we see on social media is just a small, carefully-curated slice of “reality.”
What people might not realize by looking at my Instagram account is that during the 350-some days a year when I’m not traveling, my work is primarily with non-profit organizations in the social justice space and mentoring young people.
One trip I took last summer was with a local organization called OutLoud where we brought a group of high school students from Dallas to the West Coast for what we called a “Discovery Journey.”
We flew to San Francisco, through the Redwood Forests and up to Portland- with a focus on exploration and imagination. When we came back, 92% of the participants reported an increase in self-confidence.
There’s this transformative power that comes from being outside of your comfort zone and seeing life from a different perspective.
That’s the true value of travel, and why it’s critical for us to find ethical solutions to make it possible for everyone.