Revenge travel was sweet, but what happens next could turn your vacation sour

Kathy Lopez got her sweet travel revenge with ambitious trips to Europe, Asia and Central America last year. But like many Americans, she's not done.

"Some of my friends are calling it quits or taking long breaks from international travel," said Lopez, an author from Prescott, Arizona. "Not me."

The latest Allianz Vacation Confidence Index suggests there are more travelers like her. Consumers spent $214 billion on summer travel, a new record. Turns out they were just getting warmed up.

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"We expect that 2024 will set a new record," said Daniel Durazo, a spokesman for Allianz.

Revenge travel, or taking a vacation to "get back" at COVID-19 for keeping you trapped in a lockdown, was a phenomenon last year. And you'd assume that people would want to take a break this fall. But they aren't.

Many Americans are doubling down on travel. These post-revenge travelers are planning even more exotic trips, going to unexpected places – and potentially getting into all kinds of trouble. I'll explain in a moment.

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Revenge travel was sweet – and now we can't stop

Everyone could see the post-pandemic travel surge coming. The travel industry needed the business, and travelers needed to get out of town. I hate using the term win-win, but if this wasn't one, I don't know what is.

Travel advisers say that while the idea of "revenge" has faded, the appetite for travel is as strong as ever.

"Demand is far exceeding supply in many cases," said John Lovell, president of Travel Leaders Group. "We're seeing tremendous sales volume across all categories of cruise and land products. Even when you factor in higher capacity, this far exceeds our expectations."

Matt Schuyler, Hilton's chief brand officer, puts it more bluntly.

"Travel," he said, "is an unstoppable force."

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Post-revenge travelers are cheap

According to experts, in an uneven economy, high travel costs could put a damper on travel demand.

Chris Cave, CEO of FlightHub Group, a Canada-based travel agency, said post-revenge travelers are far more budget-conscious than revenge travelers. A recent survey by FlightHub found that 37% of Canadians who had to make budget cuts needed to reduce their travel spending.

"This indicates that while travel enthusiasm may remain high, financial constraints are playing a substantial role in shaping travel choices," he said.

So, where's everyone going in the post-revenge travel era? I asked Peter Strebel, RateGain's president of the Americas. He said some areas are seeing strong post-revenge interest from travelers, including Florida's Space Coast, Charlotte, North Carolina, Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C. Holiday airline bookings for Thanksgiving and Christmas are already filling up for destinations like Orlando and Miami in Florida, and Nashville, Tennessee. In New York, holiday bookings are up 55% from 2019 levels

But the truth is, we don't know how post-revenge travel will play out. If the economy perks up, Americans could spend like there's no tomorrow and head overseas. If not, we'll always have Orlando.

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Post-revenge travelers are throwing caution to the wind

Here's what revenge travel looked like for Lopez, the Prescott author. Before all the lockdowns ended, Lopez flew to Europe for a three-week tour of micronations, including Andorra, Liechtenstein and Monaco.

After that, she visited Tunisia and Malta, and then made another trip to the Yucatan with her family. She followed that with a trip to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.

Next on her wish list: Myanmar.

Interestingly, I also tried to get into Myanmar this summer. I was staying within a stone's throw of the border in Thailand at the Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort. You can wade into the Ruak River and be in Myanmar. I asked a hotel employee how to get there, and he said it wasn't a good idea. Then I read the State Department warning about civil war and armed conflict, and I thought, "Maybe next time."

Lopez said she's going to avoid Myanmar for now, too.

Post-revenge travel is no joke. What comes next could drain your bank account, and if you're unlucky, it could even kill you.

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Post-revenge travel may be dangerous

So here's a fact most travel experts won't tell you: Post-revenge travel could be dangerous in several ways.

The first danger is that you'll probably regret it if you push forward with a trip without enough money. Taking on debt to feed your travel habit is a terrible idea. Americans already owe a record $1 trillion in credit card debt, and no amount of points or miles can justify adding to it.

But the second danger is that your desire to explore new places will end badly. Lopez and I are classic post-revenge travelers – we're looking for a new experience after knocking almost everything off our bucket lists after the pandemic. And that could land us on the wrong side of the road and in some serious trouble.

“People get in security trouble when they are complacent or pay no attention to things that elevate traveler vulnerabilities," said Harding Bush, a former Navy SEAL and Global Rescue's Security Operations senior manager.

Global Rescue fielded more than 100,000 calls and launched nearly 2,000 rescue operations for travelers from all kinds of messes last year, and the number of missions is up 36% in 2023. They expect to be even busier post-revenge travel as their members go farther.

Revenge travel was sweet for many Americans, but post-revenge travel could quickly sour your vacation. Be careful out there.

Elliott's tips for post-revenge travel

Planning a trip in late 2023 or 2024? Here's how to avoid the mistakes of other post-revenge travelers.

  • Safety first: Bookmark the State Department site and refer to it before you plan your next trip. I also have some expert tips on travel and safety on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org.

  • Assume nothing: In a post-revenge-travel environment, some of the rules may not apply. For example, many travel experts told me there's not much of a shoulder season at popular destinations anymore, at least when it comes to cost savings. Don't assume you'll get a deal.

  • Hire a professional: Find a travel adviser who can help you plan a safe trip and build a realistic budget. You can find a qualified adviser at the American Society of Travel Advisors site.

Christopher Elliott is an author, consumer advocate, and journalist. He founded Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps solve consumer problems. He publishes Elliott Confidential, a travel newsletter, and the Elliott Report, a news site about customer service. If you need help with a consumer problem, you can reach him here or email him at chris@elliott.org.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Why you need to be careful with those post-revenge travel lists