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Social Media Tempts Americans To Overspend On Picture-Perfect Vacations: Survey

Social media travel content pressures Americans to overspend on picture-perfect vacations, survey reveals.
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Keeping up with the Joneses is nothing new, but the temptation might be greater if you’re on social media. Constant glimpses into lifestyles beyond your standard routine make it easy to fall victim to envy, with some travelers reportedly spending beyond their means in pursuit of creating their own aspirational experiences. 

A survey by Forbes Advisor uncovered how social media travel content has pressured Americans to create a picture-perfect vacation—and at what cost.

Nearly half of all survey respondents (48%) have traveled to a destination or landmark because they saw it on social media. That proportion jumps for younger travelers: 57% of millennials were inspired to include destinations they saw in posts and an astounding 82% of Gen Z respondents selected that they’d traveled to somewhere they saw on social media.

A survey by Forbes Advisor uncovered how social media travel content has pressured Americans to create a picture-perfect vacation—and at what cost. PHOTO BY KABOOMPICS.COM/PEXELS 

Although this influence extended across the board, respondents with higher household incomes were also more likely to plan part or all of a trip after seeing somewhere online. Nearly two-thirds of respondents making $120,001 or more per year added a destination because they saw it on social media.

While getting inspired by photos, videos and other social media content isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the influence doesn’t stop there. Half of respondents also noted that they often or always feel pressured to emulate the lifestyle or experiences they see online, with men and women both responding about equally. The figure jumps to 74% when including respondents who at least sometimes feel pressured.

Again, this pressure is especially notable amongst younger respondents: 95% of Gen Z said that they felt this pressure at least sometimes, which may be due to how often they check their social media. Those between the ages of 18 and 26 overwhelmingly mentioned they view travel content on social media at least once a day.

A survey by Forbes Advisor uncovered how social media travel content has pressured Americans to create a picture-perfect vacation—and at what cost. PHOTO BY KABOOMPICS.COM/PEXELS 

Some social media users are succumbing to the fear of missing out, with 44% of survey respondents admitting they have increased their travel budgets after seeing a vacation posted by a peer or influencer on social media. On the other hand, another 44% specifically called out they have not increased their travel budget, with the remainder of respondents unsure or preferring not to respond. Although it may feel like everyone is spending more than they originally felt comfortable with, that’s not always the case.

So who is making purchases due to FOMO? Increasing travel budgets was most common among Gen Z (79%) and Millennial (53%) respondents.

Higher-earning households were also more likely to increase their vacation spending after seeing travel posts on social media. Over 60% of earners who make $120,001 to $150,000 say they have increased their travel budget. For the most part, lower-income households kept their budgets as-is. Of survey respondents making less than $30,000 annually, 72% chose not to increase their travel spending.

When asked about what they’ve splurged on to emulate travel experiences from social media, the most common responses were booking unique or luxurious accommodations (57%), using luxury ground transportation (46%) or booking premium class airfare (37%). Specialty tours or dining experiences were less frequent upgrades.
Roughly four in 10 respondents (42%) have taken on credit card debt or spent more than they had originally budgeted on a trip after seeing a similar vacation on social media. Similar to the demographics we saw making additional purchases after being influenced online, Gen Z was at the forefront of overspending, with 78% taking on credit card debt or otherwise spending more than budget. Approximately 50% of Millennials reported the same.

Those in higher income brackets weren’t pinching pennies either. More than half of respondents making at least $120,000 per year spent more than they originally budgeted and 47% of those making between $90,000 and $120,000 also took on debt or otherwise overspent.

Sadly, the overspending tended to be significant. Of those who went into debt or overspent to emulate a social media travel experience or lifestyle, 23% selected that they spent between $1,501 and $2,000 to do so. Fewer than 6% of respondents overspent by less than $500.

Taking on credit card debt for discretionary purchases (such as travel) is never a wise financial decision. But if you’re already staring at a large bill to pay down, you may want to consider a balance transfer credit card.

Initiating a balance transfer can essentially buy you time to pay off your bill without accruing additional interest before things get out of hand. However, it’s not a magic solution: there are both pros and cons to balance transfer credit cards.

While jealousy can creep up on people, most respondents weren’t bitter about their travel experiences. Even with the plentiful amount of travel content on social media, 68% of consumers say they are somewhat or very satisfied with the trips they are able to afford.

For anyone who is displeased—or anyone simply hoping to take things up a notch without destroying their finances—there are ways to upgrade your travels without spending a bundle. Booking through specialty travel agents and programs can often lead to VIP treatment or complimentary freebies during your trip. And redeeming frequent flyer miles can help you land first-class seats without the five-figure price tag.

Additionally, simply being a holder of the right travel credit cards can treat you to elite status, discounts while traveling or complimentary travel insurance. Travel insurance may not be glamorous but still protects your bottom line. Other best credit cards may provide credits or discounts for dining, experiences or other benefits that save you money.

The survey also found that nearly half of respondents are planning to take a bucket list trip next year, regardless of whether it was influenced by social media. These dream trips are a great goal to work toward but booking them on a budget often requires forethought and flexibility.

Travelers planning ahead will have time to shop around to save money on airfare or consider whether it’s better to earn flexible credit card points or cash back for purchases you’d make anyway. For anyone who values the easy button, cash-back credit cards can quickly provide statement credits that offset part of your overall travel budget.

However, sometimes the best way to save money on travel is not to look for discounts or special offers but rather to think outside the box. A safari in South Africa may cost a fraction of what it would cost in Botswana while still building that bucket list experience. Similarly, Caribbean honeymoons may be just as beautiful as one in Bora Bora and scuba diving in Curaçao can be as incredible as the Great Barrier Reef. Not willing to change up the destination? Look for ways to find the best hotel reward redemptions instead.

Social media is certainly influencing Americans to reconsider how they travel. Photos, videos, articles and even ads bombard users from every direction. Some inspiration can be a good thing, but it can be tempting to revamp your entire plans and budget to copy what you’ve seen posted online. Rather than letting FOMO spending take over your life, focus on what’s important to you and what fits your budget.

Produced in association with SWNS Research

(Additional reporting provided by Talker Research)

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