Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Finding some fun in the sun – despite the costs

Delaware Public Media

Summer is here and many are hoping to get away – some for the first time in after a couple years after limitations caused by the pandemic.

But if you haven’t already locked in vacation plans, you may still be limited – by what’s still available and the inflated cost of everything.

This week, contributor Eileen Dallabrida takes a closer look at the options – especially if you’re on a budget.

Delaware Public Media's Tom Byrne and contributor Eileen Dallabrida discussion summer getaways in 2022

Fuel prices are zooming—and so are travelers, who aren’t allowing inflation and other economic woes to derail their vacation plans.

Travelers intent on containing costs are flocking to state parks, visiting relatives in pleasant locations, and renting beach houses with friends.

Three-fourths of Americans are ready to vacation but are tweaking their budgets or their itineraries to make it happen, according to a U.S. News & World Report. As a result, 22% are spending less and 21% will travel less; 17% are tightening their belts on other discretionary spending to shake loose money for a get-away.

Iris Prager is getting behind the wheel, driving from her home in Lewes to visit her son and his family in Charlottesville, Virginia. There’s lots to see and do in the scenic and historic location, home to Monticello and multiple vineyards, and few costs involved beyond gas and tolls.

“I bring bagels and wine,” she says.

At the newly transformed Hotel Bethany Beach, guests are treated to a complimentary breakfast, afternoon refreshments, a round of mini golf, and a discounted rates for multi-day stays. Welcoming orange smash cocktails are chilling in the fridge.

“People who are struggling to put food on the table should not have to forego a vacation. Consumers are a lot more confident in their ability to travel safely and they are eager to enjoy time away from home,” says Benjamin Gray, regional manager of the property and its sister sites Bethany Beach Ocean Suites and The Bellmoor Inn & Spa in Rehoboth Beach.

While weekends are booked well into fall, there’s availability on weekdays for travelers who want to take a mini break.

The changes in the properties reflect the desires of guests emerging from the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mask mandates and social distancing signs are gone. The vibe is less transactional and more experiential. At the Bellmoor, a fitness center has been replaced with spaces for nail and hair care, makeup and spa services.

“People who are struggling to put food on the table should not have to forego a vacation. Consumers are a lot more confident in their ability to travel safely and they are eager to enjoy time away from home”
Benjamin Gray, regional manager of Hotel Bethany Beach

“We are definitely seeing a return on that investment as people become more interested in selfcare,” Gray says.

The Bell House, a newly renovated cottage next door to the Bellmoor, is a new concept, accommodating up to 10 guests and is priced at more than $1,000 a night. Only limited pockets of availability remain.

A survey by The Vacationer, a travel information site, predicts Fourth of July travel will tick up 8% this year over 2021. In the First State, most folks will travel by car.

“Delaware will see a surge in travel, even with intimidating gas prices, simply because there’s so much pent-up demand,” says founder Eric Jones.

Once they arrive at their destination, many vacationers, already feeling the sting of the worst inflation in 40 years, will spend less on restaurants and activities.

“Instead of going out to eat every night, you might cook at the beach house. Instead of going to a water park or renting jet skis, they might spend the day on the beach,” he says.

Last year, visits to Delaware’s 17 state parks and the Brandywine Zoo set a record, according to the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. The state expects to top that again this year.

“During COVID, people started spending much more time outdoors and it stuck, which is a good thing,” Jones says.

Demand for lodgings at state parks, with discounted rates for Delaware residents, is hotter than a grill on the Fourth of July. Cottages at Indian River Sea Shore State Park are booked solid through June, July, August, September, mid-October. There are still a few spots for folks with RV or tents. A yurt at Lums Pond park is also popular with renters.

“Instead of going out to eat every night, you might cook at the beach house. Instead of going to a water park or renting jet skis, they might spend the day on the beach."
Eric Jones, founder of The Vactioner

Day trippers are hiking or biking state trails. Each day on the weekends, more than 3,000 people are taking to the 12.7-mile Georgetown-Lewes Trail, according to the Delaware Department of Transportation.

In the Vacationer survey, half of travelers said high prices for fuel will have an impact on travel, either by car or by plane; in all 5 million fewer passengers than last year are expected to fly for the Independence Day weekend, grounded by high airfares.

In the last year, the consumer price index for airline tickets has soared 25%. That’s the biggest increase since the Federal Reserve began tracking airfare in 1989. In April alone, airfares spiked 18.6%, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Elizabeth Neuner of Wilmington typically makes several flights to California each year to visit relatives. She decided to forego her latest trip when the cost of airfare from Philadelphia to Los Angeles doubled.

“The July price was $1,100, while the October price was $550 or so,” she says.

Airfare to European destinations also has taken flight, compounded by labor disputes and long lines at airports. But once Americans arrive, they are finding their money goes further at restaurants and lodgings as the dollar gains against the euro and the pound.

So, how are travelers bankrolling their trips? According to the U.S. News survey, consumers are taking multiple approaches:

  • 65.7% are paying cash, much of it from savings.
  • 13.9% will put rentals, meals, and transportation costs on credit cards, to be paid off over time.
  • 11.3% will redeem credit card rewards, such as points for hotels and air fare.
  • 6% will use a buy-now, pay-later plan, in which costs are typically divided over four payments.
  • 3.1% will borrow the money.

The folks most likely to take to the road are younger, with 69% of those aged 18-29 expected to travel for the long Fourth of July weekend, the Vacationer survey says. Half of Americans age 45-60 anticipate getting away, while only 36% of people over 60 will leave home.
When they reach their destinations, guests can expect fewer staff to serve their meals, manicure their nails, or change the sheets. Although more international workers are making their way across the pond, the flow isn’t enough to make up for the U.S. labor shortage. More than 30 businesses looking for a total of 1,000 workers set up booths at a job fair sponsored by the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce. Only 42 job seekers showed up, said Carol Everhart, chamber president.

Gray, who serves on the chamber and chairs the Delaware Hotel and Lodging Association, said his hotels are attracting staff with medical and dental plans and paid time off, including 10 weeks at full pay for new parents.

“By now, most guests understand the challenges the hospitality industry and other businesses are facing,” he says. “When things don’t go exactly as planned, we hope people respond with compassion and patience.”

Stay Connected
Eileen Smith Dallabrida has written for Delaware Public Media since 2010. She's also written for USA Today, National Geographic Traveler, the Christian Science Monitor and many other news outlets.