Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Vacation: Luxury, Necessity, or Waste of Hard-Earned Money?

Nicole has a decent vacation package at work, which includes family care days and personal days and unlimited sick days, which she is too ethical to use unethically. Me, I’d have “colds” and be unable to come to work three times a month. She gets a month off, but there’s one caveat: She has to take at least two weeks of that month at once. This has got us thinking about going away for an extended period of time, which is something we haven’t done in a long time, and not really since the girls were born.

While we were talking about it last night, Nicole admitted that she gets vacation sticker shock, which is something I suffer from as well. Surprise! I never knew this about her. Maybe others suffer as well: It is this all-consuming feeling that there MUST be a better way to spend one’s money than on such folly. For me, it is acute: With the Internet, I can plan an amazing, deluxe vacation down to the last detail, but when it comes time to plunk down the credit card and book, I suddenly think “Is it worth it to spend X amount of dollars on this? Is there a better use for this money?” Even the shoestring-budget version seems extravagant. I usually decide no vacation.

You would think that Nicole and I might have discovered this commonality earlier in our relationship, but no. We have taken our share of vacations, but a lot of times it is rolled into her business trips. This has gotten us to London, Asia and San Francisco many times. I am a happy tagalong, slumming it in coach while she jets first class, and exploring and sightseeing and wandering until she gets back to the hotel. And with hotels paid for, it makes vacations cheap and unpressured. We are also big fans of the weekend away: Two or three days to New England or DC or Bermuda and then back home, which hardly breaks the bank. I think about how amazing our Fire Island weekend were: Had I know they would have stopped for a while once the girls came I might have appreciated them more.

Now, as a family of four, we are faced with staggering vacation costs. And I mean staggering. For example, I looked into the Rosie Alaska cruise. With airfare, this eight-day foray out west would run us at least 10K, if not more. Ten thousand dollars, for a little over a week. Are you kidding me? And yet this boat is filled each year, with people paying that much and more (or, with a smaller room, a little less). It seems so extravagant. I can’t help but wonder, is it worth it? And yet I know it is.

We are also looking into renting a house in Maine, but that, even with its kitchen and lack of airfare, would still cost quite a bit of money. And then we have this issue: Going away with the girls is more of a relocation than a vacation. Unless we bring help (more money) it won’t really be much of a vacation for us. Just all of us, in an exotic locale, trying to re-establish nap schedules. This relocation-and-no-fun theory is what stopped us from taking a free trip to China this past summer (which I sort of regret already).

But we need to get away. We need to see nature and decompress and relax. We need to just enjoy each other’s company outside the walls of our home and create new experiences. This is what life is all about, right? But I am having such a hard time saying, yeah, sure, let’s just GO. Maine, Alaska, whatever. Take the money out of savings and call it a trip. And then I think, in these scary times, during this awful recession, is this smart? Should anyone be spending money like this? Or should we be saving it in case Something Awful Happens? Are we going to be those people who die with money in the bank but no experiences to show for it? Will we always say “Let’s plan a vacation next year” and then just not do it?

I thought of house-swapping: There HAS to be someone in Maine who wants to switch for an apartment in the center of NYC for a week. Hotels are like $300 a night minimum round these here parts! Or someone in Europe: You chalet for my cube of space in NYC. But how to find those people? And how to ensure what those people are not maniacs and not homophobic?

I know even talking about vacations is a luxury. I know there are many people who can’t do that right now. I know this is a good struggle to have. But still, I am wondering how everyone else thinks about this. Do you get sticker shock? Is it worth it? Do you get away and then come home better than ever, convinced it was worth every penny? Any input is appreciated.

Naptime is over and Avery is saying “poo poo” from her crib. Back to reality. Pictured above, business trip/vacations of years gone by. Oh how easy and cheap it was back then!


psapph0 said...

Julie and I have the house on Lake George that we rent out. Less than 100 yards to your own private beach. Very, very, very child friendly. Small, neighborhoodly atmosphere. 3 hour drive.

If you're interested, let me know!

Jennifer said...

I remember the house! That was such a fun trip! And where we discovered Sirsy.

Anonymous said...

As a child, my best memories are family vacations. Disney World, Colorado, Hawaii, Tennessee, etc. Every summer we went somewhere different. Now that I have 2 children it is a must. We somehow manage to work it into the budget each year. And in two weeks we will be driving from Texas to Florida to take our kids to Disney World for the SECOND time in 2 years and I am just as excited about the trip as they are. It really gives us something to look forward to and we never regret the money that we spent.

CD and SP said...

Friends of ours in nyc find swappers on craiglist. They've done it a couple times and have (knock on wood) very good luck. Once was a trip to Alaska that we also benefited from. :) And then there is western mass, where you have a house to swap anytime. :)

f said...

There are actually agencies that do the house-swapping thing too. I think they do a bit of screening for crazies and maybe even escrow for damages or something? And professional organizations sometimes run them - I know there is one for doctors - maybe one for folks in banking or lawyers?

Oh and check your alumni group - I know my undergrad university (Brown) has some kind of forum for house swapping that friends have used.

It's so worth it, however you can swing it. A mental break from strict routine, the same walls, the same people in the halls. Routines are good, ruts are not.

I think you guys would like Vancouver - great food, baby friendly, lots to see and do for kids, places to walk.

1st Home Exchange said...

The best place to find a home exchange is a home exchange website such as, 1st Home Exchange

If you have an apartment in New York, you can practically pick and choose where to holiday. In a recent ad-hoc survey of our membership, we found that New York City is the number one preferred destination. More people want to find a swap in New York than any other destination.

So whether it's Maine or Paris, I'm certain if you give home exchanging a try, you'll soon have plenty of offers to choose from.

"And how to ensure that those people are not maniacs and not homophobic?"

Take the time to get to know the person(s) you are going to swap with. This means start looking right away for a summer swap. Communicate, communicate, communicate! Use e-mail, the telephone, and if possible meet at the start of the swap. Never swap if you are uncomfortable with the person - trust your intuition

You will find several articles, tips and videos to help you find and arrange a swap on 1st Home Exchange. Including a video of a New York / Paris swap.


ms.bri said...

All of our vacations have involved sizeable amounts of debt and we have never regretted any of them.

That said, I don't know that I would do an expensive vacation with one toddler, let alone two. Save the money for when they can enjoy it. I can tell you that travel with a five or six or seven year old is a really special experience, as everything is new and exciting to them and their look of wonder at, say, Disney or a glacier is something you will never forget.

K J and the kids said...

I can't tell you how in sync we are on this. We do the same thing. Plan, plan plan...get excited and then bail out.
I find it exhausting tp think about dealing with the kids not in there own beds.

amy said...

we have the same problem. we have a lot of flexibility work wise (i have a consulting business) and my wife works from home in between travelling to client sites so we can virtually work from anywhere (so long as there's an internet connection and phone service). so we travel for several weeks a quarter to our families houses in florida so it feels like we're vacationing constantly.

we bit the bullet and did the rosie cruise through the NE out of NYC last summer and had a great time. with airfare we dropped just over $5K for the 3 of us (kids under 3 are "free" on the rosie trips) and we have no regrets. the food on the ship was horrible so that was a bummer and we definitely spent more money than we needed to on food that was edible on shore but generally we had a nice time, met some great people and our daughter still talks about some of the things we did (including the taxi rides through NYC that she loved!!) so that's kind of priceless. we won't do something like that every year i don't think since we do so many "mini" vacations throughout the year but we do intend to do something bigger every 2 years or so.

good luck with whatever you guys decide!

Denise said...

I loveto plan vacations. i hate disney land so most of our trips revolve around water or the beach. I try to plan mini trips for not even five hundred dollars.
Or i go on mini trips by myself. Now that I am soon to be divorced it will be a lot cheaper to plan for three people instead of 6. But I am not working so no job = no trips. Sigh. I desperately want a weekend away.

Carey said...

I think it's totally worth it to go on vacation... but yeah, we get sticker shock too. This summer, we're renting a house with my immediate family on a beach in FL. It'll be pricey, but we feel worth it to spend time with our families. I can't even think about the logistics of our trip!! LMAO

I could not do the house swap thing... ever. I would be so creeped out having strangers in my house. I'm funny about sharing my space.

momtothreeboys said...

We decided to bite the bullet and are going on the Rosie cruise to Alaska this summer. We went back and forth many times but finally came to the conclusion that we really wanted/needed to make some amazing family memories (and it's my 40th b-day present) and our 10 year anniversary present too. Us, our 3 boys and my mom - 2 cabins and round-trip airfare from San Diego and 2 nites in a hotel for less than 8k. I say GO!

Jess said...

We totally have this problem. We are to looking at the Rosie cruise. WE went on the 1st one and LOVED EVERY MINUTE!!! It was great. But, 10K....ughh...it is so hard to feel responsible when we are spending that much money. And, really it would be more like 15K when all is said and done. To go or not to go....oh....I don't know?????

Katy said...

We just started looking into the whole house-swap thing too. We have a pretty decent sized house in SF if you are ever interested! (we are also two moms with two kids) kpdelbosque@hotmail.com

Pufferfish said...

Hi, Just chiming in (late) to say we live in NYC, the EV and have done the house swap 3 times with great success. We've found everyone via Craigslist. I think you have to have good intuition though to weed out the crazies.
It was a great experience and well worth the money saved.