Friday, April 16, 2010

Use Your Goals to Guide Vacation Planning

I took a month long backpacking trip to Europe during my last year of college. I traveled on a bare-bones budget, staying in sometimes-seedy hostels and using an oversized sweatshirt as a towel when I realized that linens weren’t provided. Still, despite my small budget, I managed to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and ring in the New Year to the sound of Big Ben’s chimes. I visited Stonehenge and Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon. I also ambled through cobblestone streets and saw a Broadway musical.

When the trip ended, it wasn’t any of these things, as interesting and magnificent as they were, that made the most significant impression on me. The best moment of my trip didn’t involve a well-known tourist destination—a grand cathedral or a castle—but a steaming baked potato and an ice-cold mug of ale enjoyed alone in a snug corner booth.

It was here, in a pub called the Eagle and Child, where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien sat discussing literature, writing, and life. These discussions contributed to the final form of Lewis’s Narnia books and to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series.

A simple lunch in this place was profoundly personal for me. The experience reminded me that the essence of a vacation isn’t necessarily jumping from one hot spot to the next. Rather, the best vacations are often rooted in the simplest pleasures and driven by a desire for respite.

Vacation, from the Latin vacatio, has its origins in the word freedom. If freedom is the basis of a vacation, the last thing it should do is leave you frayed or saddled with debt. If you’re planning to take a vacation this summer, start with some basic questions: What kind of vacation will give you the greatest sense of freedom? What is the goal or purpose of your vacation?

You might be tempted to answer the question glibly: To get away. I would counter: To get away from what and why? A vacation simply for the sake of taking one can leave you more focused on destinations and arrangements than on the pleasure that it can bring. It can also leave you overspending if you get caught up in a must-see mentality.

When you start planning a prospective vacation with a goal in mind, you may realize you want to create a certain feeling, which doesn’t necessarily depend on any particular location. If your vacation goals are location-specific, then you can prioritize your spending based on what you want to achieve.

For example, if you want to travel abroad, ask yourself why. Is it to experience another culture? Understand your ancestry? See magnificent architecture? If your true desire is to experience another culture, then you might consider a volunteer vacation, where you live and work in the place you’re serving. It’s a full-immersion experience that can be relatively inexpensive.

If it’s a beach vacation you’re after, start again with the same question: Why? If you’re looking to relax, find a house for rent by owner. These types of homes are perfect for groups looking for inexpensive, beach-front accommodations. You’ll typically find fully-equipped kitchens so that you can prepare all of your own food. You can sleep in, build sand castles to your heart’s content, and stroll down the beach at sunset.

You can apply the same question to any kind of destination, whether it’s camping a few miles from home, a major theme park, or a trip to see relatives in another state. Get your goal at the forefront of your planning, and you might just find that you don’t even need to leave home to enjoy a vacation.

CCCS/ACCE –American Center for Credit Education
Carey Denman

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