Many of the answers were instructive. Some simply said they were for all intents independently wealthy. Others pointed out that they were the recipient of largesse from family members or they lived in proximity to vacation destinations or that they didn't go on big interesting vacations. (There could be an interesting, separate discussion, by the way, on how social media can distort our perception of what is normal or what "most" people we're connected with are able to do.)
That got me to thinking about our own opportunities for travel. Certainly, in the past couple of decades I've been to Europe a handful of times, but all of them for work, for World Youth Day events. Melanie went to Europe several times years ago, during college and just after, either for semester abroad or backpacking from hostel to hostel. But other than that, we've spent our time here in the US.
Together, we've visited her family in Texas many times. When we were dating and first married, we traveled to Texas every year around Christmas, but once we had more than a couple of kids that became prohibitive, even with financial help from her parents. Since 2012, we've only been back twice, once for Melanie's brother's wedding that year and then last year for her parents' 50th anniversary.
In 2014, we drove to northern Virginia for a vacation, visiting my mom and sister who were living there at the time, sleeping in my sister's basement. We've also stayed in a lakeside cabin a couple of times, a beautiful house that we couldn't afford normally, but which was made available both times through the generosity of a friend. We've also camped in Maine several times, a few days at a time. And last year we took a long, two-week road trip through 10 states, where we stayed with friends, stayed in a cabin paid for by Melanie's parents, at an AirBNB partially paid for by her parents, and camping out several nights.1
I would love to take the kids on big trips near and far, overseas and within the US, but unless we drive there (and likely camp there), we just can't afford it, especially for our family size. Even camping is problematic because many campgrounds limit the number of people that can stay in a site, even if they're all your children. And given the surcharges that are often imposed when you have "extra" people, i.e. your family is larger than the two adults and two kids they imagine, our family ends up paying more per person for the same trip.
As for the perception of what others are able to do, social media often has a distorting effect on that. It can sometimes seem like all our friends are going on fabulous and amazing vacations all the time, when in reality some people are managing once-in-a-lifetime trips, others have more wealth and really do go on more trips, and the vast majority of our friends are not taking and posting about trips and we're not thinking about those people. And even those that do go on trips don't post about the difficulties; we only see their recollections of all the good stuff that happens.
In any case, we're likely to be taking more car trips that involve camping in the future as I don't predict that our budget for vacations will be able to go up anytime soon. And yet we can still take some pretty cool trips. Last year, we visited 12 states over the course of two trips and traveled as far west as western Kentucky. This year, we're thinking of spending a week near Gettysburg. Will it be easy? No. Will it be inexpensive? No, but neither will it be a budget buster (I hope). Will we all have a good time? I'm nearly certain of it.
- Plus an unexpected hotel night stay because a child was ill. ↩
- IMG_5350.57d44db991684571b5a258efaf999bf2: Own photo