When you come back from a vacation it’s hard not to reflect on vacations past. The vacation is perhaps the most anticipated and enjoyable use of your money, but many people struggle with what they should spend. This question gets posed to me a lot.

I’ll start with the most obvious of comments. Purchase the vacation you can afford. Period.

Forest brook

There is perhaps nothing worse than worrying about how you’ll pay for your vacation while you’re still on it. Of course those with significant debt still want to enjoy an occasional vacation but doing so with cash saved (keeping overall costs down, and keeping up with all minimum dues on debt) is important for this group.

When it comes to deciding where you want to go, there are so many options. Europe vs. the Caribbean; Florida vs. the East Coast; Hawaii vs. California; Mountains vs. Beaches; Niagara-On-The-Lake vs. Stratford; the destinations are as numerous as the travel companies willing to sell you a package.

Some enjoy going to the same location time after time, so when they return they can quickly get into ‘holiday mode’, knowing what to expect and enjoying the comfort of familiarity. Others enjoy visiting a new spot each year, checking off new countries, cultures and cuisine. They may put more emphasis on creating the unique experience than creating new memories in a comfortable and familiar spot.

Then there are the types of vacations available: camping, RVing, trailers, cottages, condominiums, motels, hotels, resorts, all-inclusives, cruises, theme park vacations, sporting events, etc. The mind just drifts to wonderful times past, doesn’t it?

And who will you go with? Take the kids, leave the kids; Go with relatives, maybe go with friends; Be open to new friendships while on vacation, or just keep to yourselves.

What is best for you and your hard-earned dollars? A mix of the above maybe, but you’ll always need to decide on the budget. And when it comes to the dollars and cents, do you generally get what you pay for?
I find more with vacations than anything else, you rarely ‘get what you pay for’. If what you are seeking on your vacation is down-time or re-connecting time with those you love, what you choose to spend has little to do with the ‘value of your vacation dollar’.

On more than one occasion I recall spending a lot of money to be in an exotic location, only to hear others complaining about how much they paid for sub-par food or entertainment. With high cost comes high expectations – and it’s no fun listening to fellow vacationers judge the value of their vacation dollar at every turn.

On the flip-side, some of our lowest cost vacations have been our most memorable. This includes a Toronto ‘staycation’, a two-night stay in a quaint inn, and cottage time with family and friends. Enjoying time away does not require a flight and a hot destination or even a culturally-stimulating experience. The simplicity of a hike up a mountain, a picnic lunch or time and space to listen to nature are all free.

Vacations should be about creating the opportunity for new experiences and getting away from your day-to-day routine. For you it might be about turning off your phone for 48 hours, playing a board game with family or getting uninterrupted time to go fishing or window-shopping in a quaint downtown you’ve never visited before. How much you pay for these experiences affects the enjoyment factor later, so keep the dollars in mind.

The next time you’re planning a vacation, don’t calculate the most you can afford to spend but rather what you want to take away from it. Who you want to go with. How you want to feel. What you want to remember about it. You may end up choosing a vacation that will be a little lighter on the wallet and a little better for your soul.