Way back when we were newlyweds, we spent some lovely times at the Caribe Hilton Hotel in San Juan. I (Richard) was consulting for the mayor, Carlos Romero Barcello, and was occasionally able to take Linda along on consulting visits.
Coming from our snowy climate, a couple of days at the beach was just what the doctor (and the marriage) ordered. And the Caribe Hilton was just the place to fulfill the prescription.
We discovered virgin pina coladas there, and the best black bean soup on the planet.
We frolicked by the pool and snorkeled in the sea. We let the hotel take care of us. Even though we couldn’t really afford it, we justified (and modified) the cost by staying at a less expensive place for all except one or two nights and then, for contrast, splurging a bit.
That same pattern became a part of our infrequent family vacations later on. We would scrimp and save on most aspects (packed lunches instead of restaurants, driving instead of flying and camping rather than hotels) so that we could splurge for maybe one night at a resort with waterslides or a beach.
We think this pattern taught our kids three things: first, that the expensive places are not always any more enjoyable than the budget ones or the free ones; second, that sometimes getting a “deal” or finding little ways to save can actually be fun; and third, that it’s OK once in a while to treat yourself to something that is truly first class.
One year, when we happened to have enough frequent flier miles to get all of us to Hawaii, we pitched a tent and camped on a friend’s property for the first few days, eating a little fast food and quite a lot of oranges and avocados from the trees — all so that we could afford to stay for a couple of glorious days at the fabulous Grand Wailea Resort, where the kids went on the water slide and lazy river ride about a thousand times as we played in the sun all day and then watched the sunset from luxurious beach couches, imagining that we were among the rich and famous.
Back at the tent, we kept our shirts on and let our sunburns recover a little while building a “nipa hut” out of bamboo poles that grew nearby and thatching the roof with the native grass on our friend’s property.
On the flight home, there was a lot of reminiscing about the luxury hotel, but there was even more about the camping, about the view from the ridge where we pitched the tent and built the hut (the kids named it “Rainbow Ridge” for the brilliant rainbows we saw during our stay) and about how much more we appreciated the house we were going home to after a week and a half of “roughing it.”
The point is that family vacations are mainly about being together and can be done as economically as you choose to do them. Camping is actually as good as a great resort, but sometimes there is an added perspective in doing at least a little of both. The juxtaposition of the two makes for memories and for discussion. Contrast teaches kids a lot.
We tried to apply the contrast principle in “regular life” as well. When we went to plays or concerts and couldn’t afford a good seat for everyone, we would buy some good seats, close to the stage, and some on the last row of the balcony. At the intermission, we would switch. The kids found that they could see some things better from far away and other things better from the close, expensive view. Again, the contrast gave perspective (and by the way, the kids behaved better than when we were all crammed in together in the mediocre seats).