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Saw a great article in the Wall Street Journal – Why parents shouldn’t take over the top vacations.

The dumbest financial lesson I see parent’s teach their children today is to take fancy vacations that simply aren’t in the family budget. As a side note, over-the-top birthday parties aren’t far behind on my list. Take the average parent today who has a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old and they get the bright idea to wipe Disney World off the bucket list.  Going to Disney World isn’t enough. You’ve got to get a fancy room at Animal Kingdom or the Contemporary. You decide to get a fast pass for all of the different parks so you can be first in line. You spend extra money to gain access to have breakfast with Disney characters. Essentially, you make this an all-out full- throttle vacation.

a castle with blue towers

The article goes on to paint the picture of the typical toddler “meltdown”, which then “ruins” the whole vacation.

We talked a little about this regarding hotel stays.  Why go all-out for a 5-star hotel for the next family vacation, when budget hotels DESTROY “nice” hotels in several categories that are important for family travel, not to mention that if your kids are anything like mine, all they really want is a swimming pool and a waffle maker anyways…


To me, one of the keys to successful family vacations (or even anything family related like birthdays and Christmas) is managing expectations.  Most of life’s disappointments can be traced back to unmet expectations.  This is true for adults as well as kids.  My wife used to hate Mother’s Day, until she realized that the reason she didn’t like it is that she had a certain “vision” or expectation of how the day should go, but never let the rest of us know what she wanted.  And so, when the day unfolded and her expectations weren’t met, she would feel sad or upset.  Once she realized that and let us know what she was expecting, everyone was happy!

Same thing goes for birthdays, Christmas, or even vacations!  If your kid expects a giant over the top of birthday party, or hundreds of Christmas presents or the “ultimate” vacation, and doesn’t get them, they’re likely to throw a tantrum.

Which is not to say that you have to do Christmas all Little House on the Prairie style (an orange in the stocking), but consider the expectation and precedent that you are setting.  Most kids do not inherently WANT or NEED everything – think of WHY you’re doing what you’re doing.


Now that’s not a knock on Disney – I know several families that love Disney, and there are arguments even for why Disney with younger kids is better than as they get older.  We are planning a Disney vacation within the next year or two.

I would just encourage parents to not have unrealistic expectations about a Disney or any other trip – as my wife likes to point out, it’s still going to be there later and you don’t HAVE to do everything all in one trip.  I get the idea of trying to do as much as you can while you’re there, but remember we’re miles and points collectors!  We can go “whenever” we want!!

Have you ever broken the bank on a family vacation?

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