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Investing In Family Time: The Case For Summer Vacation

One of my most memorable vacations growing up took place on a farm.

When I was a boy, my family traveled from the suburbs of New York City to Pennsylvania Dutch country for a weeklong taste of rural life. We stayed in a guest house on a farm, joined in the daily routines and had meals with the farmer and his family. We rose early to visit the cows as they were milked—I even tried my hand at milking one—then tagged along when they were released into the pasture. Then, while the adults busied themselves with farm chores, my siblings and I helped feed the other animals and ran around in the field with the farmer’s kids.

Decades later I still have vivid memories of that trip and of experiencing a lifestyle so different from my own. It made me realize the value of a vacation, of seeing new things, meeting new people and sharing memorable experiences with family members.

To this day I wonder how that farmer ever managed to enjoy a vacation of his own – there is never a day when the cows don’t need to be milked. But that long-ago family trip still informs my approach to planning and taking time off with my wife and kids. It’s time for recharging and connecting. And though I spend much of my work day encouraging people to save, one of the goals we save for can be a family vacation. In our busy lives, investing in family is time and money well spent. And, this summer, with the strong dollar and low gas prices—July 4 prices at the pump were the lowest since 2005, says AAA —a getaway can be an excellent investment in quality time with family and friends.

For my family, our vacations start when we begin planning the trips. We talk about destinations and our budget ahead of time. Among the things we discuss: Can we save by renting a house instead of spending six nights in a hotel? Would it be better to buy groceries and cook a few meals rather than eat out every night? If we save on accommodations, meals or transportation, can we spring for a treat like, say, a charter fishing expedition, a dune buggy rental or some other adventure? Planning becomes a collaborative exercise in online savvy—checking out reviews and options, looking for deals and insights in how to stretch vacation dollars.

Involving the kids in planning the vacation ensures that they have a great vacation too. While I prefer to visit historical sites and museums, they are perfectly content to fish and swim! I need to build in some relaxation time to ensure that the vacation works for everyone. Delving into the economics of vacationing is a good time to talk about current events and the markets. Kids who are up on the news, for instance, might wonder if the Brexit vote makes a visit to England more affordable this summer. (Yes, with the drop in the value of the pound, the UK is on sale, but not on our vacation list this year).

When I ask my own kids about their most memorable vacation, they all reference a memorable week a few summers back we rented the only house on a teeny island off the coast of Maine. A lobsterman named Barney dropped us off with seven days’ worth of water and groceries and said he’d be back to pick us up the following Sunday.

The reason this was such a memorable vacation for the kids was that it was so different from their everyday lives. We would get up in the morning and kayak out to a lobster boat pulling up traps near the island and buy lobsters for dinner right off the back of the boat. The kids cracked open sea urchins and spread them on crackers and we caught lots of fish right off the rocks. We were earning (at least a part of) our meals every day.

Although vacation often means you don’t have to work, sometimes, the most memorable vacations are ones where your work is different. My three kids left electronics behind and instead went fishing and learned how to make ice cream from Irish moss (seaweed). As they disconnected and disengaged from the outside world, they grew more tuned in to one another and to us. I watched them become more independent and grow up during that week. And working to catch their supper brought joy and focus to the day.

Each year, setting aside vacation time to spend together is especially important to us. A relaxed environment opens the doors to all kinds of conversations—deep, silly, sentimental, passionate. There’s no pressure from the usual everyday tasks. I don’t care whether anybody cleaned his or her room or emptied the dishwasher.

Is it tough to take time off from work? You bet. Too many people, it seems, can’t find the time or don’t feel comfortable stepping away from their jobs. More than half the respondents in a recent survey by Fidelity Investments, my employer, said they hadn’t taken a vacation of a week or more in the past 12 months.

And, even when we take time off, it’s easy to get sucked back in. I’m embarrassed to admit that one of my family’s lasting memories from that island retreat vacation is of me climbing the highest rock, holding my cell phone to the sky—Lady Liberty-like—trying to download work emails.

But, hey, it’s just one of many memories from that week— and isn’t creating lasting, shared memories the point of our getaways? We reminisce, tease and keep the vacation afterglow burning long after the trip is over and the bills have been paid. Few phrases are quite as heartening as a fond “Do you remember when …?”

I hope, when my kids look back on our vacations, they remember our getaways as fondly as I recall time with my folks and that hardworking farmer.

Fidelity Life Decisions Study, April 2016


About the author: John Sweeney is executive vice president, Retirement and Investing Strategies for Personal Investing, a unit of Fidelity Investments, in Boston. Follow him on Twitter @SweeneyFidelity.

Views expressed are as of the date indicated and may change based on market and other conditions. Unless otherwise noted, the opinions provided are those of the speaker or author, as applicable, and not necessarily those of Fidelity Investments.

Fidelity Investments and Fidelity are registered service marks of FMR LLC.

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