The Recession Vacation: Should You Take It or Not?

06/26/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

As we move into summer, the subject of vacations is becoming a difficult one to address. With the economy on the slow path to recovery, many people have to decide how to spend their remaining dollars. Below are seven principles related to the vacation recession that may help you come to terms with how you are making your decisions.

(1) Should I create more debt? This answer to that question is not as obvious as it seems. While it is probably not advisable to create financial debt, what about the stress and emotional debt? Unless there is simply no (as in zero) money to go on vacation, vacations afford us some time away from the difficulties of everyday existence. They allow the mind to rest for a while, and this rest could be a very valuable investment in your future. With rest, minds become refreshed with new ideas, and the strain on your body is also eased. So, when you're wondering about "debt," factor in what the investment of a vacation will bring to your mind and your body and what you are paying if you opt to omit one.

(2) Should I travel less far away due to escalating gas or air travel costs? The question here is: how far do you need to travel to put your worries behind you for a week or two? To be a little ridiculous, if you travel down the road to a nearby hotel, you probably will not benefit from the psychological rest of being in a different place. On the other hand, if you go to Hawaii from the east coast f the US or Italy from the west coast of the US and still bring your worries with you, it doesn't matter how far you travel. The more important question here, relates to the cost of fueling your mind and body with worries. Place, in effect, matters less than your commitment to leaving your worries behind.

(3) Should I spend the extra money on restaurant food or should I go to a place where I can cook? Firstly, who is going to cook? And secondly, what does cooking bring to that person? Is it a source of relaxation or a source of stress? Secondly, how do you respond to that "special night out"? If you like to occasionally spoil yourself, vacations are a great time to do this. You could mix in some cooking time with some great time out, and splurge on that extra night out if it is affordable. But again, affordable is not just about what is in your pocket, but about the cost to the emotional health of you and your family. Also, if you enjoy a cocktail or two at dinner, you may want to plan a glass of wine before you go out so that you can save on the cost one or two additional drinks at a restaurant.

(4) Should I put that money away in a 401(K) instead? Here, I would argue that your retirement savings mean precious nothing if you subject your mind and body to stresses that will kill you sooner rather than later. The ultra-cautious may feel as though there is no other option but I would encourage you to think about this more. What if the time you gave yourself away allowed you to work more productively when you returned so that you made even more money to put away?

(5) How can you relax when you know that you will be coming back to the same mess that you are leaving behind? The simple answer is that you can't. But in this case, compartmentalizing your life can be helpful. If not, you carry the burden of the stress wherever you go. Accept that this mess will be there when you return, but if you do not make the time to enjoy yourself, there will always be a reason to be overwhelmed and worried. There are never enough hours in a day to get work done. But there are enough hours to set aside to have some fun, rest and relaxation.

(6) But this thinking is what got us into the recession in the first place? Maybe. But does that mean that we should do the opposite and give up real living time to punish ourselves? Does that mean that we should go from extreme splurges to completely robbing ourselves of any rest? If you feel that this is the case, then you are likely not attending to your predilection to self punishment. You may be ignoring the value of striking a balance. The future is built on the present, and reacting to the initial stress of the economy is normal. However, you have to move from this reaction mode to one that is more acknowledging of your emotional and psychological needs as well.

(7) What if there simply is no money to go on vacation? If the bottom line is truly that there is not enough money, then you may try a few other approaches. You may take some weekends off at times that you plan so that you have something to look forward to. You maybe able to afford one weekend every three months, for example. You may also create "vacation" days at home, where you and your children, for example, have special liberties that you may not otherwise have. In the latter case, planning for the next realistic vacation may be helpful as you will have something concrete to anticipate as well.

The overall message here is that stress diminishes productivity and well-being and that vacations can be a great help in rejuvenating a person. Working with your financial limitations rather than subjecting yourself to "no vacation torture" may be worth considering in the short and long-term.