Last week on a radio talk show, it was announced that NBC News anchor Brian Williams had decided to forego spring vacation with his family this year because of the recession. "Brian makes an estimated reported annual salary of 10 million dollars a year," declared Travel Show host Erik Hastings "As far as I am concerned, he should realize what a vital role he plays in this faltering economy. His money can help people stay in business." Well, this week Brian called in and explained how he had been feeling that in today's economic climate "sitting on a beach with a book and my ipod for a week didn't feel right." Williams, a college drop-out who started working when his father lost his job at age 50, acknowledged that he is overcompensated in TV, but that outside of buying groceries, a lot of "expenditures seem pretty gross these days."
Thankfully, though, he decided not to put travel in that bucket, after all. On the show, he pointed out that this may be the last time his college-age kids have vacations that line up and that he and his wife are now probably going to take them to New Orleans. Clearly, aiding in that city's recovery feels like a more positive way to spend his time and money than sitting idly on a beach. "I also had lunch with my friend Jonathan Tisch, who owns Loews Hotels a week ago," Williams acknowledged, "and I heard it from him that people have got to get out there, spend money, go to a resort, go to a hotel. The busboys depend on that."
They do, and I would argue that family bonding time, especially when it involves showing your children a wider world and how they can learn from it and even have a positive impact on it, is not an indulgence but an investment. Nor does a family break have to be expensive to be meaningul. In this environment, everyone is taking a new look at what things are worth. I, for one, am relieved that irresponsible extravagance is out and that engagement, enrichment and voluntourism are in. It's about time that our society focused on what really matters and has lasting value. The other day a friend, who recently lost her job, remarked that her closet is now full of regrets. When she scans the shelves of expensive designer bags, shoes and clothes that she bought over the past ten years, it kills her to think of all of the money that she spent. "If I could do it over, I wouldn't have bought almost all of it," she said.
We all probably have some foolish spends in our past. Certainly, I do. But in my house we have a shelf with albums from all of the trips that we have gone on as a family--from Disney World and D.C. to Paris and Brazil--and whenever any of us cracks open one of those albums, we are flooded, not with regret, but meaningful memories. They inspire no buyer's remorse. To the contrary, there is a sense of priorities and passion pinned down on the page. Our devoted time together, away from the daily grind, to explore as a family, whether it was reading Lincoln's words carved into the walls of his memorial in Washington, snorkeling among angelfish in Brazil, or introducing my daughter to soufflés in Paris with her grandmother, is to quote that corny ad: priceless.