Many years ago, my brother inadvertently coined a term I still use today – paycation.  The brilliance of the term lies in the fact that you really do start paying for a vacation long before you ever leave, and you’re usually paying for it long after you return – and I don’t just mean the financial end of it. 

Paycation Planning

As far as I can tell, paycation planning is all about blood, sweat and tears.  Oh, and being robbed by travel providers.  This phase is dedicated to all the painful detail work and organization that will, hopefully, result in a relaxing vacation.  Typical tasks in this phase include:

  • calendar coordination amongst multiple people – some of whom are far too young to have their own lives yet
  • arguing with family over which sorta, kinda nearby relatives you’re going to hit (or skip) on your trip
  • route planning – aka, Why the hell do I have to go to Newark via Denver?
  • And, my personal favorite: being mugged by hotel, rental car companies, and airlines who shamelessly nickel and dime you when they’re not busy scrutinizing your footwear or your Oil of Olay for potential weapons

The Execution

I chose the word execution on purpose because after all the stress of the planning phase, you’re usually ready to kill someone.  But if you were successful in the first phase, this is the point where all the planning either 1) pays off or 2) gets shot to hell by some small, but crucial detail you overlooked. 

Once underway, a typical paycation involves recklessly spending money in the name of fun by acquiring tacky, overpriced crap you’ll never see, touch, smell, eat, wear or use again; things like cheap, plastic coconut-shell shaped branded cocktail glasses or neon green t-shirts that say “I got f’d up in Cabo!”.

The Return

You’re back home.  The house smells kind of funny and it’s weird having no dog around to greet you at the front door.  Your posse is exhausted, but as parents, you have no choice but to spend the next 3 hours unloading and unpacking about ten times the amount of stuff you left home with. 

Of course, if you actually managed to detach from the rat race while you were away,  you now hesitantly fire up your computer to prescreen the horror yet to come, a ritual also known as checking your office email.  Usually there’s a ton of routine stuff and two or three bombshell messages that are so staggeringly bad that you briefly strategize a plan for faking your own death.  When you finally do drag yourself back to work, you spend the first day smacking your forehead against your desk wondering why you ever thought you could truly get away from it all. 

Vacation may be over, but you’re still paying for it… 


Like many people, I have more than my fair share of family paycation horror stories.  I’m sure my mom and stepfather thought they were the ones paying for the trip, but my recollection of events implies that the payment was spread evenly amongst us. 

My family’s paycations were unique in that we never really “went” anywhere.  For some bizarre reason, we would spend 3 weeks a year driving from fabulously interesting Southern California , a mere 30 minutes south of Los Angeles, to Dullsville, Oregon, Notevenonthemap, Idaho, or worse – anywhere in Utah – home of all the white people.  It was like my folks went out of their way to find places that no one else wanted to visit.  Regardless of the ultimate destination (although the word destination seems a bit generous…) our annual roadtrip always included a stop in Vegas.  The trip to Vegas would’ve been great had it not been the gritty 70’s/early 80’s era Dan Tanna-esque Vegas.  You know, the good ‘ole adults only, non-family-friendly Vegas.  Being under age in Vegas back then meant I spent my paycation time either hanging out in a cheap motel room with my baby brother watching TV while my folks stayed out gambling or going to nude reviews all night long, or it meant hanging out in the midway at the Circus Circus hotel with one roll of quarters allotted for several hours of G-rated entertainment, which, in reality, only provided about 3.57 minutes of gaming fun.  Between the sentence of solitary confinement in Vegas, to the ultimate death sentence of third row minivan seating before the days of rear air conditioning or DVD players, my paycations were complete and utter misery, lacking a journey or a destination.   Thank God for Judy Blume books and the Walkman. 

Aside from our stays in Vegas, my famiy was way too cheap for hotels so we would usually sleep in the minivan at roadside rest stops.  Occasionally, driver exhaustion and body odor would force my parents to spring for a $29 single at the Motel 6 – my brother and I being smuggled into the room under blankets or stuffed into my stepfather’s military issue duffle bag to get the cheapest rate.  

Describing my childhood paycations to my husband and friends nowadays, I’ve likened them to the movie National Lampoon’s Vacation but without the wacky fun of the dead aunt on the roof rack.  Worse, I realize now that for the amount of money my family spent driving around on these pointless odysseys we could’ve actually gone somewhere – maybe even somewhere interesting.  I mean, no kid wants to return from summer vacation extolling the virtues of exotic Corvalis, Oregon.  No offense, Corvalis, but for that same $3k, I bet I could’ve had a hell of a time in sleep-away summer camp or visiting every amusement park, museum and mall in Southern California.

I’d like to think that I’ll never fall into the trap of dragging my children on dull travel adventures in the name of family fun, but I’m sure we’re destined to repeat history.  Already, Dick and I are formulating a plan for a one week roadtrip culminating in a visit with relatives the kids don’t know in a place where visiting relatives are the only source of entertainment.  Surely, that plan is frought with potential for misery suitable for many future therapy sessions.   

Upon further reflection, I guess the merit of my childhood paycation experience is that, not only can I recognize things that aren’t fun, I also have an amusing set of travel annecdotes primed for entertaining others way more than the paycations themselves, ever entertained me.  Of course, there’s also the bonus of being able to play the “guilt” card on my kids in the future.  What better way to counter complaints about their misery than to share one of these stories about being slowly suffocated in the back of a minivan for 3 weeks.  I suppose that alone is worth all the paining, the pining, and the paying.

Spread the Love:
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • TwitThis