Those of our fellow globetrotters out there know that, in many countries, our U.S. dollar opens the door to accommodations, restaurants and spas that may be out of reach on our native soil. But does exposure to the "high life" so to speak, prevent kids from enjoying the simple pleasures in life? Here is what we've found out on our own so far.
While living overseas with the State Department, we loved to travel with our kids to explore the exciting world around us. Being budget-conscious parents of four children, we would often stay in local accommodations or even camp when possible. Every once and a while we would throw in a luxurious five-star hotel for a treat....and of course the kids would wholeheartedly wallow in the experience of luxury! Unfortunately, we have learned as parents that more often than not, there are unintended consequences for every well-intended strategy. Once the kids got a taste of the good life, their expectations skyrocketed. Each mention of the next planned accommodation was met with a chorus of "how many stars is it?" Any response of less than "five" was followed by a series of groans and grumbles. If our response was "we're camping!" the groans and grumbles were replaced with outright protest.
Did our good intentions to treat our kids to a little extravagance backfire? Should we never have indulged them with the five-star experience? For a long time, I honestly thought we had ruined our kids for adventure and the joy of simple pleasures by exposing them to "more." But then I began to take note of something. When sharing memories about our past adventures, it wasn't the five-star experiences the kids were talking about (except for the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet at the Marriott in Bangkok.) They were laughing about eating PBJ for Christmas when we lost power at our AirBnB on Langkawi and the night of seemingly endless rounds of Who Stole the Cookie from the Cookie Jar played with the owner...and camping in Sichuan with Chinese folks squatting in front of our campsite for hours watching us like we were stars in a reality show....and bunking up with fellow hikers in a group cabin while hiking the Routeburn trail on the South Island of New Zealand...and trying to sleep on fold out beds on an overnight bus from Guangzhou to Hong Kong surrounded by the sound of the TV blaring and people sucking and crunching on chicken feet...and forgetting a towel when the shower is across the compound at a hostel-like accommodation in the jungles of Borneo...and, well, you get the picture! While they thoroughly enjoyed the five-star experience while living it, the memories that stuck with them were the ones we could look back on and laugh at—even if it didn't seem like the ideal "vacation" at the time. One of the teachers at the high school here has a name for it. He calls it second-degree fun. It's the joy you get from sharing the memory of moments that weren't so perfect the first time around.
Do our kids still ask for five stars when we travel? You bet! Do we still get the moans and groans when it's not? Of course! But we know now that despite their complaints, they are learning that the true measure of an experience is so much more than the number of stars. We still indulge them with a five-star vacation now and again—we are going to treat them to a family cruise to the Caribbean for a week next year. And guess what? Our 14-year old just asked us if we could go camping before school starts for the year! So far it looks like it is OK to pamper kids with a little luxury as long as it is peppered in among those less-than-lavish experiences with lots of second-degree fun. We now know that, despite the grumbles, those experience will be enjoyed and appreciated a thousand times over!
Sherise Cortese is Director of Marketing & Communications at Logbook Financial Planning and a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at the Diabetes & Nutrition Care Center at Pen Bay Medical Center. Most importantly she is a mom of four amazing kids and partner to her best friend and personal adventure planner. Please like our page on Facebook so you don’t miss our content geared to Foreign Service, military and federal government employees.