Monday, December 15, 2008

Over the river...

...and through the woods, to Grandmother's house we won't go.

Every two or three years, we drive cross country for visits with the midwest and mountain grandparents. Other family members fly in or drive from California. A good time is had by all, and the kids get a chance to play in snow.

This year's big trip has been canceled. A few months ago, when it was just gas prices which were up, I wouldn't have dreamed of canceling. So what changed?

Other family members, especially the older ones who rely on investment income, have seen their net worth plummet. Less money and peace of mind meant adjusting travel plans to get the best prices on airfare. Shorter trips, and either before or after Christmas, to avoid the premium days. One other family member called off her whole trip.

This means the only way we'd be able to see [no longer] everyone, would be for us to be in Nebraska and Colorado for the entire winter break, with a couple of one day trips back and forth between the two.
  • Over 3,500 miles of winter driving - alone, with three children and the dog.
  • At least six nights of hotel stays during drive, with more needed if weather takes a bad turn.
  • Six or more days of eating on the road. Even planning for snacks from grocery stores, this cost will be high.
  • Airfare to get the oldest child back to his father's for New Years, since we'd be gone for the entire winter break. (Eek! This would mean the trip back would be the two younger children & dog, without my helpful teen.)
  • Three weeks away from work. Planned for up to two weeks, but three weeks off for this freelancer/independent contractor is not an option.
Switching to air travel could help shave four or five days, by eliminating the bulk of the drive, but the costs would be higher overall. The airfare is a little higher as hotel and gas/auto costs. We'd still need to drive between Colorado and Nebraska, which means a rental vehicle. There would still be a need for a few hotel nights; and the dog would be boarding back here in Atlanta.

There's just no easy way around it. The trip's off this year.

We're far from being the only family making this call.

According to Market Watch, a recent survey found roughly a quarter of people who traveled in the previous few years have canceled all travel for 2008. Almost half of Americans who had been planning larger trips have scaled back to destinations "within driving distance." 53% say it's because of the economic downturn.
Other findings from the research include:
  • Key reasons for cancelling holiday travel plans include "general economic uncertainty" (53 percent), "job concerns" (26 percent) and "expected pay cut/no bonus" (13 percent). Other reasons for not traveling this year include "reducing carbon footprint" (7 percent) and "parents will no longer pay for me" (3 percent)
  • While travel budgets have dipped significantly, more than half (52 percent) of consumers plan to spend about the same amount of money as last year on gifts, so holiday retail sales may not be as flat as predicted

Our gift budget had been cut this year, to allow more money to go towards the trip. Even with the cancellation, I think the lower shopping budget will stay. A portion of the travel funds will be used for an intown family vacation. We'll stay at home, but spend a few days out and about, doing things together. A day downtown, visiting World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium. An evening performance of A Christmas Carol at The Shakespeare Tavern. Ice Skating at Centennial Olympic Park.

Then there's the low cost pleasures of being near home. Taking in one of the Christmas concerts at a local church, where there's a donation basket, instead of tickets. Spending an afternoon seeing if we can string more popcorn on the tree than we can eat. A contest between the boys and girls, to see who can make the longest paper chain, with the winners getting the big mugs for hot cocoa, and first pick off the cookie plate.

The money not spent on the trip will be split between the emergency fund we hope we won't need, and a summer trip to visit the grandparents, when we have two months of flexibility in scheduling, and an extremely low chance of being stranded in Kansas by a blizzard on the way.

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