Commentary: Making trade-offs for a family vacation

If you’re out of work, you clearly won’t be booking a cruise or renting a beach house for the summer.

But faced with high gasoline prices and other pressures, even Americans with full-time jobs are curbing their travel plans this year. One in four say they can’t afford to take even a road trip this summer, while an additional 12 percent can afford a trip but will stay home to save money.

Whatever turns your odometer. But even if it bankrupts us — and it just might — my wife, daughter and I are hitting the road sometime this summer to go somewhere, anywhere, credit cards in hand.

Because as the great philosopher Ferris Buehler once observed on a day off: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

We took family vacations exactly twice when my brother and I were growing up in the 1960s. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the trips had been spaced out a little. That way we could have savored memories of our first time for a year or two, and then spent a couple of more years anticipating the next one.

(Sort of like my love life before getting married.)

One year we went to Colorado. The next year, Yellowstone. Then pfft.

My wife’s family didn’t take vacations, either. So we vowed that our kids wouldn’t suffer the same boring fate.

Every year we’ve tried to take our daughter (and her two brothers, when they were home) someplace, if only to go camping. We’ve stuck to it even in those years when we really couldn’t afford to take a trip.

Which was most of them.

Another recent study shows that, on average, American workers get 18 days of paid vacation (which is pathetic by Western standards, with the French getting 37 days and the Brits 28), yet used only 14 of them in 2010. Why? For the same reason as those opting not to take a vacation at all.

“Vacations tend to suck up money,” one financial analyst told CNN. “By forfeiting some of their vacation days, Americans are trying to eliminate the temptation to spend money.”

The frugal, responsible thing would be to put off vacations during hard times.

But if you have kids, you also know this: They grow up fast, and if you’re not careful you can miss it. Before you know it they’re awful, whiny teenagers who wouldn’t be caught dead with their totally uncool parents at the Grand Canyon.

Or for that matter, at the Dairy Queen in Hay Stack, Kan., where as a family you might be killing time waiting for the tow truck.

Seems that beater of yours has just broken down because the money you should have spent on maintenance you spent, instead, on a family vacation.

Hey, I didn’t say there aren’t trade-offs.