Blade July 06“Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.” – Ovid

I recently wrote an article appearing in the July issue of the BLADE, a Southern California GLBT magazine. As thoughts turn to summer vacations, I thought it was worth repeating here…

In my twenties, I read the book by Alexandra Stoddard called “Living a Beautiful Life” and remember her writing about the 5-percent rule. She noticed that most people concentrate their energies on things that were for special occasions rather than the things that we do or use everyday.

“The 5-percent rule translates into a tendency to save up for a few outstanding events each year — for a particular party, anniversary or birthday celebration, a vacation. Such events comprise at the most 5 percent of our living time, and the remaining 95 percent is often merely walked through in wistful anticipation of some later joy.”

I think about the 5-percent rule every time that I begin to plan another vacation. What is about time off that makes us splurge and plop down thousands of dollars for an Olivia cruise or RSVP vacation without thinking twice about it? It’s because we deserve it. Or at a minimum, we think we deserve it. After all, Americans on average get only 13 days of vacation days per year. Our friends in Canada get 26 days while Italians clock out at a whopping 42 days per year. Americans are the worker bees of the world.

Workaholic Americans are notorious for going “carte blanche” when it comes time for vacation. The financial experts all agree that it’s better to treat these expenses like any other major purchase. Translation: you plan ahead and budget for the expense. You probably wouldn’t fork over $10,000 for Viking stove or $3,000 for a plasma screen TV without considering the cost. Why then do we arrive home from Tahiti or Provincetown or a zillion places in between with a huge credit card hangover?

It all stems from what Dayana Yochim at The Motley Fool calls the “hedonic treadmill” and she concludes, “The acquisition of commodities and clout provides a short-term emotional lift that makes us want more. We get a raise, spend it, the extra dough becomes moot, and we want more.”

“Sure, a $1,000 increase in salary lifts the spirits,” she says, “But it’s more like a caffeine buzz than a higher plateau of enlightenment.” Vacations are supposed to make all our hard work seem worthy because god knows, the stuff we buy hasn’t made us happy.

Dana interviewed Dr. David G. Myers, an authority on the psychology of happiness and he coined the phrase “the doubly affluent society”. He claims, “Despite air conditioning, TiVo, low-fat cupcakes, and high-speed Internet access, we’re not as happy as our parents and grandparents.”

Maybe it’s time to get back to the basics of our parents’ generation. A trimmed down vacation might be the way to put your toe in the water. Plus, with gasoline prices surging over $3 a gallon in Southern California, maybe it makes financial sense to stay closer to home this summer.

What does a trimmed downed vacation look like? Well, for starters, think like a parent. A family of four generally cannot afford to be as extravagant as single people or even couples. We can all learn from their penny-pinching ways.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

1. Be a tourist at home. Grab a few back issues of Sunset magazine (come on, it won’t kill you) and check out the Southern California travel section. It’s packed full of local destinations. You could spend a day shopping around the schools of Claremont or travel sideways in the Santa Ynez Valley. Ever been to the Huntington Botanical Gardens or the Mission in San Juan Capistrano? Try it. Often times, happiness is in your own back yard.

2. Still need to get the hell out of Dodge? Ever heard of house swapping? Mi Casa Su Casa is a LGBT home trade network that lets you list your home or apartment for three years for sixty bucks. And thanks to American television, there are many Europeans that now want to visit Laguna Beach or other fine places in The OC.

3. Finally, if you really want to be like a family of four… think camping! Personally, I’m more about Idea #2, but this one generally appeals to the lesbians and bears so I’m including it. Camp Gay USA list gay and gay friendly campgrounds in America including eleven in California. So pack up the pick-up and have some low cost fun.