Op-ed: Avoid those vacation photo-ops to actually enjoy the moment

Personal finance

Two winters ago, we vacationed to a hot-spot resort in the Caribbean with our family. Around the perimeter of its casino concourse, a variety of attractions buzzed for our consumption.

We found an art installation to climb on, faux floral arches to position ourselves around and giant milkshakes topped with full desserts in sugar-rimmed glasses to sip from — well, not before the photos.

Photos came first.

To be honest, it felt less like a vacation and more like a visit to one of those immersive exhibits where everything’s a photo-op and everyone you know has taken the same exact photos there. This is because they have taken the same exact photos there, and doubtless, geotagged their location.

Social media has transformed the reason we take photos on vacation. According to a survey conducted by Forbes Advisor, 82% of Gen Zers and 57% of millennials visit certain destinations because they saw them on social media. Many people post their travels in real time, engaging in a perpetual game of capture and share. According to the same survey, 74% of respondents feel some kind of pressure to imitate the travel content they consume online.

Without question, we fell into that camp on our vacation. It was performative, exhausting, and above all, absurdly expensive.

Don’t get us wrong — we love social media for connecting with friends, drawing inspiration from others, and yes, even drooling a bit over beautiful destinations. But its hazard lies in clouding your better judgment when making financial decisions that might not be worth it in real life.

This summer, a little more than half of Americans are planning to take a vacation, according to a Bankrate survey. Out of those travelers, 36% are prepared to take on debt to pay for it. Costs continue to rise across the board for flights, accommodations, even dining, and consumer buying is keeping pace. In the process, many travelers are losing sight of their long-term goals to capture something that feels important in a moment but isn’t at all.

‘Pics or it didn’t happen’ comes at a cost

Morsa Images | Digitalvision | Getty Images

You lose the plot — and your money — when what’s supposed to be for you becomes about showcasing it for everyone else. It’s a classic case of “pics or it didn’t happen.” You can end up spending more time focused on the wrong elements of your vacation, like positioning yourself for the perfect sunset photo-op but then not watching the actual sunset, or filming half of a concert with the camera flipped around on you.

We’ve all done this; it’s no one person’s fault. But is snapping those pics worth paying inflated prices? Going into credit card debt? Stretching your annual vacation budget to accommodate the resort everyone claims to love so much?

Without core memories affixed to those photos, they are not nearly as valuable. The casino resort was crowded, the restaurants priced like Las Vegas, the waits long for almost anything. We had a lovely time together as a family, but almost nothing we snapped a photo of contributed to that time.

Dial into vacation elements that are important to you

When you’re trying to budget and plan for your summer vacation, come up with your cost ceiling first. See how much your proposed travel and accommodation costs eat into that number. If they almost reach your limit, maybe that version of the trip is too expensive. You want to leave room to experience the vacation, and those experiences will come at a cost.

In terms of what you choose to do, put yourselves at the center of those decisions. What will cause you to depart for home from your vacation saying, that felt really good?

Dial into the things that are important to you and your family — not what’s trending online. If you’re into food, focus on the food. If you’re into adventure, invest in that. When you set your itinerary with intention, you find the perspective you need to scale back on the superfluous things that cause you to overspend.

Finally, try putting your phone away or leaving it in the room, just for a little while. Tap into all five senses instead of diverting to some of your ordinary coping mechanisms. Nothing will be more memorable than trying, tasting or seeing something new that you don’t get in the ordinary course of your life.

Take it from us. We went away over the same weekend the following year to a beautiful, much more low-key resort on the beach. While there, we read whole books. Our phones lived in our bags. Our feet lived in the sand. Sure, we took photos, but we took more away from our time together than any photo-op would capture.

— By Heather and Douglas Boneparth of The Joint Account, a money newsletter for couples. Douglas is a certified financial planner and the president of Bone Fide Wealth in New York City. Heather, an attorney, is the firm’s director of business and legal affairs. Douglas is also a member of the CNBC Financial Advisor Council.

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