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Kevlar for the Mind: Perfect family vacation need not be expensive

Jun. 11, 2014 - 11:25AM   |  
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Thereís no mistaking that summer is upon us. The grass is morphing from brown to green, the temperature is rising almost as fast as gasoline prices, and homes are filling up with children who have few, if any, identifiable plans for the next three months.

And arguably the most recognizable marker of this seasonal change is thoughts of a summer vacation.

Most of us look back fondly on past summer vacations, which makes sense. Research shows that taking family trips is a great way to combat depression, anxiety and overall stress levels.

And for those of us who have spent the previous three seasons working long hours, recovering from a deployment or battling the ever-present challenges life throws at us, a brief respite to brighten our moods and lessen our loads is just what we need.

Like most things in life, however, there is a catch. Family trips can increase your stress level if money is tight or if you feel pressured to spend more than you can afford. Since few service members and veterans are independently wealthy, this likely applies to you.

The good news is that your summer vacation doesnít have to cost as much as a good used car or several monthsí worth of mortgage payments. There are ways to cut corners. For example, many theme parks offer free or discounted passes for troops, retirees and their loved ones. The most notable examples are Busch Gardens and Disney.

A great way to cut hotel and travel costs is to sign up for a hotel or travel rewards card. Several major hotel chains offer free nights at many of their hotels once you join. And most airline-sponsored credit cards offer perks such as free flights and no baggage fees after meeting certain minimum spending levels. (However, itís important to note that some of these cards charge annual fees, and I donít recommend this approach if you have a history of getting into trouble with credit cards.)

You can also stay local. Instead of traveling hundreds or thousands of miles from home, rely on your local community for fun and entertainment. Or, if you want to get even more creative, have a vacation without even leaving home. Set up a tent in the backyard, crank up the grill for all of your meals, and rent your familyís favorite movies.

Family vacations are about making new and lasting memories. And there is no direct correlation between the amount of money you spend and how much fun you have. Think back to how your child had more fun with the box than with the toy that came in it. Or how a simple card brought tears to your wifeís eyes. Itís all about the quality time you spend with each other, not the money you spend chasing after the idea of the perfect family vacation.

Bret A. Moore is a clinical psychologist who served in Iraq. Email kevlarforthemind@militarytimes.com. Names and identifying details will be kept confidential. This column is for informational purposes only. Readers should see a mental health professional or physician for mental health problems.

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