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April 26, 2013

STAWAR: Vacation planning: Then and now

Last week was the official deadline for filing your federal income tax return for 2013. It also marked the unofficial deadline for getting your summer vacation plans in shape. 

My wife Diane and I just made it in under the wire. As far back as February, half of all Americans said they had already made reservations or had plans for their summer vacation this year, according to American Express. With such fierce competition, closing the arrangements on that perfect summer rental or getting those ideal flight dates confirmed are becoming less and less likely. 

According to research by Ayelet Gneezy and Suzanne Shu, marketing researchers at the University of California, people are as prone to procrastinate when it comes to pleasurable events as they are to unpleasant activities such as doing their taxes or going to the dentist. 

According to the U.S. Travel Association statistics, leisure travel is a $564 billion industry worldwide. Three out of four of all domestic trips taken are for leisure purposes. 

Vacation planning is essentially a personality-driven activity. Some travelers love to research and plan, while others prefer to “wing it.” According to CNN reporter Marnie Hunter, “Some travelers relish planning trips right down to the last timed museum entry. For others, that kind of scheduling sounds like vacation prison.” 

To us compulsive planners, those “play-it-by-ear” folks appear a little careless, or perhaps just plain lazy. 

Digital technology has changed almost everything, including vacation planning. Today, this process requires hours of studying various websites. Back in the day, before the Internet dominated everything, vacation planning was more of an art. It required a long-term strategy of acquiring and carefully analyzing multitudes of travel books and brochures, as well as newspaper and magazine articles. 

Diane once cut out a travel article about vacationing in Yellowstone National Park in the winter. It took her 25 years, but eventually I did find myself in sensible footwear dodging buffalo on a wild snowmobile ride to Old Faithful. In the days before Google Maps and GPS, difficult-to-fold paper maps — obtained for free from filling stations — played a key role in vacation planning. In order to find just the right route, I remember my father pouring over his Phillips 66 maps for hours, like Napoleon planning his invasion of Russia. 

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