En español | You don't even have to pick the envelope up; you can tell it'll be a wedding or graduation or something of the sort. It's an obligation vacation — also known as the oblication.
While it's a treat to get something in the mail that isn't a bill, the contents of this envelope will cost you a lot more than electricity for the month. You will look at your schedule and begin to add up in your head the hotel, airfare and rental car costs and realize that being there won't come cheap. What's worse is that your budget for the travel you want to take is slowly being chipped away by events you have to go to.
The majority of us use some vacation time for these excursions, and how grumpy you feel about it depends on how you feel about the people you are traveling to see. But remember that your presence is important, and that being there reinforces bonds of family and friendship. I've moaned and groaned right up to the beginning of an event only to be incredibly happy that I made it. And I've come away with memories of love and joy that, quite frankly, have helped me get through some rocky times.
So my advice is to embrace the oblication! Here are some tips for making it a real vacation.
Carve out some time for yourself
No matter where you're going and what event you're going to, do a little research ahead of time. Even the smallest of towns have an interesting shop or two, a Saturday morning flea market or a nature hike nearby.
Save on airfare
Usually big events are on weekends, when airfare is at its peak (leaving Friday, returning Sunday). If you tack a few extra days on either side — say, leave on a Wednesday and return on a Tuesday — you've extended your vacation and booked a cheaper flight.
Plan a road trip
If you want to skip town altogether once the event is over, and getting right back on a plane would be just too much, look for places to visit that are a two-to-three-hour drive away. I always look to a state tourism or visitor website for ideas. There may be an exciting city with theater, music and award-winning chefs, or a beautiful town with a lovely innthat offers morning walks around a lake. Why two to three hours? I think that's the magic time before a drive becomes drudgery. Make sure you choose a scenic route, because as the saying goes, "It's the journey."
Squeeze the most out of your budget
If you've used up a lot of your travel budget on oblications and still want to get in your own vacation, consider destinations that are great getaways but real bargains as well. In the U.S., choose convention cities like Chicago, Las Vegas and Orlando. These cities are not only great places to visit but have a ton of hotel inventory to fill as well as lots of flights to and from. If no big conventions are in town, those prices drop. International travel isn't out of the question either. Countries in Asia, South America and even Europe offer up all the cultural enrichment you are looking for without the exorbitant price tag. Look into Ireland, Portugal, Cambodia and Vietnam as well as Chile and Argentina for a life-changing trip that won't break the bank.
When there's just no way you want to go, remember that oblication travel reaches its peak as the weather gets nicer, around May and June. If you already know that's the time you want your own getaway, plan it, book it and post it on your Facebook page — or start telling your family so the word is out. No one should expect you to cancel a trip to Italy or your two weeks touring national parks out West for an invitation that came after you booked.