Status Symbol Vacations

Why take a small child to France when his main interest is French fries?

The Wall Street Journal’s Saturday section, called Pursuits, instructs business readers on what to do with money made Monday through Friday. One section this spring, typical in its ads for very expensive houses and cars, led off with a lengthy article on "Power Trips for Tots" that showed how "extreme family vacations are becoming a status symbol for parents seeking an edge for their kids."

The lead depicted a Tennessee mom receiving a Christmas card last year showing a friend’s two girls, ages 4 and 6, playing with Indian children in the Brazilian rain forest. The card receiver suddenly felt shaky about taking her kids only to Florida or Canada, so this year her family is keeping up by heading to Brazil.

Others are going farther — to sub-Saharan Africa or East Asia. One 3-year-old already has been to South America, Europe and Asia, with his parents bragging that the experiences are favorably shaping his personality. Evidence: In his gymnastics class, some children were pretending to fly to Florida, but the brilliant child said he was heading to Paris.

Is this nutso? I’m all in favor of travel for teens and almost-teens, but aren’t travels to afar wasted on small children? Might they develop the same ennui that enveloped Marie Antoinette, who said "nothing tastes"? The Journal article quoted a bored 10-year-old who traveled to Tanzania: "After you see the animals, it’s not that exciting to see them again."

And if it’s not nutso, it’s conspicuous consumption, as a spokesman at Saint Andrews School in Boca Raton, Fla. acknowledged: "Everyone wants to one up each other." A New Jersey dentist’s wife boasted of a $12,000 one-week trip to Hong Kong with her husband and two children: "Our other friends go to the Caribbean, they go to Florida. That’s as adventurous as they get."

The Journal reported that the 8-year-old on the trip decided against a shark-fin soup meal and didn’t like being stared at by local residents: "it got really annoying." But at least she visited a Hong Kong Toys "R" Us and purchased Nintendo games and rubber balls decorated with Disney characters.

And how about, for a small child’s birthday, a camel safari in Kenya that includes the presentation of a gag "birthday cake" made out of frosted elephant dung? Cost for a family of four, not counting the pricey airline tickets: $31,400.

Hmm. Maybe some precocious children do benefit from extensive travel. Maybe travel-desirous parents are reluctant to leave their children with someone else. And maybe the wealthy who think largely of themselves will spend their money in some way — it might as well be on travel.

(The Journal’s "Power Trips for Tots" article ended on Page P5, and Page P6 featured an article on sunglasses as "entry-level luxuries." Luxury handbags now run well over $1,000, so a pair of sunglasses for only $350 seems a bargain. If such consumption isn’t sufficiently conspicuous, some buy sunglasses for $1,350, $10,000 or even $20,000.)

Fact: The $31,400 spent on a camel safari would aid 82 children in Kenya for a year, given the going rates at Compassion International. Some people, of course, may spend that amount on a trip and then give an equal amount to Compassion International. I know of one well-traveled Christian family that does even more — but their stewardship is uncommon.

Libertarian secularists might say that he who has it can spend it any way he wants. Government-oriented folks call for higher taxes, but that usually leads to officials instead of private citizens taking the expensive trips. Maybe, just maybe, it’s better to follow biblical principle: live simply but comfortably, tithe or more-than-tithe as you go, save enough to pay for old age and have some to give away when you die.


View All