Yes, thinking about Christmas already. Sorry.
October 16, 2013 6:30 AM   Subscribe

My brother and I would like to give my parents a large chunk of cash this Christmas with the intent that they use it to travel. How do we do this most effectively?

My mom is always whinging about how she'd like to be able to travel, and she and my dad always cite "it's so expensive!" as the reason why not. My parents aren't hard up for cash--they're comfortable. I think mostly it's just inertia and laziness coupled with the idea that a "vacation" is a "luxury" and therefore not worth spending money on. My brother and I have both had a really good year and both the parents just hit milestone birthdays (that passed without any fanfare) and we think this is a good time to give them a BIG GIFT. We can't just buy them tickets someplace, since neither of them are too keen on flying and I'm sure my mom would want to do months and months (and months) of planning.

So my question(s) is this:

What is the best way to give them money and actually make them use it for travel?

-I know if I give them a check they'll just let it sit and molder without ever cashing it.

-Giving them just cash seems...I don't know, weird? I'm trying to think of creative ways to present it to them, like origami folded bills in the shapes of boats and planes and such.

-Short of threatening them at knifepoint until they go to the airport, how can I best encourage them to actually make a plan? What helping hands should I give them, materials-wise? I'm not really a traveler, so I don't know what would be useful here.

I know that the real answer here is that we can't make them do anything--I'm really looking for tips to give them a not-so-gentle nudge. They never, ever spent any money on just themselves while we were kids, and we really want them to be able to go and do something totally frivolous and fun, finally, for the first time in nearly 30 years.
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can you arranged to pay for the services of a travel agent, and then tell the travel agent that you are paying $XX of the cost?

That might help get them past all their inertia...
posted by larthegreat at 6:35 AM on October 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

Perhaps a gift certificate with a trustworthy, friendly travel agent? It sounds like that would satisfy your Mom's desire for planning and also ensure that the money didn't just get used for household expenses.
posted by arnicae at 6:36 AM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

A few years old but pretty much all of the info still applies:
posted by UncleBoomee at 6:38 AM on October 16, 2013

Places like Travelocity and Orbitz do have Gift Certificates but man, they are really annoying to get a hold of and purchase. I'd say if they live in a smallish town head down to the local travel agent and get them to write an IOU or something. OR just give them the cash. Maybe they won't use it, maybe they will, but that's true of a gift certificate too right?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:40 AM on October 16, 2013

What sort of relationship do you have with them? By that I mean, could you tolerate planning the trip and then going on the trip with them?

I know if I gave my mom a chunk of cash in any form for travel she'd go buy herself a scratch ticket and give me back the rest of the money, saying it was "too much" or she's "happy at home" or whatever.

On the other hand, my wife and I have taken my mom on several trips, carefully planning the itinerary and lodging so as not to be driven totally completely fucking batshit insane spending that much time with her, whom we love dearly.

We just say something like "don't plan anything the first two weeks of March, you're doing something with us." or whatever.

Alternately, you could book a bus tour for them and then hand them the itinerary, with maybe some cash for spending money.
posted by bondcliff at 6:41 AM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

In addition to gift certificates to a travel agency - how about a gift certificate to a tour company, like Bellagio Tours or River Cruises or whatever?

Or, a membership in a house exchange, or at least an offer to sign them up. This is how one of my friends' parents pay for their travel - it's kind of like AirBnB, except while you're staying in someone else's house, you pay for it by letting another person stay in your house. Granted, your parents may be weirded out by that part, but it is something that cuts down on costs like crazy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:43 AM on October 16, 2013

I would maybe consider that your parents are using the financial stuff as an excuse when the reality is they may not actually want to travel at all. Someone in my family is always saying she's "too busy" to travel but she's retired and has plenty of time; she's just never been on a plane in her life and has no intention of starting now.

If you want to proceed, a travel agent gift certificate is the way to go.
posted by something something at 6:43 AM on October 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

Just FYI: depending on how much cash we're talking about you could trigger gift tax obligations. The exclusion for 2013 is $14,000, which is quite a bit, but you can get pretty close to that with a lavish vacation for two people. Just something to think about.
posted by valkyryn at 6:45 AM on October 16, 2013

Travel agent or Expedia et al gift certificate.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 6:47 AM on October 16, 2013

I'd plan a trip and present it to them. A cruise or an escorted tour (if they might like that) or even something like Monograms, where the airfare and hotel and airport transfers are included, but once they're there, it's up to them to plan their own itinerary. We did a Monograms tour like this and it was tremendous value for money, also VERY easy, as we didn't have to fuss with anything. We got a few perks with it too. A half day tour of London (which was WAY better than it had a right to be), two tickets for the London Eye and a few free drinks at the hotel.

There was an on-site person at the hotel, so if we had questions or wanted to make arrangments, she was able to assist us with that. She recommended a day trip to Stonehenge and Bath that was really fun and interesting!

Other than that, we just got up, ate our included English Breakfast and went about our adventures in London.

One of the easiest and most memorable vacations we've taken.

Really, it seemed cheesy and fusty at first blush but it was the best of both worlds.

So pre-pay it, and present it!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:51 AM on October 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

How about taking them on a cruise, as part of a multi-generational family vacation? You and your brother, perhaps your siblings, plus associated kids/spouses, all going as a group WITH your parents --- not just sending your parents off somewhere by themselves.

One of the things that might be holding them back is, for lack of a better word, shyness: they're not sure about going somewhere they don't know by themselves. So, take away that awkwardness by taking along people they DO know, on something like a cruise, where it's new to them but not overwhelming by changing hotels every day or two.
posted by easily confused at 7:51 AM on October 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just FYI: depending on how much cash we're talking about you could trigger gift tax obligations. The exclusion for 2013 is $14,000, which is quite a bit, but you can get pretty close to that with a lavish vacation for two people. Just something to think about.

Each sibling can give each parent $14,000 before triggering a gift tax filing obligation, then it goes against the unified credit exemption amount up to about $5M. So, unless the OP and brother have significant assets and will be gifting over $56,000 to the parents this calendar year, this will not be an issue.

Here's a helpful travel gift card article from 2008.
posted by melissasaurus at 8:13 AM on October 16, 2013

If they are the sort to like that kind of thing, I'd buy them some sort of prepackaged trip or cruise. The whole here is some money/gift certificate do something with it scenario just invites more inertia.

Also if they haven't traveled much it could be fear of the unknown holding them back to so a prepacked trip is less scary as you just follow along from point A to B and is a good way to get your travel feet wet. If they are the sort of people happy with routine and things nice and organised a cruise or maybe a Resort stay would be right up their alley, Disneyworld and their many Resorts are pretty much made for people that like to travel without travelling (though I love Disney and travelling so not sure what that says about me).

Another advantage to the preorganised trip and just giving them the tickets is it's a lot harder for them not to go, it's booked here are the tickets, we'll loose money if you don't go.
posted by wwax at 8:25 AM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think if your parents are amateur travelers, the travel agent gift certificate is a good way to go, but I also wanted to mention that many airlines allow you to purchase gift cards for flights, i.e. the Southwest Gift Card.

For travel packages, I like Budget Travel's site which lists many interesting options for any length and budget.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:24 AM on October 16, 2013

Mod note: This is a followup from the asker.
Hey, guys

Thanks for the suggestions so far. I think Ruthless Bunny's suggestion of this Monograms thing might be the closest to a solution so far. It occurs to me that maybe what my question here was more to brainstorm suggestions for them so they could see themselves going, "well, gee, we did always want to do that..." or something.

My parents USED to be big time travelers, though only around the US. They met on a blind date canoe trip, of all things, and went on a road trip for their honeymoon, bouncing around between camping/car sleeping/motels every night. They are good at planning trips and enjoy them. And then life got in the way, and now I think they've just stagnated and see travel as something that young people or reckless people do.

They are not resort people. They are not cruise people. I could maaaaaybe see them doing an Alaska cruise or something. There's only a 60% or so possibility they'd fly somewhere.

My brother and I would NOT be going with them. 1) We all hate each other. Not really, but y'know. 2) Their entire lives since we came into the picture have been about us. This is about them.

Lordy no, nowhere near $14K. This is more on the scale of "well, this is enough to pay for your flights, so you can't use airfare as an excuse anymore."
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:33 AM on October 16, 2013

OK now I've read the update, I'll change my suggestions a little as it seems I was a bit off the mark, though there are a lot of more adventurous tourism packages too, and I stick by my a prepaid package (even if you put it together yourself) is harder to refuse than cash theory.
posted by wwax at 10:25 AM on October 16, 2013

What about an Amtrak vacation?
posted by melissasaurus at 10:47 AM on October 16, 2013

It seems that, as well as getting them to accept the cash, you also need to get them excited about a trip somewhere.

I drove around New England for my honeymoon, and as well as a really helpful question here, I also loved the roadmap I bought, and the Lonely Planet's best trip guide.

I know I've got access to Google Maps for free, and I had a GPS when over there, but I really loved having a big map to unfold and poke at when planning the trip, and it helped to get a feel of the scale of the place when over there.

Whilst we didn't do any of the trips from the book end to end, we picked out pieces, and it approaches things in a bit more of a chilled and natural way than the average guide book.

Both these things got my wife more excited about the trip than flicking about websites did.

Rand McNally New England Regional Map

Lonely Planet New England's Best Trips (Travel Guide)

Another way you could approach this would be to just book and pay for a long weekend away somewhere a few hours drive away. I know this isn't the "big trip" you're dreaming of sending them on, but perhaps this and a few select guidebooks would get them the travel bug again?
posted by chrispy108 at 2:12 AM on October 17, 2013

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