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What I Learned This Week: The New Math of Vacations

03/03/2014 05:23 EST | Updated 05/03/2014 05:59 EDT

I am writing this post from the Alyeska Hotel in Girdwood, Alaska, a place our shuttle bus driver described as a "hippie town," about 45 miles away from Anchorage. I am in the midst of a snowboard vacation, and while I know that I should be relaxing and taking it easy, I'm learning so much that I would feel delinquent if I didn't blog about it before I got home.

The major lesson then, and there have been quite a few, is that:

When you're on vacation, all reasonable units of measure are thrown right out the window.

Caloric consumption increases exponentially.

Time expands and contracts at rates that send Einstein's theory of relativity into a tailspin.

But both of these mis-measurements pale to the epic devaluation of money, no matter what one's currency of preference may be. You may be stone cold sober, but when on vacation, something inside your brain is tweaked so that money is spent like a slap-happy drunk on exorbitant things not available at home, on on things that are, but exorbitantly marked-up.

For example, yesterday I took in a helicopter "flightseeing" tour from Alpine Air Alaska. This 90-minute journey in a teeny four-seater didn't just fly me over, around and through glaciers, but landed on the shores of one, where we watched -- at what I was assured was a safe distance -- ice chunks weighing hundreds of tons cracking off mountainsides and tumbling into the water.

It was breathtaking and unforgettable, but the cost for this sojourn for myself and my family was the weekly salary of a relatively wealthy person. And despite the fact that I'm a guy who crosses town to save a penny or two on a litre of gasoline, I laid down the credit card to pay for it without the semblance of a qualm. Until the bill comes in I suppose... but I digress.

Another revelation is:

When you're on vacation, you do the type of things that you would never, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER do in your city of residence.

For example, on Saturday, I took in the traditional starting ceremony of the 1000-mile Iditarod Sled Dog Race, where I stood in the cold four hours on 4th Avenue in Anchorage watching superstar mushers (yes, these men and women are international sport celebrities), their machine-like sled dogs, and special ceremonial passengers (many who paid thousands of dollars for the privilege of something akin to riding the Zamboni at a hockey game) wave to the crowd.

And it wasn't just me and the locals. People came from miles away -- I mean, MANY miles away, like New Zealand, Sweden, Norway, Australia, Florida and even Jamaica -- to be part of this. Pardon the pun, but sled-dogging has a most rabid group of fans, some who even fly from checkpoint to checkpoint over the eight-day-or-so race. It's like I tell my marketing class at McGill, these days, "Every niche is huge"... but that's the subject of a future blog post.

Now I'm not making fun of, nor am I disparaging any of my newfound cultural activities/tourist attractions. Au contraire, I am in awe of their power and economic necessity. Money can't buy you love, but it sure can pay for experiences and memories. And for views like the photo below (a shot of the glacier landing I took with my iPhone), which are unique and personal and exclusive... unless you buy one of the numerous souvenir books, framed or mounted photos by one of the area's official photographers, or artistic interpretations on canvas or in brass from a gaggle of professional and amateur artists.

No wonder tourism is so crucially important for governments at the federal, provincial, state, county and/or municipal level. It's the ultimate economic surplus effect--outsiders come in and leave their hard-earned dollars behind.

So as the rest of the week in this most majestic part of the world beckons, I leave you not just with my over-arching meta-learning, but a suggestion to politicians everywhere:

Wanna boost the economy? Just boost the amount of our vacation days.

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