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Vacation Economics 101: Supply & Demand

A few weeks ago, our family visited Lake Louise, the famously beautiful, glacier-fed lake in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. There is no question that it is exceptionally beautiful; just look at it:

On offer? Canoe rentals, like those ones pictured. Your very own opportunity to explore this extraordinary locale from on the lake!

The price tag?

$105/hour. (Or, half an hour: $95)



Out the door.


I was shocked, SHOCKED at the hourly rate. Partly because we had just been at another lake, less 30 minutes away, where the rate was “only” $60/hour — at that time, I thought it was steep. Here is that subpar 😉 lake view: 

Once we got to Lake Louise, the Emerald Lake $60 price tag sounded like a bargain!

I've made jokes about how vacation (or special events, like a visit to a fair) feels like I am throwing bills up into the air and watching them fly away. But, isn't that what we save up for during regular life — the chance to vacate? For experiences and fun and loose wallets?

Maybe yes, maybe no. It definitely can seem like, on holidays, all bets are off. Here are three thoughts to keep in mind regarding vacation economics:


  1. The price of activities & experiences is commensurate with our willingness to pay for it.

The evidence was clear: the demand on a clear, hot, July Friday to get out on the lake was high. Families were lined up for the experience. I don’t know if there is anywhere else in the world that could charge this price for a canoe rental, but here (where we saw license plates for 20+ states & provinces in the parking lot, and heard snippets of numerous foreign languages), they could, and it worked.

Of course, absolutely, there are many, many, free and inexpensive ways to enjoy vacations. But if it is private, chargeable, and desirable, the price will be determined by a willingness by people to pay that price.

  1. Is it worth it?

Sometimes: absolutely. Sometimes: nope.

I have regrets about certain things we have forgone on various trips... sometimes when we were in the thick of paying for food, accommodations, and (what felt like) everything else under the sun, we passed on things that, in hindsight, I wish we hadn't. A kayak rental, a gallery painting in Provence... and why didn't we go back to that one overpriced gelato stand in Cortona?

But I am also more than happy that we took the free Staten Island ferry instead of the ticketed Statue of Liberty cruise. I have no regrets about the gondola ride in Venice (the Italian equivalent of the Lake Louise canoe), but I am mad about that giant fibreglass dinosaur we paid to climb in the desert... 😕

  1. WE choose.

Even though I think that the price for a canoe rental was astronomical, I don’t take issue with the boathouse charging what they do, if the demand is that high. 

The season is very short (there's ice on the lake at least through the end of May), and I get it: you make hay while the sun shines (or, in this case, make money while the tourists visit).

Ultimately, they choose what to charge. And we choose whether or not to pay it. Whether it’s climbing the Statue of Liberty, going to a Madrid soccer game, or drinking a café au lait on the banks of the Seine, you have the power of your wallet to decide the value.

This value varies subjectively — your "absolutely worth its" may be my "no, thank yous"; this is why travelling with other people isn’t always smooth sailing (canoeing)!


Do you splurge on vacation? How do you decide what is worth it, and what isn't? What are your best no-regrets expenses from holidays past? Share in the comments below:

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