Summer can be an ideal time to get away from it all.
Unfortunately, the family budget may not support that adventurous spirit. That can make a “staycation” — a vacation at or close to home — an ideal alternative, at least from a financial standpoint.
But like any vacation, planning and execution are keys to making the staycation a memorable event. That means not only fresh ideas on what to do but general rules of thumb to help ensure it's as relaxing and enjoyable as any far away excursion.
“The key to a perfect staycation is experiencing something you can’t experience in your own backyard, but yet is within driving distance,” said Ken Koskym, spokesperson for the Indiana Dunes area in Michigan. “In other words, you want to hop in the car and go somewhere that feels worlds away.”
Fun close to home
One misleading hurdle to an enjoyable staycation is the assumption that you’ve seen and done everything close to home that’s fun or different.
Test that assumption by visiting the local AAA office or a travel agent to learn about the recreation, dining and other downtime ideas. Read a local area guide for ideas about day trips, excursions and other activities you may have not known existed. As John Wetmore, producer of Perils for Pedestrians television series, noted, “What do visitors come to your town to see?”
A variant on that theme is taking a fresh approach to destinations with which you’re already familiar. For example, you may have walked the same direction on a nearby nature trail dozens of times, but never thought to try the other way.
“A great way to spend a day without spending a lot of money is to go for a bike ride on a local trail out to a park or scenic spot and have a picnic lunch,” said Wetmore. “Head off in a different direction each day.”
Taking that same idea a bit further is a day trip to a nearby destination that, however close, provides a contrast from surroundings closer to home.
An example is the Indiana Dunes area on the southern shore of Lake Michigan. While the area is within half a day’s driving distance from varied metro and urban settings containing half of the U.S. population, the dunes area contains 15 miles of beaches, 70 miles of hiking trails and forests, marshes and prairies.
Here are a few more opportunities close to home:
- Bed and breakfasts. The relaxing and intimate atmosphere of a bed and breakfast can make for an affordable short-term getaway. “If you don't want to leave town, you would be surprised to see how exhilarating an overnight stay just five miles down the road can be,” said Deborah Sakach of iloveinns.com. “As a B&B writer, I once stayed at a small inn where a Hollywood couple was staying, even though they lived in the same town. They even brought their baby.” Nearby hotels also offer discount staycation packages.
- Outdoor excursion programs. Even the most built-up metro area offers outdoors opportunities, such as nature hikes or agritourism programs. As urban naturalist excursion host Melissa Danielle suggested, check with nearby outdoors and camping stores, the Sierra club, Audubon centers and the local parks department for programs that are often low-cost or free.
- Museum or amusement parks. Many museums rotate exhibits and offer a changing lineup of summertime programs for kids and teens. Check with your employer to see if it has any arrangements offered as an employee benefit. “Employers may be a corporate member of a cultural institution, which would grant them complimentary admission,” Danielle added. Also consider a family pass or membership at nearby museums, zoos or amusement parks.
- Out of the ordinary. Make even staying at home a little different for a day. For instance, if your kids love movies, pick out some classic movies to binge on. “Choose a theme like cowboy westerns, comedies, aliens or even Harry Potter,” said family travel expert Meghan Khaitan. Another chilly or rainy day option for kids is a video game Olympics. Most gaming systems offer lots of sports, such as bowling, tennis, baseball and boxing. “Keep the games short so everyone has a turn — you can even set up tournaments and play for prizes to make it more competitive,” said Khaitan. And don't forget to have treats on hand like soda, popcorn or an ice cream sundae bar.
Like a vacationOne overriding guideline to help ensure an enjoyable staycation is to do everything possible to make it feel as though you were vacationing elsewhere. That starts with mapping out an itinerary of activities and travel.
“Make a schedule of each day of your staycation and what you plan to do. Make sure you have enough activities planned to cover the duration of the staycation," Khaitan said. "Having a mix of time at home and time out of the house is a good balance.”
An appropriate mindset is also critical to enjoying yourself during a staycation. As Greg Palomino, creative executive officer of Cre8Ad8, a San Antonio event planning concern, suggested, buying a souvenir can make a fun day more memorable, even if it was only a few minutes from your driveway.
Lastly, treat a staycation like the genuine downtime that it is. Turn off your business smart phone. If the laundry starts piling up, leave it be until your staycation is over. If you’re staying at a nearby hotel act as though home was a thousand miles away.
“Whatever you do, don’t run back to the house because you forgot your hairdryer or toothbrush,” said Palomino.
Jeff Wuorio lives in Southern Maine, where he covers personal finance and entrepreneurship. He may be reached at email@example.com and his website is at jeffwuorio.com.