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Staycation Ideas – How to Plan a Low-Cost Vacation Near Home

I love road trips and travel as much as the next person. However, as anyone who has taken a trip knows, it’s common to return from a vacation feeling worn out. This is the beauty of a staycation, a vacation in which you stay at home or enjoy nearby tourist destinations. You can rest, relax, restore – and save your money.

In fact, according to Google, searches for “staycation” are on the rise. People searched for the term 10% more often in 2014 than they did in 2013, despite an improving economy.

Preparing for a Staycation

Staycations don’t usually require as much planning (or spending) as traditional vacations, but they do require some. As for how you spend your time off, that depends on your personal interests. You can plan in advance to either hole up at home or hit the town with a to-do list of entertainment options. Or, you can just see how you feel when you wake up and play it by ear. Regardless, there are several things you must do in advance.

1. Clear It With Your Boss

It might be tempting to frame this as time spent “working from home,” but if you want a real vacation, you need to take real vacation time. By doing so, you reserve the right to step back from professional responsibility for the duration of your time off. If you’re asked about your plans, it’s a good idea to be honest that you’re not going anywhere. After all, it would be very awkward if you say that you’re leaving town and then bump into your boss at the local coffee shop.

2. Disconnect

One of the perks of traveling to a remote destination is being able to unplug. It’s harder to say, “Sorry, I don’t have email access,” when everyone knows you’re in town and undoubtedly near WiFi. That means taking matters into your own hands.

  • Make It Automatic. Set up an out-of-office email response. If possible, identify someone else in your workplace to whom you can direct people who are trying to get in touch with you.
  • Make It Clear. Let your colleagues and supervisor know not to bother you unless something is extremely urgent. Tell them that you won’t be checking email, so they’ll need to call you if they need something.
  • Do Your Part. If you tell everyone that you’re going to be unavailable but then you answer a few emails, you’re sending the message that you are, in fact, available. Do your part by truly signing off. This is easier to do when you’re on a trip than when you’re staying in your own city. But to get the most out of your staycation, you need to sign off and stick to it.

3. Create a Pre-Staycation To-Do List

Some people take staycations so they can paint their house or finally organize their storage closets. That’s a perfectly acceptable use of time – but if your goal is to unplug and unwind, you may want to avoid these types of projects, as well as routine tasks.

Here are several things you may want to take care of prior to your staycation:

  • Schedule any professional home services (such as hiring a plumber) that you’ve been putting off. If the purpose of your staycation is rest and relaxation, you don’t want to deal with mundane tasks such as this.
  • Clear clutter and clean your home. You may even want to spring for a house cleaning service before your vacation starts so you can enjoy your time off in a spotless home.
  • Tend to seasonal yard work and your garden.
  • Sort through the mail pile.
  • Pay all of your bills.
  • Do the laundry – and don’t forget to wash and change linens and towels.
  • Stock up on groceries and essentials.

Not all planning for a staycation is tedious. There are also a number of fun items you might consider adding to your pre-staycation to-do list:

  • Load up your DVR queue.
  • Research which streaming services (Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime) have the best movies and shows for the best price.
  • Check out books at your local library.
  • Scour Groupon or other daily deal sites for local deals.
  • Make a list of local restaurants that deliver or are worth visiting.
  • Research the must-see locations in your town.

Devoting time to planning in advance can allow you the opportunity to shop around, compare prices, and plan for entertainment and activities that won’t negatively impact your personal budget.

dad camping in the backyard with kids

Making the Most of Your Time

There are two primary versions of a staycation: holing up at home, or hitting the town and becoming a tourist in your own city.

1. Holing Up at Home

This option is best if you’re on-the-go 24/7 and dream of taking a break from appointments, people, and polite conversation – preferably while wearing pajamas. Aside from tackling the pre-staycation to-do list, you probably won’t want to plan too much in advance, as the whole point of staying in is to clear your schedule and do whatever works for you.

Here are several ideas for fun and relaxation while you stay in:

  • Binge on Films or TV Shows. Watch all the saved films in your Netflix queue, or watch a whole series from beginning to end. If Netflix isn’t your choice, consider signing up for Hulu or Amazon Prime.
  • Read a Book. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly one-quarter of Americans didn’t read a single book in 2013. Break the trend and lose yourself in a book or two (or more). You don’t have to spend money to become a bookworm. Check out your local library – you might be surprised at the selection, even of new releases, and your library may also have DVDs. If you’re truly committed to staying home during your staycation, visit the library before it starts.
  • Teach Yourself a New Skill. If you’ve always wanted to learn to solve a Rubik’s cube, spin a basketball on your finger, or juggle, now may be the time. Emerge from your staycation with a whole new skill. Look up videos on YouTube for instructions on just about anything you can imagine. If you’re interested in learning a new language, try a free app or website such as Duolingo, which offers no-cost lessons.
  • Camp at Home. If your staycation involves kids, break up the routine by camping out in your own backyard. Set up a tent and, if your city codes allow, have a small campfire (or fire up a camp stove) and roast marshmallows for s’mores. If not, you can broil marshmallows in your oven. Make hot chocolate, tell stories, and rest assured that you can always head inside if you need to use the facilities or if poor weather hits.
  • Have a Picnic. Have a picnic in your own yard or in a neighborhood park. You can head inside if you forget something, and transporting dirty dishes back will be a snap.
  • Cook Meals From Scratch. If you’re always frantically rushing to get dinner on the table (or relying on costly take-out), a staycation offers you the opportunity to take your time. Cooking and baking from scratch can be more cost-effective than dining out or buying prepackaged foods, but it takes some trial and error. When you’re off work and at home, you have time to risk making mistakes. Look up recipes on a website like Allrecipes and check YouTube for instructional videos.

While it’s true that holing up means retaining access to your home WiFi, don’t let this tempt you into staying connected to work. Let friends and family know how to reach you, but otherwise, shut everything down. Disconnect the landline, and don’t check work email or voicemail. Otherwise, your staycation will be no different than working from home. If you start experiencing cabin fever (or simply cannot escape the urge to work while at home), consider becoming a tourist in your own city.

couple lounging in their backyard

2. Getting Out of the House

If you’re tired of the day-in, day-out routine but can’t afford to hop on a plane, become a tourist in your own town. While it costs a bit more than holing up at home, there are still many ways you can save money.

Sometimes we avoid touristy spots in our own hometowns simply because we aren’t tourists. But there’s a reason those spots are popular: There’s something to see there, even if it might be a bit cheesy. Put your ego aside and go experience it – if nothing else, you can see your area through an outsider’s eyes, and maybe even develop a new appreciation for where you live.

If you don’t already have a list of local destinations in mind, visit your local or regional chamber of commerce for ideas. You can also solicit input from friends or neighbors regarding their favorite parks, museums, restaurants, theaters, and other sources of entertainment and recreation.

Several more ideas include:

  • Enjoy a Spa Day. You might feel as though you can’t afford a day at the spa. However, the beauty of having a flexible schedule is that you can shop around and compare prices. Furthermore, you can visit during off-peak hours when appointments can be easier to get, and prices might be lower. Or, visit a beauty school, where students perform treatments under the supervision of a teacher. These appointments are often available for a fraction of the price of a professional spa or salon. Be sure to check out daily deal sites, such as Groupon and LivingSocial, for specials as well.
  • Visit a Favorite Place at a New Time. Maybe you have a favorite coffee shop, store, or museum, but you’re always battling crowds when you go during your usual free time. Embrace the opportunity to visit midweek when you can be first in line and take your time.
  • Do Lunch. Perhaps there’s an expensive restaurant in town that you’ve been dying to try, but it seems out of your price range. Find out if the restaurant is open for lunch and, if so, whether it offers a lower-priced lunch menu. It’s a great way to take advantage of a high-end restaurant for less money – and it always feels luxurious to take as much time as you want without needing to race back to work.
  • Take a Hike or Bicycle Ride. If you want to explore by foot or by bike, search online for “trails near me” to find options. Be sure to check distance and difficulty in advance so you can prepare accordingly, and pack plenty of snacks and water. Day permits for state parks often cost $5 to $15, while city parks and trails are usually free to use.
  • Stay at a Hotel in Your Own City. A one-night getaway at a hotel near home can be the perfect cure for cabin fever. To save money, be flexible regarding the night you stay – Sundays and Mondays are often the cheapest nights. To save even more money, you may want to wait until the last minute to book, as hotels often slash prices in an effort to fill empty rooms at the last minute (just be ready to be turned down). Make a list of your ideal hotels and start making phone calls after 3pm (a common check-in time) on the night you want to stay. You might be able to score savings of 40%, 60%, or even 80% off normal rates.
  • Volunteer. If you’ve always wanted to volunteer but couldn’t find the time, a staycation can provide the opportunity. Find an organization that seeks short-term, drop-in assistance. Call in advance to ensure that your help is needed, and be sure to mention any special skills or training you have that could be beneficial to the organization.
  • Hit the Road. While this doesn’t technically fall within the description of a true staycation, a short day trip can be a great way to break up your week and let you take advantage of something you might not usually have time for. Maybe the world’s best donuts are sold just a couple of hours away, or maybe you want to visit a nearby town and go window shopping. If so, you have the time.
  • Take In a Matinee. Many theaters offer matinee performances during the day at a reduced price, generally before 6pm. In addition to finding cheaper tickets, you may also find the theater to be quieter and less crowded.
  • Connect With Friends or Family. Take advantage of your free schedule to catch up with friends who stay home, are retired, or have opposite work hours from you. Visit a park together, go for a walk, stop by a museum, or just drop by with snacks.

man visiting a museum

Final Word

The best thing about a staycation is that the options are limitless. Many people consider staycations to be a waste of vacation time, but sticking around town can be incredibly rejuvenating without the cost and hassle of a destination-based trip. It’s kind of like a return to summer vacation from school when you were a kid – except you’re old enough to truly appreciate it.

Have you ever been on a staycation? What were the highlights?

Ellen Gans
Ellen Hunter Gans is a full-time writer who loves highbrow books, lowbrow TV, late afternoon sunshine, Oxford commas, adding to her "countries visited" list, and the three Cs: cabernet, coffee, and carbohydrates. She's also a fifteen-time marathon finisher and Ironman triathlete. Ellen lives with her awesome husband and adorable son.

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