By Karen O’Connor
“Slow down. Take a deep breath. What’s the hurry? Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway?” (Jeremiah 2:25, The Message).
Do you need a break from your routine but money and time are tight this year? Maybe you have an extra workload or the kids are going to summer school or your in-laws are coming to visit for a couple of weeks. And yet everyone in the family wants to have a few days of fun and relaxation together before the cool weather of autumn sets in.
Maybe it’s just you in your household, and you’d like to join with friends to take a well-deserved break without breaking the bank. Or perhaps you and your spouse are in your senior years and you’d like a short vacation (on your own or with a group) without going too far from home or spending a bundle on hotels, restaurants, and transportation.
If so, consider what is called a staycation—a vacation you can enjoy without leaving your city or state.
When my kids were young, my husband and three children and I did just that one summer following the purchase of a new home. We had little money for extras at that point but plenty of desire to have fun—especially after the stress of moving an entire household.
We came up with a plan that gave everyone a say as to how our staycation would play out. First, we blocked out five days in July, then we planned a different outing for each day in and around the city of Los Angeles, where we lived at the time.
For example, my son wanted to go to the beach. My oldest daughter wanted to visit the historical ship, The Queen Mary. The youngest child wanted to go to an amusement park.
We also made time for my choice, an art museum, and a sporting event for my husband. With our plan in mind, we then talked about food and lodging. To save money and time, we decided to eat breakfast at home each day, pack a picnic lunch to enjoy at a park, and eat dinner at a restaurant, and we’d sleep in our own beds.
By the end of the week we all agreed it had been one of the most memorable vacations we’d ever had—stress-free, financially responsible, and fun. The best part was being together in a way that worked for everyone.
“I really like doing things as a family,” said my son. And that statement came from an adolescent who had appeared to be breaking away from family traditions!
“More than half of American workers left unused vacation days in 2015,” according to Stephanie Huston, blogger for The Huffington Post. “Never forget that Paid Time Off (PTO) is part of your salary and work contract, and therefore your personal hours to spend how you wish; you wouldn’t give part of your paycheck back to your company, so why would you leave money on the table and not spend your PTO hours?”
Good point! So whether you are employed outside of your home or are self-employed, you deserve a break and so does your family. The best part of a staycation is that there is no one way to make it happen. Just sit down with your family or call up a group of friends and propose the idea. Invite each person to share his or her thoughts about what a memorable vacation close to home would include.
Consider everyone’s age, interests, and abilities. There is always room to compromise for the sake of harmony, fairness, and fun. For example, with a mixed-age group, a simple visit to a neighborhood park where kids can romp and play and feed the ducks in a pond could take the better part of a day and there would still be time to enjoy an evening movie or table game at home that appeals to the teens and adults in the group.
• Block out a period of time—from a weekend to a full week or longer.
• Establish a vacation budget. What is realistic and doable? Plan by the day if that helps.
• Make a list of places you’d like to see and experiences you’d like to have. When you finish you’ll know which ones drew the best reactions. Some of your family members or friends may like one or two items on the list and not the others. To avoid conflict, assure each person that at least one of his or her choices will be honored. This can make all the difference between harmony and disharmony. It can also be an opportunity to learn to give and take.
• Delegate various tasks, such as checking websites, mapping out the driving route, or planning the picnic lunch. Depending on the ages, everyone can contribute something to the staycation and that will eliminate complaining—or at least cut it down!
Before you make final choices, you may wish to establish some ground rules, so you and your staycation crew will all be on the same page when it comes to participation. That could include some or all of the following no-no’s!
• No smart phone
• No email
• No video games
• No television
• No working from home
• No laundry or housecleaning
• No fighting
• No worrying
Get on with It
Here are 10 suggestions for what you can do on your staycation. Add to the list as you talk and plan together.
1. Visit a nearby national park.
2. Set aside a day for fun at a theme park.
3. Sleep in a tent in your backyard and gaze at the stars.
4. Have a board game night at home, create structures with Lego bricks, or color in some of the new coloring books—the latest fad for fun and relaxation.
5. Go bowling or canoeing or horseback riding.
6. Attend a professional sporting event in your area.
7. Spend a day at the ocean, lake, or river.
8. Tour a local farm or cheese-making factory or horse ranch.
9. Fly kites at a local park.
10. Go to a family movie or stage play or concert or summer music festival.
Tightwad Tod, a reporter for Consumer Reports, interviewed Matt Wixon, a writer and columnist for the Dallas Morning News and author of the book The Great American Staycation. Here’s what Matt had to say about his family’s experience with staycations:
“I love sporting events, museums, comedy clubs, concerts, even just driving to a nearby town and exploring a little. But with young kids, some of the simplest things create the best staycation memories. Riding the commuter train downtown is a huge thrill for my kids, and when the destination is the aquarium or a museum, it becomes a staycation day they talk about for weeks. During our last family staycation, I took my kids to the indoor aquatic center in our city so they could try out the slides, spray water on me, and show me their swimming moves. Afterward we stopped at a store to get some cookies. We sat down to eat them, and between bites of cookie, Ryan asked me this: ‘Dad, don’t you think this is the best special day ever?’ That’s all it took for the best special day ever. Swimming and cookies. That was a reminder to me of how great a staycation can be. It might not be the vacation of a lifetime, but it’s the right vacation for this time in my life.”
Get Back Your Happy Face
The best part of any staycation is sharing your smiles and laughter and conversations and insights with your loved ones. The time away from home can be spoiled though, if you don’t let go of the daily stuff and allow yourself to kick back and relax. Your spouse and kids may look to you to lead the way. So let the breakfast dishes pile up in the sink for a few days—an easy fix when you return home. And if you can’t let that go, indulge in paper products for those few meals. You can always do the dishes, dust the furniture, check your email, and vacuum the floors when your staycation is over. Meanwhile, you’ll be making memories that you, your children, your spouse, and your friends will treasure for the rest of your lives.
At the end of the week, share your most memorable moments, look at your photos, and start talking about what you’d like to do on next year’s staycation.
Karen O’Connor is a freelance writer from Watsonville, California (karenoconnor.com).