Staycations (a vacation where your home is your home base, not a hotel) are a great way to save money and most of us have great touristy things near us that we’ve never done or visited. There are lists of which cities are “best” for staycations, but my personal opinion is that you can have a great staycation just about anywhere. Those lists boil down to which cities have the biggest/most tourist draws. All you need to do is unplug from your normal life and hang out with your loved ones. It’s simple, but not easy.
Not having to pack or worry about forgetting toothpaste, socks, or anything else is a big bonus in my book but I miss getting to stay in a hotel. It’s nice to go to bed somewhere…different. Somewhere with nice, fresh sheets, no overflowing laundry baskets, and the bedside table empty except for the watch, wedding ring, and keys I deposit there.
Where to Sleep?
There is no quick way to get around the mess in the kitchen, the laundry room, and a lot of the rest of the house, but sleeping somewhere “different” is easier to fix.
For Mom and Dad
Do you have a guest bedroom? Great! Take the time a week or so before your intended vacation and clean out any accumulated clutter, even if you just shift it to another room temporarily. Clear off the nightstands, except for an alarm clock of some sort (unless you plan on using your phone), a charging cord, and a way to play your music (blue tooth speaker, radio, whatever). Put on fresh sheets and air out the room so it doesn’t smell musty and unused. Serious bonus points if you put a vase of fresh flowers in the room and a chocolate on the pillow when your staycation starts.
For the Kids
Put up a tent in the living room, especially if they are little. They can still go to the potty in the middle of the night, there’s space for mountains of plush, and they will (hopefully) really feel like they are on a vacation since they won’t be sleeping in their room. Don’t forget to protect your floor from the tent polls. For that matter, Mom and Dad may enjoy sleeping in a tent with a nice air mattress. It’s not hard to find cheap tents and, honestly, an inexpensive new tent, air mattress, and mattress pump cost less than a single night at many hotels.
If there is somewhere other than their room that they like to sleep that you don’t normally let them (like the sofa), let them do it for the “vacation.” Heck, let them sleep in your room while you are in the guest room!
What to do?
What do you like to do?
Do that. If your family loves museums, zip-lining and kayaking might be a recipe for misery, and vice-versa. But don’t stop at the places you already know and love. Explore! Do an online search of nearby counties or cities to find new places to explore. Check out National Park Service locations. Look beyond the big-name places. Hands-down my favorite museum in DC is the National Building Museum and my second favorite is the National Postal Museum. Neither one is even 1/10th as well known as most of the Smithsonian Museums on The Mall.
What have you been skipping?
Our kids like mini-golf. We usually go to any courses we find on vacation, we even seek them out, but we never went to one in our hometown for no good reason. There is a fast food restaurant where antique car enthusiasts show off their cars every Friday night. We’ve never gone, even though everyone would probably enjoy it.
Most of us have places we know the family would enjoy that we just don’t go. Maybe it’s a tiny bit inconvenient or expensive. Maybe we went once and never got around to a second trip. It could even be that we’re afraid once the kids know it’s there, they will ask to go again, and again, and again. Take the plunge and try it! If you keep avoiding it, one day the kids will have outgrown it and you still won’t have gone.
What about something new?
In Los Angeles, my favorites included the Audobon Park and a marionette theater. Both were places I took our son because they were new to us. The marionette theater was very tired and worn looking, but it was different and fun for our then-toddler – and it felt really good to know we were supporting a small business that really cared about our business.
Almost every city, county, village, and hamlet has a tourist bureau or at least an online list of activities, events, and businesses. Check out what towns near you have online. Go somewhere you might normally skip over. Worst case, you leave early and go to your favorite park (or home) for a while.
Our boys wanted a tree-house one summer. We have woods that are crying out for exploration. There are movies we want to watch together. It’s fun to take an afternoon and bake together. Home-made ice cream sandwiches rock! There is a rock tumbler, a wood burning tool, too many kits (birdhouse, pocket knife holder, another birdhouse), a solar oven, and so many other things we never seem to have the time to try with the kids. Use a staycation to work on all those things you don’t normally have time for.
Bucket list items?
Is there anything you really want to do but never have? Perhaps it’s too expensive after you pay all the vacation expenses? Since part of the beauty of a staycation is the lack of hotel bills, maybe you can do something you wouldn’t normally do on vacation. Flying lessons comes to mind, but that is probably only because one of our sons wants to learn how to fly.
Groupon is a great place to find new activities to try. Yes, they have discounted prices, but they also have oddball places you might not think about or even realize are out there. The deal I most regret not buying was a 007-like experience of learning how to do evasive driving and shooting from a company that also trains CIA/FBI/etc. It sounded so cool! But it wasn’t cheap so I skipped it, and I regret it.
Another great place to find activities is the National Park Service. You can search their website for sites near you. Then search the calendar for something fun for your family. The options always surprise me. Even if there is nothing on the calendar, NPS sites usually have ranger-led tours and other activities for adults and kids to learn more about that site. Much as (most) teachers truly enjoy their subject and sharing it with others, NPS rangers enjoy sharing knowledge about their site with visitors.
If you still need ideas, ask the kids what they would like to do if they could spend as much as they wanted on vacation. Clearly, you won’t be able to do those things, but they might give you some fun ideas.
- Do they want to buy an expensive car? Maybe you can rent one for a day.
- Do they want to fly a plane? See if “Young Eagles” has a program in your area. It’s a great way for kids to get an introduction to flying.
- Do they want to visit Walt Disney World in August? Sit in a sauna for an hour. (Kidding – there is no way a sauna can replicate the humidity of Florida summers, and being in a sauna for that long is clearly unsafe.) There may be a small amusement park near you or a community carnival.
- Do they dream of visiting the beach? See if a waterpark with a big wave pool is within driving distance. A lot of cities and counties have converted their old “pools” into “waterparks” with fun bells and whistles for the kids, and some of those have wave pools.
Eat some new food.
It’s easy to find restaurant menus online. Find an appealing one that goes beyond your normal comfort zone. It could be as simple as a wood-fired pizza joint that’s a bit more of a drive than you normally want, an Indian place with spicier-than-your-normal food (you can request they make it less spicy), or tapas (or dim sum) that forces everyone to share. The National Museum of the American Indian (part of the Smithsonian) has a great cafeteria that even features buffalo. If you check out the websites for museums and cultural centers near you, some may have their own restaurants. (I love that you can check out online menus before going to restaurants now.)
It wasn’t a staycation, but I used my birthday as an excuse to drag the family to a really good burger place with half-hour lines no one wanted to wait through. We’ve been back several times since because it (thankfully) lived up to the online reviews. Take a chance!
Many kids resist trying new foods but this is a great chance to push the envelope a bit because, realistically, you are still at home. If anyone truly hates their meal, they can dig through the pantry or you can get take-out from a place they love. It’s a pretty low-risk opportunity. Maybe you’ll find a new favorite the family is happy to keep visiting, like the burger place my family likes. If your kids are really little and picky, you can always bring some emergency food in the diaper bag.
What is truly great about a staycation.
When you find someplace to visit, something to eat, or a new activity that you love, it’s easy to go back and do it again. We found a great pie place in Louisville on vacation but are unlikely to ever visit again because we live nowhere near Louisville. The somewhat-inconvenient pie place a half hour from here, on the other hand, is somewhere I’m happy to grab a pie for birthdays and other special events. (Not everyone likes cake.) Staycations are a great way to find some new family favorites.
What do you love about staycations?