Vacationing can get expensive, and eight out of 10 Americans dip into their savings to take that special trip. If you’re feeling strapped for cash — or you just don’t want to commit to traveling far afield, only to come back home more tired than before you left — a staycation might be the ideal way to spend your time off this summer. This idea was born during the Great Recession, when many people found they just couldn’t afford a big summer trip with the family. Instead, they began exploring fun things to do and see closer to home.

There are several advantages to a staycation. You’ll save on hotels, airfare and parking, of course, as staying at home doesn’t cost a dime. You’ll also have a chance to unwind and reconnect with friends and neighbors who you may not have seen in a while. Most of us are far too busy to enjoy what’s right in front of us, and that can include relationships as well as the best features of our hometowns. Instead of looking to get away from it all, a staycation helps you embrace the simple, good things that you already have in your life.

Ready to get started? Here are some fun ways for you to live deeply and relax in your hometown.

Planning Your Staycation

Follow these steps to make the most of your vacation time without leaving your own backyard:

  1. Schedule Time Off: The trickiest part of making a staycation work is actually taking the time off. Schedule time away from your desk, mark your calendar and refuse to work during your vacation days. At the very least, you can set up an auto-reply for your email and change your outgoing voice mail message so people know you’re unavailable. They don’t need to know you didn’t actually leave town!
  2. Clean and Declutter: You would never putter around a hotel room dusting and sweeping, so why do household chores during your staycation? A few weeks before your “trip,” spend a little extra time cleaning up clutter and getting your house or apartment squared away so you won’t be distracted during your time off. Consider adding some sweet extras like scented candles or spa-worthy soaps and shampoos to make your home feel a little more special, too.
  3. Plan Your Meals: If you don’t want to cook during your staycation, that’s fine! It’s great if your budget allows you to explore all the dining options in your town. For easy but frugal meals, you can head to a local bakery for breakfast pastries or buy prepared sandwiches and snack trays at your local grocery store so you have easy bites on hand during the day.
  4. Research Your Entertainment Choices: You already know where the mall and movie theater are, but the real beauty of a staycation is exploring the hidden gems of your community. Check out what a travel guide like Lonely Planet has to say about your area and make a list of sights to see. Think about museums, historical sites and outdoor fun like hiking trails and state parks as you plan your days. If your town is too small to be featured in a local guide, look for nearby day trips or check out your local chamber of commerce website for ideas even closer to home.

Fun Staycation Ideas for Families

Still not sure how to spend your time during your staycation? Try these activities to make the most of your time off at home.

  • Eat Around the World: Try exploring a different cuisine each night of your staycation. You could visit local Italian and Mexican restaurants and look up recipes for Indian curries and South American arepas to fill in the gaps. This is especially fun for kids if they can take turns choosing and learning about different countries.
  • Al Fresco Living: Arrange your backyard to function as your living room and dining room during the week. You can grill and eat your meals outside for a refreshing change of pace, of course, but there’s much more you can do on your patio. Break out the citronella candles and the fire pit to enjoy card games, s’mores and conversation well into the evening — no smartphones or screens required!
  • Library Passes: Your local library may offer passes to nearby museums. This is a great way to see art and historical artifacts for free, and you can also gain admission to places you never knew existed. Ask at the desk for recommendations on local exhibits and special events for some down-home culture.
  • Dive into History: You know all those historical markers you drive past but never stop to read? Now’s your chance! Take a walk or drive one afternoon and pull over to read every one you see. Your town may have a website dedicated to them so you can plan your route and not miss any.
  • Change Your Pace: For most of the year, we zoom from place to place in the car. Shake things up on your staycation by slowing down. If you live near shops and restaurants, vow to walk or bike to get places during your break. You’ll be amazed at what you notice in your neighborhood when you cruise through it at a lower speed!
  • Window Shop: Most of us fall into a rut when it comes to running errands, and you could be missing out on lots of local businesses and their wares. Take a day to pop in and out of local shops and flea markets instead of heading to the nearest big box store. Looking around is fun, and if you buy, you’re giving a boost to your local business economy.
  • Get in Touch with Nature: Find an open space in a nearby park, pack a picnic and start walking. This free activity in the fresh air is good for both body and soul. A little online research before you set out will help you tailor your hike to your interests, whether bird watching or stargazing. Consider purchasing an annual pass to your state’s recreation areas to keep the good times going after your staycation ends.
  • Get Involved in Your Community: Be on the lookout for local fairs and festivals in your area. If you’re really ambitious, you can volunteer to host an amazing event in your community. Community events take some planning, but a summer block party, movie night or group yard sale is a great way to bring neighbors together and enjoy time in your own backyard.

With a little planning and the right frame of mind, you can enjoy a relaxing escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life without leaving town. Who knows? A staycation could become your wonderful new family tradition.

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