In 2017, Americans left more than 700 million vacation days on the table—paid time off not taken, at a cost of $255 billion in lost employee benefits and economic activity. On an individual level, the average worker left a full week of vacation unused. Whether it’s due to finances, fear of harming your career, or a general dislike of crowded airports and busy tourist destinations, America is becoming a nation of vacation-phobes.
Monique Mongee, a 29-year-old mother of two who embraces staycations, said, “It’s not that I don’t like vacations—it’s that traveling with two small children is usually way more stressful than just doing fun things closer to home.”
Mongee, who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, is a long-time staycation enthusiast, spending at least two of her family’s four weeks of paid time off each year at home. “We’re never bored, but I do try to mix it up so I’m not always taking care of everyone else when I take time off,” she said. “I plan a few activities just for me so I can relax, too.”
What is a staycation?
Staycations are vacations that don’t require hectic and often expensive travel. It’s a vacation from home, but not necessarily at home. It’s an opportunity to explore and take advantage of interesting things close to where you live—such as exciting restaurants, outdoor events, a favorite picnic spot or a hiking trail.
A staycation is not—or shouldn’t be, anyway—paid time off to catch up on housework, yard work or other nagging obligations. It’s not a week to sit on the couch and binge-watch your favorite show on Netflix (although lounging with a book or catching up on TV can be relaxing things to do on a staycation). A staycation is a low-stress way to recharge your batteries, restore your work-life balance, and reconnect with family and friends.
Mongee said Charlotte is the perfect location for staycation ideas. The mountains and the beach are both easy day trips and there are plenty of parks, museums, sporting events and spas around the city.
The week of July Fourth was a typical family staycation for Mongee and her family. On one day, they visited a local pick-your-own farm for delicious strawberries and then made no-cook strawberry jam. On another, Mongee booked a full day of treatments at the Spa at Ballantyne, a luxury resort in Charlotte. The family spent the Fourth of July picnicking with friends and watching the city’s fireworks display.
“It’s all about balance,” Mongee said. “It’s not relaxing if you’re constantly on the go. On the other hand, it’s not fun if you’re not doing something outside your normal routine. I try to pick two or three really special activities for the kids each week and one or two for me. That way, we all look forward to our staycation time.”
Wondering how to plan a rewarding staycation? These great staycation ideas could work no matter where you live.
Visit a state park
There are more than 8,500 state parks in the U.S., so there’s probably at least one within an easy drive of your house. Some parks are nature-focused with outdoor activities such as hiking, kayaking, horseback riding and camping. Others offer a glimpse of local history through old-world farms, historical homes of famous figures and heirloom gardens.
Mongee raved about the Kings Mountain Living History Farm in nearby Blacksburg, South Carolina. “We can be in a completely different world in about an hour.”
Learn something new
Staycations are a great opportunity to practice new skills or uncover hidden talents. Book a cooking lesson and learn to make French desserts, or try your hand at a pottery or woodworking workshop.
“I did a wine-and-design thing with a couple of friends last year, and we had a blast learning to paint flowers,” Mongee said. “It was something I always wanted to try and it was the perfect activity for my staycation.”
Have a ‘restaurant week’
For some, vacations are all about trying new restaurants and cuisines, and staycations can be, too. A few weeks before your time off, research restaurants in your city and surrounding areas and come up with a few to try. Check reviews, make reservations and even buy yourself a new outfit to add to the anticipation.
Book a hotel
Sometimes a change of surroundings makes a world of difference in your emotional outlook. A night in a local or nearby hotel is a treat that makes your staycation special. If you have kids, look for a place with a fabulous indoor water park and local pizza delivery, or pamper yourself (and your significant other) with a night in a boutique hotel with a swanky rooftop bar and great city views.
Be a tourist
When you live in a city, it’s easy to overlook the things that make it special to visitors. Spend a day wandering the historic downtown, visiting museums and galleries, and strolling the public gardens and parks. If you’ve seen it all before, be a tourist in a town or city nearby. There’s always something to discover when you step out of your comfort zone.
See a show
Look for live performances during your staycation, and buy tickets for a concert or play in advance—anticipation adds to the fun. If sports are more your thing, get tickets for a game. Make it an event by planning a special meal before or after. There’s nothing like a football tailgate party.
“A Knights [minor league baseball team] game is a regular part of our staycations,” said Mongee. “We bring a blanket and grab carryout pizza from Mellow Mushroom and picnic on the hill outside the stadium. It’s free and the kids have a blast.”
Host a potluck barbecue
Time with friends and family is a staycation perk. Throw hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill and ask your guests to bring something to share. Keep it simple with paper plates and napkins, and don’t stress over the details. The idea is to relax and connect with the people you care about, not polish your host or hostess chops.
Indulgence takes many forms. Some people think a spa day is the height of luxury, but you might think hiring someone to organize your closets or clean out your rain gutters is the ultimate in self-care. Find something that makes you feel truly pampered, and make it happen.
Upset your routine
When you’re on vacation, you go with the flow. You stay up late, sleep in and nap when you need some rest. Staycation should be like that, too. If you’re always in bed by 10 p.m., give yourself permission to eat popcorn and watch movies until 2 a.m. Close the drapes, turn off your alarm and sleep until you feel like waking up. Treat yourself to breakfast in bed with a good book if it makes you happy.
Find a festival
By some estimates, there are more than 100 music festivals, 1,000 film festivals and 7,000 food festivals in the United States every year. Festivals by nature feel like vacation—out-of-town tourists, street food, live music and a lively atmosphere. Chances are good there’s a festival somewhere close when you’re on your staycation, so why not get out and enjoy it?
Enjoy your family
People lead busy lives, and quality time is hard to find in a typical work week. Family vacations reinforce your connections—but staycations can, too. Use your unstructured time to enjoy one another, whether that’s playing board games with your children, reminiscing with your parents, or catching up with your brother or sister over the phone.
A staycation is a great alternative to stressful and expensive travel, especially if you have exciting plans and a positive mindset for your time away from work. A last word of advice from Mongee to staycation newbies: “Unplug as much as possible. Even if you’re not out of town, you should still be ‘away’ from work and especially social media, otherwise what’s the point of taking time off?”
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