Is a Stay-Cation Right for You?


After 9/11 there was a national phenomenon that was dubbed nesting. It wasn’t planned; it just happened. No one wanted to leave their homes; we, as a nation stopped going out to dinner; we cooked more, and specialty food markets began cropping up in the next year or so. We rented movies instead of going to the theatre. The Kindle market exploded and birthed an entire industry.

This, rising gas prices, and two economic downturns later have given us a new term for leisure in our modern world: stay-cation; the vacation that you spend at home.

Our first personal experience with a staycation happened for us in 2009. Our family unexpectedly had one when our car’s transmission stranded us on the highway three weeks before our planned summer getaway to Niagara Falls. We couldn’t afford to fix the transmission and go on vacation, and obviously, the car was our priority for our limited funds. With everything else going on in our lives, we really didn’t want to disappoint our kids who were looking forward to their first real vacation in their memory.

That first year we used the money we would have spent on gas and hotels and had a couple of nice family days locally, choosing to go to places we wouldn’t ordinarily go to because in our everyday budget, they were simply too costly. (In our case, a brewery restaurant in the capital and an Aqua Duck tour). As I said, it was a little more expensive than what we would normally do on a weekend, but for us this was more than a weekend; it was vacation. Sort of.

Over the years, as our income stagnated (or went down due to health insurance and health care costs increasing and the cost of raising three growing kids), we’ve continued to have our own version of staycations; of concentrated family time during mid-season school breaks and summer recess at those times when we weren’t visiting extended family or had other things scheduled.

I’ve found that as much as kids, and adults say they want free time, that they just want to sit around and rest and relax, they (and we) get bored very quickly. It becomes the same old, same old and that’s when the fighting starts. He took my…. She touched my…. He’s looking at me! My daughter in particular will find her way into the kitchen, snacking on everything from cheese sticks to corn flakes, both of which she typically scoffs at. It is sometimes a little frightening, reminding me that as far-fetched as a zombie apocalypse is, she will be ready to eat anything. Anything.

Or they spend all day wired up to the Disney channel or their tablets. While tablets have their good points, learning-type games and library e-books, the school’s website even, it is sometimes too much screen-time, even for me: a recovering TV-holic.

Everyone likes to have planned activities and obligations interspersed with relaxation, and the stay-cation is the perfect avenue for that. Unlike a vacation, there isn’t that pressure to get things done because we’re spending so much money on having fun and relaxing. Have fun! Now! It becomes stressful, not to mention kids’ behavioral issues that are perfectly normal at home will add on a significant strain when the wall next to you is shared by another family trying to get away from it all, or worse yet, a business traveler. The constant behaving your best is not relaxing; for anyone.

Being home has its benefits.

Some of our fun can be adapted in anyone’s neighborhood including:

Food Tastings– choose a few foods that the kids have never had or have been asking to try, and try them. We’ve tried donut peaches, pink grapefruit, anchovies, Ugli fruit, blood oranges, yellow tomatoes, prickly pears, plums, dates, mandarin oranges, avocado, homemade guacamole, and the list goes on and on.

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Let’s “Go” to the Movies – Lights out, DVD, popcorn, a packet of M&Ms. We recommend Despicable Me (both movies plus the Minion shorts), Guardians of the Galaxy, Brave, Cars, and Netflix is always a good investment especially during summer vacation.

Chuck E. Cheese – it’s free to get in, the arcade is for all ages, they offer discounts on tokens, always have coupons online and they make an excellent pizza if you’re in the mood to spend money on lunch.

Your local library almost always has special programs scheduled for Winter and Spring breaks. We’ve gone to readings for service animals, science experiments, cooking classes for kids, not to mention taking out books that interest your kids and just getting out of your own four walls. (Not to mention, during the summer months, their air conditioning is free.)

Last summer, we did a typography project at the dining room table using fabric, buttons, charms, glue and pushpins on a thin corkboard (four for $5 at Target).

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AAA is an excellent investment, if only for their roadside assistance, but they also provide maps and tour books free. Every year, I go back for the updated book of my state. They also offer discounts on admissions and retail shops. We live near the capital so there is always something to do, but we also live near the National Bottle Museum and the Museum of Firefighting, smaller venues that we might not see if we went on vacation.  Remember that your vacation destinations are someone else’s local attractions. Check out what tourists are coming to your area for, and you might discover something amazing in your own backyard.

Speaking of your own backyard, scavenger hunts and nature walks are a perfect way to get outside and enjoy the sunshine in any kind of weather, including snowy. Afterwards, you can bring in your bounty and glue collages or make table centerpieces by arranging nature in a clear bowl or vase.

When my kids were younger and we lived in an apartment, we put together a sand box for them to play in. It was inside a plastic bin, and much less expensive than Little Tykes or Fisher Price that you’d need a backyard to enjoy. It was also portable for trips to Grandma’s.

Baking bread, cookies and apples are also good ways to spend the day. Delicious, too.

Plan it out like you would for a traveling vacation. Put the effort in just like you did when you drove two hundred miles or visited the biggest ball of twine; or the Corn Palace.

Whatever your budget, whatever your interests, a stay-cation can be for anyone.

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