How to Make the Best of a Staycation

No one's venturing far this year, but that doesn't mean you can't have a relaxing break.

children play in a backyard sprinkler
It doesn't take much to delight children on a summer day.

@makenamedia via Twenty20 

Chances are, you're not going on a vacation this summer. With borders closed, planes grounded, and public health officials leery about any unnecessary travel, not to mention tightened budgets, there has never been a better year to lie low and embrace the idea of the "staycation" – which also happens to be the greenest vacation of all.

You won't be the only one. A survey of 7,000 people conducted in April by Boston Consulting Group found that "more than half of US consumers and almost 70 percent in the UK planned to reduce travel spending during the next six months" (via Financial Times).

Staycations are not always glamorous, but they can be satisfying and fulfilling in their own way. They offer a rare chance to view your own hometown or region through the eyes of a tourist, to discover things you never knew about it, and to save money. There are different ways of approaching it: perhaps you'll choose to stay at home (which is the traditional definition of a staycation), but in light of recent months of lockdown, it could be stretched to include taking day trips or camping at a location that's close to home.

Keeping tourist dollars local could also be a lifeline for local businesses that have been hit by the coronavirus lockdown. Facing a season devoid of international visitors, anything you're able and willing to spend will help them stay afloat. In the UK, the CEO of English Heritage, Kate Mavor, told the Financial Times that,

Once restrictions were lifted, this would be a good year to visit UK attractions that would normally be overrun with foreign tourists: "It’s going to be much, much quieter than usual because no one is going to come from overseas. Sixty-five percent of our visitors to Stonehenge normally come from overseas."

So how can you make that staycation as satisfying as possible? Here are some suggestions.

If You Want to Get Out of the House:

1. Pick Some Fun Day Trips

Consult family members to see what places they'd like to explore in the region and make a day of it. Reach out to the local tourism office or Chamber of Commerce (or ask friends on Facebook) if you're needing some inspiration. Pack a picnic lunch and whatever else you need to check out a cool site in the region. Obviously many places may have limited hours or restricted numbers allowed, so call ahead to find out what you can or cannot do.

2. Go on a Long Hike or Bike Ride

Research some good trails in your region and spend a day (or several) exploring them. Visit some local coffee shops or cafes for fuel along the way. I know someone who is coping with her disappointment at not being able to hike the Camino de Santiago by doing it virtually in her own neighborhood, 485 miles in total. She's tracking it using an app called My Virtual Mission, and seems to be going well. She wrote on Facebook, "The gentle slopes of my neighbourhood aren’t exactly the Pyrenees, but what the trip lacks in historical and geographical zest, not to mention in camaraderie, it may make up for in better beds."

3. Go Camping

I've written before that we could be on the verge of the golden age of camping. It's the ultimate form of socially distant travel, with campsites that are spaced out, affordable, and well-ventilated. It may not be a strict staycation, but if pitch your tent in a campground not far from your home, it almost is. Even better is that kids will hardly notice the lack of distance from home; they'll just be so excited to sleeping in a tent.

4. Reach Out to Interesting Restaurants

Find out which places are open or serving takeout, and make a special trip to visit them. Pick a nice day and plan a picnic around the food and drinks you order. Bring plates, cutlery, and a blanket or tablecloth, and find a park, green space, bench with a good view, beach, or a meadow where you and your family can have a memorable dinner. 

If You Want to Stay at Home:

5. Splurge on Food

Whether this means ordering takeout from fine dining establishments or pulling out all the stops at the grocery store in order to recreate your favorite charcuterie and wine pairings, rest assured that you're saving money by not paying for accommodations elsewhere.

6. Organize Chores in Advance

Some household chores are unfortunately necessary, even if you're on a staycation, but you can minimize these in a few ways. If possible, get your house cleaned professionally before the staycation starts. This advice, offered by Faith Durand of The Kitchn back in 2016, stuck with me. She said it was "the best — all the dishes done, the floors washed, the bathrooms smelling fresh and clean. Almost like we were in a hotel." If you have a partner, take turns preparing breakfast for each other, so that each gets to lounge luxuriously and smell the coffee wafting through the house. 

7. Turn off Devices

The ultimate luxury in this time of online work and frenzied news feeds is simply to distance oneself from the noise. Turn off your phone (if you can) or log out of email for the days you're on staycation. Commit to checking your phone only once or twice a day and use the new free time to do things you love but don't have time to do otherwise – read books, make homemade pastry, finish a scrapbook, make art, write in a journal, pull weeds in the garden, practice an instrument, watch movies.

8. Have a Campfire

I'm a big proponent of backyard campfires on lazy weekends, assuming you live in a place where they're allowed. They provide instant entertainment for kids (one of the elements of risky play that's crucial for development), who love stoking and poking the fire. You can cook dinner over it and finish off with roasted marshmallows. A fire creates a sort of social lubricant that's reminiscent of alcohol, but cheaper, and with less potential for messiness and feeling crummy the next day. Invite a couple friends over to sit around the fire and the conversation will flow naturally. 

9. Have a Spa Day

Spend a morning or afternoon indulging in all the luxurious skincare treatments you wish you had time for. Soak in the tub, ask your partner for a massage, apply a face mask, exfoliate your body, give yourself a pedicure, take a long afternoon nap in a hammock, sunbathe on the back deck. Whatever you do, it will be relaxing, rejuvenating, and altogether worthwhile.

10. Think About the Kids

If you have young kids, think about what they'd enjoy doing in the backyard on a perfect summer day and make those dreams come true. Set up a sprinkler, make a slip 'n slide, turn on the hose, let them play in the mud – and don't complain when they get all muddy! Serve up ice cream cones and watermelon slices. You'll find it doesn't take much to delight children and to make lasting memories.

There's no need to let the summer pass by without feeling like you've done anything. Small, short outings and small efforts at home can create a sense of novelty and adventure, and you'll feel better afterward.