It’s spring break, and we’re staying home. My husband has to work, and we’re socking away most of our travel funds for our epic family road trip to Yellowstone this summer. That means we’re on a Staycation, a cute name devised for spending vacation at home instead of traveling. Probably so we feel better about sitting on the couch watching Netflix while our friends post pictures of sunny beach destinations all over Facebook. Here’s the thing, just because you don’t leave your community, that doesn’t mean you can’t get something at least akin to a travel experience.
Why are so many people taking staycations?
Americans are going on less long trips to far away destinations than ever before. Time and money are the two major factors. We all have less of both.
The middle class took a big hit in their wallets over the last two decades with their median income falling to four percent less today compared to the year 2000. The number of people in the lowest income bracket also increased by four percent. Yet travel costs as well a general living expenses are up. Which means the typical family who once piled in the car and spent two weeks in the summer driving to Yosemite has less cash in their pocket to pay for travel.
We also have less time to go on vacation with demanding work hours and family obligations that prevent us from using vacations days, if we’re one of the lucky Americans who gets paid time off. More and more companies are hiring part-time employees who don’t qualify or just not offering it period. There are also more people who are self-employed, like my husband and myself. When you own a small business, there often isn’t anyone to pick up the slack if you jet off to the French Riviera for a week.
Why do we travel?
The key to getting the travel experience at home is figuring out why you want to travel in the first place, then feeding that desire or need. Oh, yes! For some, the urge of wanderlust is so great, travel really is a need. I came up with a long list of benefits reaped from travel:
- See new things
- Have new experiences
- A break in routine
- Find your place in the world
- Have adventure
- Become a more well-rounded person
- Meet new people
- Develop new skills
- Gain a new perspective
- Create a transition between life changes
- Gain education and knowledge
- Take on a challenge
- Fulfill a dream
- Eat new food
Every person many not receive all of those benefits every time they travel, but you’re guaranteed at least a couple.
How can you get a travel-like experience without leaving home?
So, you’re grounded at home: broke, no time — maybe both. Whatever the reason, you can’t travel right now. But that feeling of longing to go, see and do keeps welling up in your chest every time a jet flies overhead. Yep! I know it all too well. And I know how to do something about it.
Several years ago my family took a summer-long staycation. I documented the whole thing on this blog. The boys were little, my husband was working and going back to school and most of our extra cash went to buying diapers. But I couldn’t spend all those sunny days pushing kids on the backyard swing set. I had to go somewhere.
So we set aside one day a week all summer to basically be tourists at home. We went to museums, beaches, parks and ate at new restaurants. Everywhere we went was close enough to drive to and from in one day, so we didn’t have to fork over money for a hotel. A lot of the activities were free or low-cost. We used deals like Groupon when we could. We had a great summer and checked off many of the items on that above list of travel benefits.
Something else happened that summer. I fell in love with the West Michigan region where we live. I gained a new appreciation for the gorgeous landscape and was pleasantly surprised by all the cultural opportunities in my own backyard. Even if you don’t have to take a staycation, I encourage you to explore your community like a tourist anyway. You’ll learn to see it in a whole new way.
A list of things you can do to get that travel experience at home:
- Take advantage of the time you do have. For most it’s the weekend. The good thing about staycationing is that it’s doable in a day or even a few hours.
- Find a body of water. Living in Michigan, that’s easy. It might be harder to seek out in, say, Arizona, but there’s just something about water that says vacation. When you get to the water swim, rent a watercraft (anything from a paddle board to a boat) or just sit on the shore and take in the view.
- Go to a different environment. If you live in the country, go to the city. If you live by the beach, head into the woods.
- Change your routine. Do you always go to the movies on Friday night? Try going to an outdoor concert instead.
- Find a good ethnic restaurant with authentic recipes and try a new food. No, Taco Bell doesn’t count. For example, we have an Ethiopian restaurant in a nearby town. That’s not something most of us eat every day.
- Is there someplace you drive by all the time and think someday you want to stop there? Well, then make a plan and do it!
- Do something challenging. We have big sand dunes along Lake Michigan. Climbing up one is a physical challenge, even if you’re in great shape. But the sense of accomplishment and the view at the top is amazing.
- Go to a museum. We have some big museums nearby in Grand Rapid and Kalamazoo, but there are also little historical society museums scattered all over. You can learn a lot about local history at them. One of the coolest here is the Old Jail Museum where you learn what it was like to get locked up in the pokey a hundred years ago.
- Go to the zoo, nature center or local wildlife preserve.
- Make some new friends. Meeting new people in this age when we all stay home Netflixing and Chilling isn’t easy. Now there’s an app called MeetUp that helps you find like-minded groups of people and organize activities to do together. To be honest, as an extreme introvert, the thought strikes fear into my very soul. I’d need a vacation after trying something stressful like that. But you extroverts will love it. Of course you have to be cautious when meeting up with strangers, so use common sense.
- Make a list of all the interesting places around your area you’ve never been and just start going to them: parks, restaurants, museums, specialty shops, out-of-the-way towns, farmer’s markets.
- Learn how to do something new. My husband and I decided we’re going to learn how to fly fish this summer. I’m certain to make a fool of myself and hook a few trees, but I’ll have fun doing it.
- Find a map, you can do this online, and see what’s within a two-hour drive radius our your house. Then pick a town to explore.
- Play the dice game where you roll a dice to determine if you turn left of right and see where you end up.
- Take advantage of money-saving memberships that are good all year. In Michigan, $11 will get your car load into all the state parks. $80 gets you into all the national parks. Many museums and zoos have memberships that include free or discounted admission to similar locations all over the country.
- Go to local festivals. We have tons of them here in Michigan, celebrating everything from Baby Food to the United States Coast Guard. People watching, local food and entertainment are always plentiful.
- Volunteer. Help out at a local charity. You’ll meet new people, often who come from a different background than yourself, and nothing gives you perspective like that.
- Buy a tent. Tent camping is cheap. Thirty bucks will get you a serviceable shelter. Ten to $15 will get you a spot overnight at the campground down the road. If nothing else, you can pitch the tent in your backyard. Swapping your bed for the great outdoors fulfills a lot of items on that list above.
I love to travel, and I encourage you to do it. When you can, go as far and for long as possible. But when you can’t, some of these ideas will help you quench your wanderlust.