Budgeting The ‘It’ Destination for Your Next Vacation? Try Your Hometown

by Amelia Mularz | August 07, 2019

Are you taking advantage of all of your hard-earned vacation days? Answer that one honestly.

According to the U.S. Travel Association, 52% of Americans don’t use all their vacation days. Whether it’s due to factors like budget or the stresses of travel, Americans are finding it difficult to take time off. But, for many people, if you don’t use those company-allotted vacation days, you lose them.

Which is why a staycation — that is, a vacation spent at or near home — may be the ideal solution. And a staycation doesn’t have to be a consolation prize; exploring your own hometown can be just as relaxing (and fun!) as heading off to a far-flung destination.

Whether your goal is to go out and explore, or stay in and decompress, these smart tips can help you make the most of those precious days off.

Maximize your time

One of the most indulgent aspects of staycationing is being able to skip hours spent driving or flying to reach a destination — while still capturing a feeling of being transported to someplace totally different. That’s one of the reasons staycationers in the greater Los Angeles, CA, area flock to Terranea Resort. Jacquelyn Snyman, Terranea’s resort activities operations manager, says the majority of guests live in the area. According to Snyman, the secret to making people feel like they’ve truly escaped comes down to a change in landscape. “The scenery at Terranea is much different than most of L.A.,” she says. “It’s just a short 20-minute drive from the 110 Freeway, but the seaside cliff-top views make you feel like you are in the South of France or the Southern Cape of South Africa.”

When planning a staycation in your own area, take a cue from Terranea and switch up your surroundings. Spend an afternoon picnicking at a nearby lake, go for a walk in the forest or head out on a hillside hike. A change in scenery can totally reset you and take you out of your familiar rut — even if you’re close to home.

It also helps to plan extraordinary activities. That’s why Terranea offers demonstrations with an onsite falconer, archery lessons and a sea kelp harvesting workshop. During your own staycation, steer clear of expected activities you’d do on any typical day off, such as going to the movies or trivia night at your regular bar. Instead, find a one-off class — woodworking, bonsai styling, macaron baking — you’d ordinarily never do at home.

During your own staycation, steer clear of expected activities you’d do on any typical day off.
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Play tourist

“So many times we drive by a historic place or an off-beat museum and think we’ll get around to seeing it one day,” says Lissa Poirot, founder of travel site Anywhere World Travel. “Take some time and finally make plans to visit those places you have always wanted to see.” Play tourist in your own town. As an added bonus, if you do so on a weekday, you may avoid crowds at exhibits, long lines at ticket windows and secure a prime reservation at always-booked restaurants.

Just don’t forget to plan some things in advance, otherwise, you may fall into a classic day-off rut of ticking down the to-do list at home. “Just as you would on an actual getaway,” says Poirot, “plan an itinerary and go to the museums, breweries and hiking spots you have never tried. Or, plan a day-trip to a nearby town you haven’t explored.”

Can’t decide what to do? Let tech be your tour guide. Spotted by Locals is a mobile app loaded with inexpensive city guides to the sights other people in your area have recommended. Another, called Sidewalk, covers free local walking tours. Nearify is a helpful resource for area classes, concerts and festivals — attending a local performance can be a great way to see a different side of your hometown.

couple referring to mobile device for directions in an urban area

Go on a retreat (even on a budget)

“If you can stay in a hotel for a night or two, even in your own town, do so. There is something about staying in a hotel where someone else cleans and you’re not reminded of the things you need to do to feel like you have gotten away,” Poirot says.

Skipping a flight — and, by extension, transportation to the airport, baggage fees and overpriced terminal dining — means you’ll have more money for accommodations. To stretch your budget further, Poirot suggests searching hotel options on sites such as HotelTonight, where you might find discounted rates, even last-minute.

If you can’t swing a hotel stay, find ways to make sleeping at home feel indulgent. “Draw a bath as if you were in a five-star hotel,” says Poirot. “Add bubbles, rose petals and candles. Order dinner to go, then bring it home and sit at the dining room table using the good china… touches like these can help make a home more special and relaxing.” Even investing in a new down comforter or set of sheets can feel like a splurge. Hire cleaners to take care of the house so you don’t have to lift a finger. Think of small ways to make your space feel luxurious, and do it.

Find total relaxation

How many times have you heard someone lament, “I need a vacation from my vacation”? The upside of staying put is that you’ll cut down on travel-related stress (packing, delayed flights, road closures), and you’ll feel less pressure to create a jam-packed itinerary to check off every iconic landmark in a new place. Instead, use your time at home to take advantage of a mid-week rate at a nearby spa or take a new (and less crowded) class at the gym.

So, how much time do you need to unwind? Research published in the Journal of Happiness Studies found that health and wellness levels increase quickly during vacation, peaking on the eighth vacation day. If you don’t have a solid eight days to devote to your staycation, Lindsey Pearson, mindfulness coach and founder of Do You Mind{fully}?, has tips for finding Zen in less time. “I recommend meditation,” Pearson says. “It doesn’t have to be for hours, but short moments, many times.” Start by meditating in three- or five-minute increments for a mini-reset.

You can also make each moment more naturally meditative; Pearson is adamant about staying present and unplugging on a staycation. “Enjoy your coffee, don’t chug it,” she says. “Eat a meal without a phone, television or newspaper. Notice when your mind moves to wanting to do a household chore and see if you can guide it back to the same place as your feet — literally. So if you’re making coffee and you start thinking about the gutters, reconnect to the experience of making coffee — notice the smell, the sound of the grind, the drip and the color.” One of the greatest luxuries of a staycation is time, so soak it up.

One of the greatest luxuries of a staycation is time, so soak it up.
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Connect with your family

Kids are generally not thrilled by flights and car rides (Are we there yet?!), so they’re probably the most receptive to sticking close to home. Plus, as Poirot points out, “Staycations are perfect for children because exploring your own or nearby towns is a great way to not only have fun, but to teach the kids some of your area’s history.”

And though Poirot has some particularly well-traveled kids, she admits that their favorite part of any trip is hitting the pool. Fortunately, you don’t even need to book a hotel stay to go for a dip. Indoor water parks like Great Wolf Lodge offer day passes; plus, sites such as ResortPass will sell you pool access at a nearby hotel for as low as $20 for an afternoon.

mother and son in a backyard tent at night smiling at each other

Another option with major wow factor for kids is camping. Whether you head to a campsite in your hometown or simply set up a tent in your backyard, the novelty of the experience will impress youngsters. Borrow equipment from friends or neighbors for minimal stress — so you can spend more time around a campfire making s’mores. Poirot says, “For kids, they truly just want to spend time with you, and they enjoy the simplest pleasures.”

Amelia Mularz

is a Los Angeles-based travel writer who once sent a postcard to herself while staycationing two blocks from her apartment. Her work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, Harper's BAZAAR, Los Angeles Magazine and National Geographic Traveler.