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.
"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.
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.
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