For many modern families, the dream of a slow-paced, relaxing vacation has fallen victim to high gas prices, invasive security searches and credit card bills that linger long after a trip has ended. By the time you're ready to head home, you're left feeling like you need a vacation to recover from your vacation.
So, this year, why not enjoy time off on your own terms with a stay-cation? You'll skip the hassle and the expense of flying or driving, and take part in the best experiences your town has to offer. You can even stick close to home and focus on the simple joy of spending time with family and friends. No matter what your interests or budget, these 10 great summer stay-cation ideas can help you make the most of your vacation time.
Experience a Culinary Adventure
For many people, travel is all about scoping out the hottest restaurants and tastiest local cuisine. On your stay-cation, it's time to break out of your rut and experience a culinary adventure right in your own neighborhood. Make a reservation at that great new place you've been dying to try, or revisit old favorites that you can never seem to squeeze into your busy schedule. Enjoy lazy afternoons at nearby vineyards, or take the family to a local orchard and pick your own apples and berries. Break out the recipe book and cook your own gourmet meals each night, or hire a private chef to create a magical meal for two.
Culinary stay-cations also serve as the perfect opportunity to get your family back on a healthy eating track, if you've fallen onto the fast food wagon. Fire up your competitive spirit with cooking contests, and challenge one another to create the tastiest dish on a limited budget, or using only local, healthy ingredients.
Get the Neighbors Involved
If you find yourself planning a stay-cation to save money, you're probably not alone. High gas prices and increased airline fees have many families sticking close to home this year. Join forces and reconnect with your neighbors by hosting a neighborhood stay-cation event.
Plan a block party or community barbecue to get to know local families and find new friends for both kids and parents. Set up a Slip 'n Slide or open up your pool to neighbors for a day. Host a mini-Olympics, with softball games and silly events to create a bit of friendly competition. Working together with your neighbors not only provides a low-cost alternative to the traditional week at the beach, but also eliminates the need to "Keep up with the Joneses" by allowing you to join forces instead.
Talk With the Animals at Your Favorite Zoo
Sometimes the simplest activities are the ones that create lasting memories. A trip to the local zoo may seem simple, but it's the perfect stay-cation outing for families with young children. Take it slow and allow kids to linger at any exhibits that hold their interest rather than rushing through.
No zoo in your town? Plan a visit to an aquarium, planetarium or kid-friendly museum. Since you're saving so much on airfare and hotel costs, why not splurge for a special behind-the-scenes VIP tour or kids camp program that allows your children to interact with the animals and see secret sites? For older kids and teens, ask about overnight adventures at zoos, aquariums and museums.
Add a Modern Twist to the Traditional Scavenger Hunt
Who hasn't dreamed of buried treasure at some point in their lives? The allure of finding a long-lost object excites both kids and adults alike, making treasure hunting the perfect activity for families looking to enjoy a stay-cation adventure. Best of all, a phenomenon known as geocaching can greatly improve your odds of actually locating these treasures.
Geocaching.com members hide objects across the globe, then upload information about the location of these caches to the Web. Your family simply searches for suitable geocaches in your area and then heads out to seek the treasure using GPS coordinates. You can choose from caches hidden along rugged hiking trails, or those located in urban areas. Update fellow explorers to your finds online, then create your own geocache for other adventurers to find.
Sleep Under the Stars
Camping has long served as a top vacation option for frugal families, and it's easy to see why its popularity continues to grow. All you need to enjoy the great outdoors is a tent, some basic gear and a sense of adventure.
Try booking a site at local campgrounds or parks, or simply pitch a tent in the backyard to get a taste of the great outdoors while staying close to modern conveniences, like your bathroom. Banish cell phones and other mobile devices and enjoy this opportunity to talk to your family without electronic interruptions. Keep kids busy searching for constellations, roasting marshmallows and telling stories 'round the campfire.
Beat the Heat at Local Waterparks
More than 116 million people visit the Disney parks each year, with 17 million at the Magic Kingdom alone, according to the Themed Entertainment Association. Instead of spending thousands of dollars to struggle through crowds in the hot Florida sun, give smaller, regional theme parks a try.
Some of the country's most popular theme parks are found in surprising locations, so you're never far from a towering waterslide or thrilling coaster. Best of all, many parks offer annual passes for not much more than the cost of a one-day ticket. For the very best deals, look for mini waterparks at local pools or community centers. By sticking close to home, you'll not only avoid piling on vacation-related debt, but also get to extend your stay-cation all summer long.
Bring Exotic Locales Home
Soaring airfares and language barriers make international travel an exhausting and expensive process. Instead of setting off for foreign lands, bring these exotic locales home with a stay-cation themed party.
Dying to see Egypt, but not ready to splurge? Throw an Egyptian-themed party with creative decorations, costumes and authentic cuisine. Instead of jetting off to the islands, plan your own luau complete with Hawaiian shirts, music and hula dancing. Celebrate the cuisine and culture of Rome, Paris and other international cities, or watch movies set in your chosen locale. Study the language and history, and start planning for a time when you can afford to take your dream trip to these exotic destinations.
Enjoy the Great Outdoors
Did you know that the United States is home to 394 national parks, with at least one park in every state except Delaware, according to the U.S. National Park Service? With so much open space to enjoy within a short drive of home, who needs air travel? If you're lucky enough to live near some of the more well-known of these parks, don't miss Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park, or the exotic stone arches at Arches National Park in Utah. Those in other parts of the country may be surprised to see the wonders at lesser-known parks like South Dakota's Badlands or Oregon's Crater Lake.
These parks not only provide miles of hiking trails and spectacular views, they also offer a chance to get up close and personal with caribou, bears and other wildlife. Best of all, an annual America the Beautiful Pass costs less than $100, and provides access to every national park in the country for a full year.
Practice Voluntourism at the Local Level
Since the early days of travel and the Grand Tour, vacations have served as a way to explore new lands and learn about the cultures and customs of other people. Just like vacations can give you a glimpse into other worlds, so, too, can volunteering. In fact, the volunteer travel phenomenon, where travelers plan vacations designed to help others, has never been stronger.
Rather than traveling to other countries to volunteer, help those in need right in your own community and enjoy a stay-cation that can open your eyes to parts of your town you may overlook each day. Try Voluntourism.org to find local agencies looking for volunteers. Depending on your interests, your family can help animals, other families, or help clean up the environment. Not only will you save on vacation expenses, but you'll make a real difference in your local community while instilling a sense of service in yourself and your kids.
Explore an Exotic City -- Your Own!
As you rush through your busy days, it's easy to overlook the wonder of your very own city. Before you start pricing flights and hotel packages on other towns, remember that other people actually pay big money to visit the sites all around your city. On your next stay-cation, take the time to explore the very best your community has to offer.
Keep things fresh by approaching your adventure like a true vacation. Pick up a guidebook and break out of your rut by trying new places or asking friends for can't-miss suggestions. Attend a local festival or pick up tickets to a show. Try a new restaurant or finally take the time to visit all those local tourist sites you've never gotten around to seeing. A stay-cation in your own town not only takes the logistic difficulties out of travel, but also leaves you feeling refreshed rather than frazzled when it's time to head back to work.
How can you plan a fun 'stay-cation'? Learn how to give yourself a much-needed break without breaking the bank by planning a fun 'stay-cation.'
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