How can I plan a fun "stay-cation"?

A fun stay-cation activity is a family campout in the backyard. Just don't forget the s'mores!
A fun stay-cation activity is a family campout in the backyard. Just don't forget the s'mores!
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The family vacation just isn't what it used to be anymore. Faced with a sinking economy and soaring fuel prices, more and more people have been opting out of expensive trips and choosing to take a break at home: a "stay-cation." If you're one of those who is cutting back this year, don't think of a stay-cation as a depressing thing; consider it an opportunity to relax at home, guilt-free. You can spend quality time with your family, hang out with friends, explore your hometown and even splurge a bit.

So how do you plan a stay-cation? The key is not doing too much planning to create the perfect play/relax balance. Since you're at home, it can be easy to become a couch potato. But you also don't want to overschedule and end up just as stressed as you were at the start. Here's our advice: Plan a few activities every day, maybe one major thing and one that's more low-key. That way, you won't get bored, but you also won't run yourself ragged. It's also a good idea to give your stay-cation start and end dates, so you really feel like it's an official vacation. And remember to take photos and videos!


First up on the stay-cation agenda: creative ways to have fun at home.

The key to a stay-cation is making sure that it feels like a vacation, not like you're just hanging out at home. You don't have to stay in the whole time, of course, but if you are at home, what's the point of aimlessly surfing the Web all day or lying face-down on the sofa? If the point is to be frugal, there are plenty of at-home activities that won't break the bank -- or create a huge mess.

And -- dare we say it? -- unplugging, even just a little bit, is a great idea. Believe it or not, it is possible to have fun without computers, smartphones and TV. For example:

  • Camp out in the backyard. Don't forget the sticks to roast marshmallows for s'mores.
  • Have a home spa day for just the girls.
  • Plant a garden with the kids. Let each child choose something to plant.
  • Build your own drive-in theater and pick a movie that's new to everyone.
  • Dust off the board games and decks of cards. Twister, Clue and Uno are classics.
  • Have a cocktail party or a cookout. Socialize!

Here's another helpful tip: Don't do any chores. Do enough to keep the household afloat, of course, but steer clear of heavy cleaning or organizing (unless you find that kind of thing relaxing). If you're left with a gigantic mess after a few days, take some advice from our splurge section and hire a maid. You deserve it!

It's called a stay-cation, but that doesn't mean you have to stay at home. On the next page, we'll give you some ideas for excursions.

You can't spend your entire stay-cation in the house. Well, you can, but we wouldn't recommend it. What better time to get out and about? You might not be touring California wine country or taking a gondola ride through Venice, but you should definitely pencil in a day trip or two, just to spice things up.

We bet you can name a bunch of local attractions you've never seen, even if you've lived your whole life in one place. Or maybe you've just moved to a new town and haven't had time to explore. Either way, a stay-cation is the perfect opportunity to cross these spots off your to-do list. Pretend you're tourists for a day -- you can even get crazy and adopt new identities. Why not? It could allow you to see your town (and yourself) in a whole new light. Or you could . . .

Take the kids to a water park. Catch a ballgame. Pick blueberries. Bike to a park and have a picnic. Check out a museum. Take in some local theater. Go bowling. Make sure you pick activities that everyone's on board with, though, because there's nothing worse than spending the day with a kid who never wants to get back on his bike or one who whines through a baseball game. If one person isn't happy, the whole gang will be brought down.

While a stay-cation is an economical endeavor, you don't have to totally deprive yourself. On the next page we'll suggest a few ways to splurge.

Treat yourself to some fancy new threads to look fabulous in while you enjoy the nightlife during your stay-cation.
Treat yourself to some fancy new threads to look fabulous in while you enjoy the nightlife during your stay-cation.

Even if you're taking a stay-cation because you don't have the funds to pay for a real vacation, you don't have to pinch pennies the entire time. In fact, we're ordering you to splurge at least once: An indulgent treat is your reward for saving so much by staying home, and the cost will be a drop in the bucket compared to the expense of travel costs and hotel rooms. Here are some ideas to make your stay-cation extra special.

  • Rent a car. We're not talking a bare-bones sedan here. Get a sporty convertible for a day trip or a luxury SUV for a family trek to an amusement park.
  • Get a private chef. An evening at a posh restaurant might not be the best idea if you have three kids, so have a chef come to you. Relax in the living room with a cocktail, enjoy a gourmet meal and don't clean up. Perfect.
  • Hire a maid. You shouldn't have to mop and dust on vacation, even if you are at home. A professional cleaning will add that extra bit of relaxation and peace of mind.
  • Paint the town red. Buy a fabulous new outfit, send the kids to Grandma's or a friend's house and hit the town. Spend the saved babysitter funds on fancy cocktails and a swanky hotel room for the night.

This is just a start since we're sure it won't be hard to think of more ways to pamper yourself. Check out the links on the next page for more stay-cation ideas.

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More Great Links


  • Alban, Debra. "Staycations: Alternative to Pricey, Stressful Travel." CNN. June 12, 2008. (May 3, 2011)
  • Buckland, Lyndsay. "Mystery Staycation for Royal Couple." The Scotsman. May 1, 2011. (May 3, 2011)
  • Leamy, Elisabeth. "Tips for Planning a Great 'Staycation'." ABC News. May 23, 2008. (May 3, 2011)
  • Oliver, Marie Elizabeth. "Our Best 'Staycation' Ideas." Better Homes & Gardens. (May 3, 2011)
  • Terrapass. "Carbon Footprint Calculator." (May 3, 2011)