How to book a staycation and tour your own town

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Summer is imminent, people! For lots of us, that means summer vacations. But let’s talk about a vacation alternative: the staycation. You know, that horrible buzzword you’ve probably heard bandied all over The Today Show and morning talk radio? But the concept is great — if you can get the execution down, you’ll have a blast.

State parks: one of my favorite staycaytion spots. They're plentiful, close to most cities, and full of beautiful landscapes.

Being fairly fresh out of college AND workaholics AND cheap as hell, Scott and I’ve opted for a staycation far more often than an actual trip anywhere. A lot of times these go-nowhere holidays are more relaxing than a Real Trip since there’s not a ton that can go wrong.

I’m also a finding-things-to-do guru, due to my obsessive need to keep my finger on the pulse of everything going on in my little city — and I love staycations, since the aforementioned workaholic status doesn’t leave us a ton of time to experience everything in town. Here’s how I make our staycations rock.

Treat staycations as real vacations

  • Budget. Part of the fun of staycations is that you don’t have to spend as much money as you would tripping somewhere, but we make sure we have at least a bit of a budget to spend on day trips, restaurants and entertainment.
  • Clean the whole house — PRE-vacation. For these precious few days off, I pretend our home is a timeshare. We’ve just arrived. It should be clean and comfortable — and we may stock up with a few luxury items. Fluffy new towels, a yum bubble bath, champagne, and maybe some fresh flowers — they go a long way to make an everyday scene seem new.
  • I let people know I’m out of the office. Really.
  • Take vacation photos! I’m a photo phreak, and my favorite tools are smartphone apps. My iPhone is stocked with Hipstamatic, Camera+​, Super Camera 2 (good for its built-in timer), Instagram, and my all-time favorite: Pudding, by KTH — which is all in Korean, but takes the best hipster photos that look least overtly altered. When I’m “home” from my staycay, I upload, my photos to make an album commemorating our time.
    Bowling's great for staycations -- and yes. I did end the game with a score of 30. Maybe I should bowl more often.

Set an itinerary and plan to be a tourist in your own town

  • We set aside time for things we enjoy, but don’t normally have time for. I adore reading, but I’ve been working on the same few books for, like, a year. It’s my greatest dream right now to sit in the lounger on the deck and finish all of them.
Do things you don't normally have time for. Like naps. Amirite?
  • Scope local museums. ‘Round here, we have a ton of visit-worthy educational centers — some of which I still haven’t seen. Blank Park Zoo, Reiman Gardens and Butterfly House, the Des Moines Art Center, the State Historical Building, the Science Center of Iowa, Living History Farms, the state capitol. If you want to see what’s available in your ‘hood, Google the name of your city and tack “museums” on at the end.
  • Plan a day trip. There is ALWAYS something interesting within driving distance. On my shortlist for our next staycation: local state parks (many with activities and rentals — jet skis!); the Amana Colonies: an historic cluster of villages; county fairs; other indie craft markets; the Grotto; and maybe a trail ride at the local equestrian center.
  • Take a class. I’d love to learn to throw pots or become a raw chef.
  • Plan to eat well. If I leave food choices to chance, I fall into the same rut. When I’m staycaying, I find a local top eats list and choose dining destinations from it.
This place was purported to have the BEST pizza. I ate a baked potato with a ridiculously-sized serving of butter.
  • Visit a water park or local beach. Even the lamest pool has a diving board, a snack machine, and a warm patch of cement on which to sunbathe. If you’re lucky, your city or town has a new-fangled family fun park with wading areas, slides, inflatables, and a lazy river. We have a ton of nice lake beaches in Central Iowa and I’ve still been to NONE of them!
  • Take tours. I totally just signed up to tour our local recycling facility in a few weeks (though I won’t be on staycation.) Our Great Ape Trust and Salisbury House offer guided tours, and our local architectural foundation gives walking tours of our downtown skyline — none of which I’ve done yet. Poke around and see what tours you can do in your area. Factories and breweries often offer tours as well.
  • Go camping. Or, you know, you can get a hotel room. But we love a long weekend with friends and a challenging amount of beer to consume at the campground.
And what tastes better than burritos and corn from a campfire? Nothing.

Really, a staycation is an excuse to fall in love with your town. Put your imagination into it and pretend you’ve traveled — it’ll help you get away from your everyday expectations. And save money. And relaaaaaaaaaax.

Done a staycation? Did I miss an essential tip?

Comments on How to book a staycation and tour your own town

  1. we are so planning a stay-cation for our 1 yr anniversary! I am trying to find things we have NOT done in Seattle… any suggestions for anything fun and unusual? (done every museum, the underground tour, kinda sick of pike place)…

    • @Natasha: Try a day trip to Tacoma! Tacoma Art Museum, the Museum of Glass, lots of fun places to eat, antique row/theatre district has a bunch of funky shops, catch a show at the Pantages or Rialto. Park (free!) at the train station and ride the LINK (free!) all day. Or Pt. Defiance Zoo, visit Proctor and go to the (small) farmers market. Catch a Rainers game in the newly remodeled Cheney stadium. It can really be a fun day (or two) out!

      • The Arboretum!
        Go to the beach/park by Lake Washington in Madrona.
        Volunteer Park Cafe for lovely breakfasts.
        The zoo currently has a baby ocelot!
        Ballard Locks are lovely.
        Ever go to Greenwood? There’s some good coffee and antiques down there.
        Go see a play. There are some good ones starting up this time of year.
        Usually in the summer most neighborhoods have festivals or parades, see what’s going on.
        West Seattle is actually quite lovely if you can get there. Alki, Easy Street, Bakery Nouveau.

    • The last time we were in Seattle we did a day trip out to Mt. Rainier/Carbon River Rainforest. It was gorgeous!

    • thanks guys! I have actually done all this stuff before except for point defiance zoo. i always forget that exists. it is on the list!!! NOW.. just to hope for SUN…

    • Ballard/Fremont? Ballard has all sorts of cool Scandinavian/fishing stuff, and Fremont is just bananas. Spaceship, and Troll, and Giant Lenin Statue. Yes.

  2. OMG, this post totally planned our honeymoon staycation. I’m in Central Iowa so I can go to practically all of these things and never gave it a 1st thought! *squee*

    • Also, if you’re in central Iowa go to Pella! If your honeymoon is in April/May the tulips will be in bloom and if not, it’s still a cute little town with the (and I quote) “largest grain-grinding windmill in the United States.”

  3. I love taking a staycation by myself – take a day off work without hubby and spend the morning at a local spa and then come home to grill myself a yummy shrimp skewer lunch, read an e-book out in the backyard and sip some girly mixed drink.

  4. My family took a staycation last year; it really is so much fun! Lots of good food and taking the opportunity to go places that we always pass by or think about and never actually make it to. We went to the Zoo, toured a frozen pizza factory, and my sister and I spent the night at a local hotel that had an in-room whirlpool. Just as much fun as a regular vacation for a lot cheaper and with way less boring travel time.

  5. We’re planning next years staycation….deep sea fishing with the kids or a whale watch, Acadia National Park, maybe some mini-golf, and lots of swimming and night-time campfires.

  6. Last year, the cat spoiled our staycation (on purpose, I’m sure! *g*) by swallowing a thread, which resulted in surgery and cost us more than our staycation budget had originally been (all in all, like, 1 month’s salary – but you know how that is, you get used to your pets… ).

    Since this year’s holiday will most likely be a staycation as well (budget!!!), I’ll make sure to keep a link to this blog post. But I’d love to, in addition, include at least a weekend trip to another town – Amsterdam or Paris are only a few hours by train/plane…

  7. We took a hike in a nearby nature reserve and it really gave us the feeling of being away.
    And since we didn’t have a budget for dining out, we cooked nice and fancy dinners ourselves. We themed every dinner (e.g. Italian (his favourite), Thai (my favourite) and made special breakfasts. What’s better than sleeping in and taking the time to cook yourself a really nice breakfast?

  8. That’s awesome! I know our local paper has a list on their website of “50 Free Things To Do” in our town. I bet other cities have something similar.

  9. Myself and my Boy did this last year and we are doing it again this week for our anniversary! Last year we spent one night of it in an AMAZING hotel, michelin starred dinner, the works – Just in Manchester, UK about 20 mins bus ride from where we live. This year we are staying at home but doing a museum a day that we always keep meaning to go to but havent been to for about 2 years (we did a lot of our early dating at museums in manchester!)

  10. Love this idea– it’s so easy to overlook awesome stuff right at home.

    My real reason for commenting: I’m a native Iowan and I squeeed at all the Iowa shout outs. I have awesome memories of school field trips to the Blank Park Zoo, the Science Center and Living History Farms. Especially Living History Farms. I freakin love that place. ALSO: The Grotto! YES! Go. You could make a trip of it and stop there on your way to Okoboji! I grew up about 20 miles from the Grotto and I have big love for it. There’s a little campground there where my friends and I stayed the night after our HS graduation.

  11. Haha I didn’t know there’s a word for this. My husband and I do this a lot. Our friends always act surprised when we tell them activities available around us. Another fun thing to do is stay a night in a bed and breakfast in your area. Our local indie paper, Independent Weekly, also publish weekend “tours”of offbeat stuff you can do around here on the weekends. It’s awesome.

  12. I’m on staycation now! Finding it great during the day (when I’d ordinarily be at work) but lapsing into “flop-on-couch” behavior at night. Gotta work on that. Also: I didn’t know the Great Ape Trust did tours. I’m so there, thanks, Cat!

  13. In interior Alaska there’s not too much to do during the winter. But once summer hits we have the Ak salmon bake, the Riverboat Discovery, The Eldarado Gold Mine, and The Museum of the North on UAF campus. Then if you want a short drive (well short for us alaskans anyway) the 3 hour trip to Denali is always lovely!

  14. I love that you mentioned the Amana Colonies they really are a fun get away spot when you can’t take a full vacation.

  15. We haven’t really talked about it but this summer, our 1 year anniversary and my husband’s birthday are all coming up. With our little one due in August and my belly already bigger than my bum… this might be our best bet. I always forget there is plenty to do locally (like go to the aquarium, or visit museums, etc.) And we always seem to remember them when we drive by them and have a busy work schedule!

    If anyone knows of any odd and fun tours in the Orange County area that go over haunted areas, or like a random museum about oil in Yorba Linda (found that randomly one day while driving around adventuring the area; completely fun and free), please mention it! We’re new to the area, but I love the small local things as opposed to the more well known things (since we’ve probably done them all).

  16. Cat, OMgoodness, I seriously <3 you! New photo app love, FTW! (As in, I have all the other iPhone/ iPod apps you mentioned BUT Pudding/ KTH and I downloaded it after I read this (um, two days ago) and have been TOTALLY geeking out on how awesome it is ever since! (I love it way more than hipstamatic, which I thought I was going to fall head over heels for and didn't, after my Mother's Day iPod Touch 4th gen upgrade).

    In terms of staycationing: we rented a hotel room about an hour away for our last anniversary and went to the beach (Jersey shore, baby!). It was awesome! I definitely think we'll be doing that again this summer, if we can.

    We've never had a declared "staycation" at home, but we sort of treat our weekends like staycations sometimes, going out and doing stuff that most people don't get around to… It's lots of fun!

  17. I think idea of cleaning the house ahead of time is great, and I usually don’t do it. I do try to be disciplined about not doing boring chores during a staycation, but it is hard to stick to that when it feels like you’re just hanging out at home. I will try to do this for real next time.

    I’m usually pretty happy in even cheap hotel/motels as long as they are reasonably clean — that clean and empty space says vacation to me, because my house is never like that — so I have sometimes Pricelined a hotel in my city or surrounding areas for cheap as part of a staycation.

    When I can’t take very much time off work, it totally seems like a waste to spend several hours of my vacation getting somewhere!

  18. My FH and I have been living together for over two years, and we have most of the traditional stuff couples usually register for, plus we can’t afford to go on a far-away honeymoon, so we decided to do a camping trip as our honeymoon! The BEST part of this whole thing is: our wedding registry is at REI! So we’ll get all the camping gear we could ever need and then be able to use it over and over again when we go camping as Mr. and Mrs.! 🙂

  19. LOVE staycations! This goes along with some of Cat’s suggestions, but something general that I think can potentially make a really fun/funny staycation is pretending to be REALLY into something you don’t normally care too much about. Not normally a sports fan? Try going to as many sporting events during your ‘vacation time’ as possible and being super fans during each one. Typically not into coffee? Find all of the top-rated coffee shops in your city and try a specialty beverage at every stop. You can also imagine yourself a hobby, perhaps that you’re a hardcore photographer/painter/sketcher and have decided to ‘capture’ all of the beautiful places in your area. So many options! This approach makes for eye-opening experiences, hilarious stories and, every once in a while, new loves!
    Major props to everyone who decides to truly enjoy exactly where they are right now 🙂

  20. My two best friends are planning a stay-cation honeymoon for my future-mate and I as their wedding gift to us. It’s going to be a scavenger hunt-style and he won’t tell me anything more. He has asked us a few questions to get a feel for what we want to do, and they include such queries as “Do you get claustrophobic?” I’m sooo excited and sooo curious about what it’s going to be!

  21. I work at a Visitors Bureau, and I would suggest contacting you local one and to request a visitors guide. They usually have a lot of information about places local that you may or may not have heard of that are worth checking out.

  22. I lived in central Iowa for 5 years and moved away about 10 years ago (already?!?). This totally made me miss the heck out of that place!

  23. My suggestion is always go to that restaurant you’ve always wanted to try but been intimidated to visit. Go in an off hour and really take your time to savor everything. Let the host and your server know it’s your first time there–you’ll often get awesome recommendations and great service. If you really love your experience, ask your server about a good time to come back. If you want to save money, go just before or just after the lunch rush but while they’re still offering their lunch menu (at a lot of places, that goes until 3pm.)

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