You don't need to turn on the television to know that today's tough economy is affecting everyone. And luxuries, like that nice vacation to a warm, faraway resort, are no longer an option for many. In this economy, "staycation" is the buzzword. It means having a vacation while staying at home. It's a compromise, especially if you don't live near a beach or desirable vacation spot, but there are many benefits. Think about it - no airline tickets to buy, no hotel to book, no need to find someone to take care of the pets or plants. You can even forgo expensive restaurant meals if you're on a very tight budget. A staycation does need a little planning though, just like any other vacation. Here are six steps to make your staycation a success:
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1. Be a Tourist
For your trip to feel like a vacation, you have to approach it as if you were planning a getaway to a place you haven't been before. Start by pretending you're a tourist in your own town or city. Visit the tourist information center and pick up any information you can. Look online for your town's better business bureau – there's often a ton of information for tourists, and even information packages you can order at little or no charge. Your town's newspaper lists local events, like exhibits or festivals, so pick up a copy. Try an online search with your town's name and "events," just to see what comes up.
2. Make a Budget
How much can you afford to spend? Be realistic about this, because there's nothing worse than post-vacation financial stress. Remember, a staycation eliminates the bulk of your travel expenses. Do count on spending money on gas (to drive where you need to go) and admissions to any attractions if applicable. You can always bring food with you to avoid straining your budget. (For more savings tips on a traditional vacation, see Shoulder Season: Your Ticket To The Perfect Vacation and Cruise Ships: Reining In Vacation Spending.)
3. Plan Your Day Trips
After you gather all your information and create a budget, make a shortlist of places to visit. Included the hours, costs and driving distance. Be sure to check the websites of the places you are visiting; some museums and other attractions have discounts or even free admission on certain days of the month. If you have family members who are coming along, make sure they all get to pick a place to visit. This will make your staycation more memorable and more of a family event.
4. Plan Your Meals
For a really tight budget, simply plan to bring a picnic along. If you're bringing little ones, kids love a stop at a park for a meal outside. Or if you do have room in your budget for a meal out, pick your restaurant ahead of time rather than eating on the fly. This gives you a chance to use a coupon or plan around discounted meal days for children or seniors. Try your local free newspapers and magazines, or the Sunday paper to track down deals and coupons. A little planning can pay off with big savings.
5. Do Your Homework
Now that you have your game plan ready to go, it's time for final preparation. The drawback of a vacation-at-home is that you are at home. This means there are chores to be done, groceries to buy and phone calls to return. To make your staycation feel like a true getaway, make sure you finish any of your normal tasks beforehand. Tell your friends you're on vacation and you'll be out of town for however many days you've planned your trip for. Clear your schedule and take time off work like you would if you were getting on a plane. Clean the house, pay the bills and buy groceries for the week. This will help you to truly feel like you're getting a break, even if you're not packing a suitcase.
6. Have a Back-Up Plan
Have a Plan B ready, for inclement weather or other contingencies. Alternate different activities, like a museum visit and a zoo visit, especially if you're planning on bringing little ones with limited attention spans. If you're driving longer one day, pick an activity closer to home the next day so you don't spend two days in a row in the car. When your plans fall through completely on a given day (because of the weather, for instance), have a back-up plan like a movie day with popcorn or a game day indoors. The key to a fun and relaxing time, as with any vacation, is to be flexible.
The Bottom Line
If your budget is tight, a staycation can be a relaxing break without the high price tag. Have a great staycation! (For money-saving vacation tips, check out Travel Tips For Keeping You And Your Money Safe and Travel Smart By Planning Ahead.)
Still feeling uninformed? Check out last week's business news highlights in Water Cooler Finance: Zombies File Taxes, Dead Bills Rise Again.