Are you looking to take time off from work to unwind and have fun without breaking the bank? A staycation is a great way to relax while also saving money, considering it rules out the need to buy plane tickets, a hotel, and cabs. When you opt for a vacation close to home, the money you’d otherwise put toward a pricey trip could be spent on a longer-term investment instead, such as buying something meaningful or contributing to a downpayment on a car or even a home.
Even with rising food, fuel, and other costs, many adults still prioritize traveling and taking trips. Airfare rose more than 40% from September 2021 to September 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet, about 70% of Americans still say they want to travel for leisure at least once within the following year.
Using PTO days, whether vacationing or simply winding down at home, is a smart way to fight burnout and feel mentally refreshed. An abstract published in Psychology and Health even found that vacations produce psychological benefits related to stress management that persist beyond the vacation period.
Whether you have a full week off or just a long weekend, we’ve got ideas for using your time off wisely. In this article, learn about staycation ideas that can be both exciting or calming and ultimately just as rewarding as a vacation you’d take somewhere far from home.
What Is a Staycation?
A staycation is a vacation spent at home. It’s a break from work, school, and other obligations spent within or close to your hometown instead of traveling far away. There are many instances in which taking a staycation makes more sense than a vacation. For example, a staycation is a great way to practice self-care if you’re on a budget, have young kids, or only have a few days off.
What Are the Benefits of a Staycation vs. a Vacation?
The main difference between a staycation and a vacation is the amount of travel involved. Vacationing usually involves flights, long car rides, or train rides. However, staycationing only involves driving close by.
Another distinguisher between the two is the cost. Traditional vacations are usually a lot more expensive because they require flights and hotels, not to mention dining out, cabs, and other expenses.
Additional benefits of a staycation compared to a traditional vacation:
- Costs less: It’s estimated that the average cost of a one-week vacation in the U.S. for one person is $1,578. This means the daily cost of vacationing per person is about $200 or more. For instance, according to Bank Rate, one night at an average hotel in the U.S. typically costs about $205, while food per person per day is about $46. American families spend on average about 44% of their vacation funds on transportation, including flights and car services to and from airports. Knowing these costs and taking a shorter vacation can save money. Yet, not having to travel far and pay for lodging or accommodations is the best way to reduce travel costs.
- Less travel-related stress: Not a fan of flying or long-distance travel? Then taking a staycation may be the best way for you to relax. If you’re going to wind up feeling anxious and exhausted after traveling, it’s not a good use of your money or time.
- Supports mental health and productivity: When employees, and people in general, prioritize work-life balance and take time to themselves for self-care, everyone benefits. Studies show that workplace morale and concentration levels rise when people feel well-rested, leading to higher employee performance. Taking time off also limits the risk of work-related stress and burnout, which can negatively impact a person’s motivation, emotional well-being, and ability to do their job.
7 Ideas for Taking a Staycation at Home
Ready to do something fun and interesting without venturing far from home? Listed below are a variety of staycation ideas to help get you started.
1. Going on a Local Restaurant Tour
Is there a town nearby, or even within a one-hour drive, that has a bunch of fun restaurants, breweries, or vineyards? Plan to stop at several places in one day, allowing you to get a taste of different places and cuisines. Look ahead at restaurants’ websites to see if they’re holding any special events, such as comedy shows or live music. Don’t forget to book ahead and make reservations so that you’re guaranteed a table or seat.
2. Taking a Ferry Ride to Explore a New Place
If you live near the coast, is there a ferry nearby that can bring you to another destination? The ferry ride itself can be fun and enjoyable, especially if it brings you somewhere where you can spend time outdoors, go shopping, or walk around a new town. Some ferries allow you to bring your car onboard, while others are for passengers and bikes only. Figure out which type is best for your trip depending on what you want to do once you get off the boat.
3. Camping Outdoors
One of the most popular and cost-effective summer staycation ideas is camping, whether in a tent, cabin, or rented RV. Look for local camping grounds in your area and ask about the accommodations and what you’ll need. Camping can cost as little as $30 per day, minus the cost of food and drinks that you bring. You can even eat dinner, build a fire, and camp in your own backyard to switch things up.
4. Having Dinner and Seeing a Show
Check out local theatres in your area or in smaller towns nearby, which are often much less expensive than shows in major cities. Even some college campuses have shows that are high-quality and low-cost. Another idea is to visit an art gallery opening, which may be free or very inexpensive. To round out your day, find a restaurant close to the theatre or gallery you can stop at before or after the show. For ideas and information about these types of local events, check to see if your town has a local online newspaper or Facebook group that lists upcoming events.
5. Visting a Museum, Zoo, or Park
Museums and exhibits are usually fun for the whole family, plus you’re bound to learn a thing or two during your visit. Check your local library to see if they offer discount tickets to museums, zoos, national or county parks, and other public attractions located close to your home. Many museums and parks offer food, but if you want to keep the day low-cost, consider bringing your own snacks or food, which is usually allowed.
For family-friendly museum ideas in your area, check out the Association of Children’s Museums website. And for information on zoos and aquariums that are within driving distance of your home, check the Association of Zoos and Aquariums website.
6. Hiking and Having a Picnic
Look for local hiking, biking, or walking trails nearby to check out on a nice day. Bring along a cooler and blanket so you can eat outdoors. You can also plan an outdoor workout while visiting a scenic location, go kayaking or paddleboarding if you’re near a body of water, or do something else active such as mountain biking or cross-country skiing. Some parks even hold outdoor yoga classes and similar events, so check local websites to see what’s on the calendar.
7. Attending a Minor League or College-Level Game
Don’t want to pay the high cost of major league tickets? Try taking your family to a college sports match or checking out the minor leagues instead. This can save you a lot of money, plus you’ll probably have better seats.
Other Staycation Ideas
- Buy a day pass at a hotel with a rooftop pool.
- Go bowling with a group of friends.
- Host a potluck dinner and game night at your house.
- Visit a spa or get a massage.
- Take a boat ride, such as a local dinner or sight-seeing cruise.
- Head to the beach with a good book.
- Check out a local farm to pick apples, pumpkins, berries, and other produce.
- Visit a local farmer’s market, then cook a farm-to-table meal.
- Go see a movie and grab dinner.
- Take a class that interests you, such as an art or cooking class.
- Visit an animal sanctuary.
- Volunteer for a day with an organization in your community, whether at a shelter, farm, or hospital.
- Do a virtual tour from your house of a famous museum.
- Create a fun scavenger hunt in your town for your family to complete together.
- Head to an amusement park or water park.
- Take your camera into nature and do a photoshoot.
How to Plan and Budget for a Staycation
Budgeting doesn’t mean cutting out all the travel and fun in your life. Instead, it means planning ahead, so you know what to expect and where to spend your money to maximize the experience. You can cut your expenses significantly by having a plan and being aware of your options. For instance, you can look for less expensive restaurants or concert tickets if you know you want to include both of these in your staycation plans.
When planning a staycation and budgeting for your time out, keep these tips in mind:
- Consider average costs: In the U.S., a meal for two people at a mid-range restaurant costs about $40 to $105, or about $70 on average. An economy car rental for one day costs about $150, while a 20-minute cab or Uber ride costs between $20 and $50. A concert ticket costs about $100 to $120 on average, while museum tickets can range from free to $65.
- Write down what you expect to do each day: First, get an idea of what you’d like to do during your staycation. Will you be dining out, and how often? Do you need to purchase tickets for any public transportation? Is entertainment involved, and how much will this cost? Make an itinerary of what you hope to do during your time off. Take into account the other people you’ll be with, such as your spouse, kids, or friends. Make sure you all agree on what the best plan is so you avoid arguments.
- Figure out how much you have to spend: Hopefully, you have an overarching budget that helps you identify how much money you have to put toward fun, hobbies, and entertainment each month or each year. If not, work on putting together a larger budget first so you understand how much money is left over after you cover essential expenses. If your budget allows for a certain amount of money for travel or trips each year, consider how much you want to use on this staycation versus how much you want to save for another trip.
- Cut your expenses if it doesn’t fit your budget: How does your ideal staycation budget compare to the actual amount of money you can afford to spend? If you need to cut down on costs, try finding less expensive alternatives, such as eating out less or going to attractions on non-peak days when tickets may be cheaper. You can also swap expenses such as costly concerts for free attractions like parks or public museums.
Common Pitfalls of Staycations and How to Avoid Them
You don’t want to waste your time off stressing yourself out or spending too much when planning a staycation. To make the most of your time, avoid these mistakes:
- Not making a plan: If you have no plan, chances are you won’t use your time as efficiently as you could. There are likely fun and enriching things going on in your area that you’ll overlook if you fail to give your staycation thought beforehand. Don’t deprive yourself of doing rewarding things. You don’t want to end up sitting at home bored because you didn’t plan ahead of time.
- Over-spending because you think you’re saving: If you know you’re spending less by staying closer to home, it can be tempting to blow a bunch of money in other places. Yet, you’re likely trying to save some money by staying local, so resist the temptation to spend unnecessarily on things like overpriced food and drinks.
- Not treating it like a real vacation: To really allow yourself to unplug and destress, avoid working through your staycation or taking on too many tasks at home. You want to experience the most mental health benefits possible, meaning it’s time to put away your devices, get outside, and take a break from stressful things on your to-do list.
- Playing it safe instead of thinking outside the box: In order to feel like you had a valuable experience or learned something new during your staycation, it helps to do something novel and exciting. If you’ve visited an attraction several times in the past, consider doing something else instead that will hold your interest better. Strive to include elements of newness in your staycation, making it feel more like you’re visiting an entirely different place.
What to Do With the Money That You Save During a Staycation
Considering that vacations cost about $200+ per day per person, you can save about $150 each day, or more than $1,000 per week, by doing something fun in your local area instead of traveling far. This staycation budget still allows you to spend $50 per day on things like entertainment and food. If you choose to staycation at home several times per year instead of traveling further, you could save several thousand dollars annually.
What should you do with the money you save (let’s say $1,000 to $10,000 per year) by taking a staycation instead of a vacation? Here are some tips for investing your savings wisely:
- Put the money toward your side hustle: This might mean buying equipment, products, training, inventory, or marketing and advertising.
- Learn a new skill: Have $1,000 to invest right now? Use it to learn something new that will wind up giving you returns, such as graphic designing or coding. Acquisition of new skills is one of the main contributors to higher salaries.
- Invest in stocks: If you’re new to investing, try utilizing investing apps for beginners that make it simple to get started. Be sure to only invest what you’re comfortable with potentially losing.
- Contribute to a savings account: Many Americans lack sufficient savings to cover the costs of an emergency like job loss. Put aside the extra money you’ve saved for a rainy day or for a bigger expense such as college tuition. Compare different banks to help identify the best interest rates being offered, or talk to your bank about the type of savings account that best fits your income and savings goals.
- Buy bonds: Bonds are a reliable way to make a profit over time. Many wise investors buy bonds because they provide a predictable income stream, especially compared to risky stocks.
- Pay off your debt: If you’re currently paying interest on debt, such as credit card debt or student loans, then it’s best to pay off your debt in order not to waste your money. Paying off debt consistently and on time also improves your credit score, making it easier to qualify for better interest rates and loans in the future.
- Contribute extra money to your 401k: Not only does contributing to your 401k help set you up for a comfortable retirement, it also saves you money on taxes. Additionally, if your company matches your 401k contribution and you take advantage of this, you’re basically earning more money that year.
Want to learn more about creating a budget for you and your family? Check out this article: 10 Budgeting Tips to Increase Your Money Management Skills.
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- Gump BB, Hruska B, Pressman SD, Park A, Bendinskas KG. Vacation’s lingering benefits, but only for those with low stress jobs. Psychol Health. 2021 Aug;36(8):895-912. doi: 10.1080/08870446.2020.1814958. Epub 2020 Sep 2. PMID: 32877234.
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