In 2010, we traveled with our four children to a beach location and, yes, we have photos of sun-kissed children and gorgeous tropical sunsets to help us remember our vacation. What the photos don't show, though, is all the work that goes into a family vacation. I spent four months planning the trip, two weeks packing for the trip and two weeks recovering and doing laundry after the trip. Our vacation photos don't reveal the cost of schlepping our family across the country either. Our costs fit neatly in the range of what an average American family spends on a vacation -- $1,000 to $1,600 -- according to surveys by AAA, "Money" magazine and Visa.
In 2011, we've decided to try the latest vacation trend: staycationing. We're staying put. No packing, no airports, no uncomfortable hotel beds. We’re not alone in that choice.
As gas prices soar and incomes shrink, more families are opting to stay home. Gasoline prices have spiked recently because of increased demand from developing countries and Middle East unrest. Fred Rozell, a gasoline analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, predicted at The Huffington Post in December 2010 that at least 15 states would see gasoline prices exceed $4 a gallon by Memorial Day 2011.
While the unemployment rate may be going down, wages are not keeping up with increasing inflation, meaning that many families are still feeling a financial pinch, according to a March 2011 article in "The New York Times."
But money isn’t the only thing to be saved by planning a staycation. Kaamna Bhojwani-Dhawan, founder and CEO of Momaboard.com, said, "A staycation is sometimes more fulfilling than an exotic destination because you can focus on family members without the distractions of travel logistics."
A staycation is sometimes more fulfilling than an exotic destination because you can focus on family members without the distractions of travel logistics.
Kaamna Bhojwani-Dhawan, founder and CEO, Momaboard.com
Make a Plan
The first step is to develop a plan for your staycation. Structure it just as you would a regular vacation with defined priorities and goals.
The key to a satisfying family staycation, said Jana Lusk, an Austin, Texas, mother of four, is getting the kids involved in the planning. “Nothing makes a kid feel more important than contributing his opinion and being taken seriously,” she said.
Lusk suggests brainstorming ideas as a family and letting each child choose an activity. Decide ahead of time what is most important to you and make specific plans so you don’t get sucked into routine tasks and activities.
Bhojwani-Dhawan recommends breaking up the time into four parts: Spend 25 percent of the vacation doing activities, 25 percent catching up with family and friends, 25 percent on personal time (yoga, massage, pottery class) and 25 percent working on a family project.
Decide ahead of time how to handle mealtimes and routines. Some families prefer to eat every meal out, eliminating the chore of cooking. On the other hand, if you like to cook, a staycation can allow you to spend time in the kitchen making special dishes you normally don’t have time for. Fire up the grill; try an exotic, ethnic dish; or make homemade ice cream.
“Leave the laundry and unnecessary cleanup. Unless a typical household task has to be done, don’t do it,” recommended Judy Woodward Bates, author and radio and television guest.
A staycation is not the time to clean out closets or do major home projects, but if the sight of unmade beds and piles of laundry seems anything but relaxing, institute a 30-minute “quick clean” every morning and evening to corral the chaos.
Tell friends and co-workers that you’re going on vacation, but be vague about the specifics. Set your email and phone to relay messages that you are out of the office and limit time spent on your computer. The point of a staycation is to relax and refuel.
Make It Meaningful
Once you've developed an overall plan, narrow your choices to provide a good mix of activities.
When selecting activities, strive for a balance between recreational, fun activities and learning opportunities, said Lusk, whose family visited an animal shelter and learned about responsible pet ownership. She said her family has had similar learning experiences at botanical gardens, museums, public libraries and historical landmarks.
Lusk also advocates service projects as a worthwhile family project.
“Teach kids early where the opportunities are to make a difference, then make a difference together, as a family," she said. "Nothing builds self-esteem better, and these are incredible experiences and memories that cannot compare to just another vacation.”
The Law family of Gilbert, Arizona, spent part of their vacation working at an orphanage. They painted, made repairs and played with the children.
“The experience was unforgettable," Patrick Law said. "The kids were so happy to see us and so grateful for every small thing they had. We have gone on a lot of family trips, but none that left an impression like that one did.”
A Hassle-Free Vacation
Time away from work and school responsibilities is important for parents and kids alike. Through vacations, families reconnect, create memories and refuel.
However, planning and implementing a vacation are often stressful and costly. A 2010 study by Visa found that over 50 percent of Americans don't take all their allotted annual vacation time. In addition to pressing work responsibilities, the financial burden of going on vacation, as well as the time required to plan a vacation, are likely reasons for not taking time from work.
Staycations offer the benefits of a vacation without the stress of planning or the cost. By reducing travel, food and lodging costs, families can spend money on memorable activities instead. Staycations allow families to plan ahead and keep better control of their finances.
I’m excited about the prospect of a family staycation. It offers all the things I want in a vacation -- adventure, relaxation and time to reconnect with my family -- without all the things I don’t want -- crowded airports, big credit card bills and the incessant cries of “Are we there yet?”
Who knew I could find Shangri-la right in my own backyard?
10 Simple Ideas for a Family Staycation
- Learn a new sport. Try tennis, skating or biking as a family. If you’re adventurous, try kayaking, mountain climbing or white water rafting.
- Pick berries or apples at local farms. Make applesauce or jam together.
- Visit local attractions and invite friends to meet you there. Think beyond museums and amusement parks. Explore your region's geographical and historical landmarks, such as state parks, ghost towns, caves or old railways.
- Host a water day or backyard Olympics event. Enlist your children to help set up games, such as water volleyball or sponge baseball. Make ribbons or hand out gold coins as awards or for participation.
- Learn a skill. Set up a cooking school at home and make a family cookbook featuring favorite recipes. Attend woodworking or art classes.
- Put on a performance. Have a talent show, or let your children put on a play. Make puppets or scrounge through old clothing for costumes.
- Rediscover board games.
- Make popcorn and watch old family movies.
- Camp out in the backyard. Don’t forget the marshmallows and graham crackers.
- Set up a craft table. Make necklaces, pottery or paintings, or work on a scrapbook.