Staycations have become a fashionable necessity during these days of higher gas prices and reduced work weeks, unemployment, or the fear of losing a job. For many, the idea of a pricey vacation is simply out of the question.
Although I have never used the term, Kidoinfo is all about the meaning behind a staycation: exploring your local community, discovering everything available for families, going to new places or revisiting favorite spots. A vacation takes us away from our usual routine and everyday stresses and responsibilities, giving us the opportunity to relax and learn or see something new. Here are ten ideas for how to turn staying home into your own mini vacation.
Without the extra expense of hotel and airfare, you may shave some extra pocket change to splurge on local venues or eating out a bit more, making your staycation feel even more like a vacation. And depending on how much “free” time you have, I added some bonus activities you can do with your kids. Budget permitting, invest in disposable cameras for you children to document their staycation adventures—then they can make scrapbooks with souvenirs, ticket stubs, photos, and journal entries describing their favorites places.
1. Take a ride
Since you are already saving money on hotels, airfare, or a long car trip by staying home, you may want to splurge on a local excursion by ferry or train. Taking a ferry or train trip can be as much or more fun than the destination itself. Make it a daytrip, instead of staying overnight, and spend a couple of hours exploring the town and having lunch. Remember to pack light but bring some of the essentials depending on the ages of your kids: diapers, extra clothes, water bottles, snacks, paperback books, small toys.
Bonus Activity: Photocopy a map and plot your course by land or water.
2. Museums, observatories, planetariums, zoos, and aquariums
You may already have a favorite zoo or museum but for staycation fun, visit someplace new or revisit the familiar by starting at a different entrance or exhibit to see things you typically miss. Some places also offer sleepovers or special tours. Check if the venue has reduced entrance fees one day a week or a reciprocal arrangement with a place where you already hold a membership (e.g., One zoo membership may allow you into other zoos for free). Libraries often have free or discount passes to a number of local venues.
Bonus Activity: Have kids keep a log of all the venues you visit, listing their favorite thing they did or saw.
3. Outdoor summer concerts (Calendar)
Listening to live music outdoors while having a picnic supper is one of my favorite ways to spend time with my family. Concerts are often free and located in places such as parks, on the beach, at outdoor amphitheaters, or on museum lawns. Choose from kids’ performers to jazz to classical depending on your mood. Pack a picnic supper made at home or purchased from the prepared foods section at your local market. Other things you may want to bring along: a blanket, chairs, trash bag, plates, cloth napkins (less likely to blow away and better for the environment), utensils, extra water, wipes, bug spray, and extra blankets or coats to cover up if it cools off after the sun goes down. Depending on the venue, you may be able to park your blanket near an open space so younger children (with shorter attention spans or sitting power) can play and move around.
Bonus Activity: Kids can make their own instruments out of recycled materials and put on their own summer concert at home.
4. Behind-the-scenes tours
Although kids may go on tours as part of a school field trip, you may be able to arrange a special outing for your family or for your playgroup friends to get a behind-the-scenes look at a local business. Call ahead to find out if the business is willing to give you a tour and make arrangements. Tours ideas include: fire stations, police stations, movie theaters, television, radio stations, or newspaper facilities, ice cream shops, sports stadiums and farms.
Bonus Activity: Send a thank-you card. Have your kids draw, write, or include a picture of their favorite part of the tour.
5. Get out in nature
Plan a hike with your kids. Start at the local nature center to gather maps of local trails. In Rhode Island, the Audubon Center of Rhode Island has a number of wildlife refuges located all over the state. These trails are free and open to the public and offer trails of different lengths and levels. Local parks also provide many places to explore. One of our favorite ways to explore nature is to go letterboxing or geocaching, activities that combines the elements of hiking and treasure hunting.
Bonus Activity 1: Make/Design your own letterbox.
Bonus Activity 2: Play backyard bingo
6. Visit another country without getting on a plane
If you’re on a budget and cannot afford to visit places such as Italy, France, or Africa, you can still add some international flair to your staycation. Pick a country you’re eager to visit and explore it with your kids for a day. Find it on the map and read books about the country at your local library. Find related things in the local community. Is there a cultural festival scheduled, section of town, or local museum exhibit that may be related? What clothes do residents of the country wear? What language do they speak? Head to the grocery and find typical foods from the country to make a special meal or head to a restaurant specializing in that country’s local cuisine.
Bonus Activity: Make a passport book for your kids. Take them to a photo booth to get their “passport photo” taken and stamp their book every time you “visit” a new country.
7. Plan potluck parties
Make plans with friends to join you on adventures at the park or at home and make the meal half the fun (and easier on the wallet) by making it potluck where everyone contributes a dish or drinks. It can be a one-time event or a regular Friday afternoon playdate turned potluck affair. Keep it simple by meeting at a park or beach or get creative and plan a themed event such as a Beach Party with sandbox, beach towels, and a cookout of hamburgers and hotdogs, or make it a Movie Night and set up a projector outside, hang a sheet for the movie screen, and serve popcorn.
Bonus Activity: Kids and adults swap favorite recipes and/or make party decorations.
8. Be a tourist in your own town
If you cut out the cost of airfare and a week’s worth of staying at a hotel, you may have enough money to splurge on accommodations for one or two nights close to home. Kids get a kick out of motels and hotels: the elevators, big beds, the ice machine, long corridors, and indoor pools. As a parent I love leaving chores behind and not having to make my bed in the morning. You may find last minute deals at a hotel in town or a short drive away. Check with the hotel directly or hoteldiscount.com for what is available.
Bonus Activity: Pretend to be a real tourist. Ask the concierge for maps and their recommendation of local attractions and pick something you have never done before.
9. Head to the water
Plan a trip to the beach, lake, water park, or community swimming pool. Some places may be free or have reduced fees for residents. Best time to head out to the beach is early in the morning to get a good parking spot. Bring extra water and sunscreen. Pack a cooler full of snacks. Play improvised beach games.
Bonus Activity: Bring along plenty of plastic containers and shovels for extensive sand castle building.
10. Go camping
Camping can take many forms depending on how rustic your tastes run. I know some families that choose to walk all their gear to a remote camping spot while others opt for driving to a campsite that’s near a bathroom and water. And then there is camping in your backyard. No matter your experience level or the location of your chosen campsite, camping can be fun for the whole family with a little advance planning. If you’re a seasoned camper, you probably own gear, and if you’re a novice who’s planning to start camping regularly as a family, you may want to invest in your own equipment. If you’d like to try it once for fun or want to see if it’s your kind of thing, ask friends to borrow their equipment for the weekend or for an overnight.
Bonus Activity: Keep a nature log of what you see and find in the woods.
• Plan day’s activities around a theme like Art Day, Animal Day, or Science Day.
• Attend sporting events, craft shows and city festivals.
• Explore a local college campus.
More Ideas on Kidoinfo
• Check our list of 100 things to do in Rhode Island
• 25 Things to Do with Kids During School Vacation
• Daytrip: Riverside, Rhode Island
• You Really Can Do-it-Yourself: Forming Camps and Clubs
• Bored Box
• Make a Rainy Day Closet
• Host a Lego Party
• Hop on the Bus
• Curiouser and Curiouser: Make Your Own Curiosity Cabinet
• Cheap, Easy Entertainment
• Build a fairy house
• Art Projects for Kids