Thursday, July 16, 2009

Paradise Minus the Packing: Your Staycation Awaits

Photo by Susan Tito

A gasping economy does little to curb the craving for a little R&R. If anything, recession stress and daily bad news create even more of a need to take one’s mind off it all. What’s a guy or gal to do with anorexic funds and a three-day weekend?

Enter the “staycation,” a jazzy new word for what frugal folks have been doing forever—vacationing at home. I enjoyed my first official staycation this Fourth of July weekend, which the Boo came over to spend with me. I discovered that a successful vacay in your own city requires more effort than most people probably imagine.

Here’s what I learned along the way:

Believe the Hype

“I can’t wait for our Ultimate July 4th Weekend!” I said repeatedly during the week leading up to our staycation. Build anticipation. Hype works, hence the multibillion dollar marketing industry.

Put Down the Feather Duster!

You have to do things out of the norm to distinguish your staycation from the typical weekend spent running errands and folding laundry. Speaking of laundry, don’t do it. Any chores outside of basic maintenance (i.e. washing dishes, taking out rank garbage) should be considered off limits.

My mom used to make a big deal about cleaning up before traveling. “Nobody wants to come home to a dirty house,” she’d say. And so, in preparation for the Ultimate July 4th Weekend, I spit-shined my one-bedroom apartment as if I was jet setting elsewhere for three days (thereby also increasing the hype).

Don’t Disturb This Groove

When you’re actually out of town, all you have to say to people is, “I’m out of town.” The statement carries an automatic proclamation of unavailability.

To achieve that same “do not disturb” effect when you’re in town, it’s best to let friends and family know the weekend is locked down ahead of time. “It’s a good idea to give the staycation a start and end date and devote as much of the time in between to relaxing, having fun, and breaking out of a rut,” said Matt Wixon, author of The Great American Staycation.

Take care of any obligations beforehand. For me it meant loaning my sister the car for the weekend and ensuring my elderly aunt had been to the grocery store. It also means making sure bills, emails, banking, and any other pertinent business is taken care of.

Unfortunately, not one hour into the staycation, my dedication to the plan faltered. My fashionista friend Michelle called to announce she had cleaned out her closet and wanted to drop off some clothes for me. “Sure!” I agreed without one lick of hesitation. In minutes, Mrs. Claus arrived, brandishing a sack of slacks, tops, and a cute fuchsia dress. I gushed over my new-to-me gear, lifting each shirt out of the bag and pressing it to my chest.

“Tell all your friends you’ll be unavailable this weekend…” I heard in a mocking voice after shutting the door behind Michelle. I frantically raked my mind for a valid protest. But there was none; I had broken my own rule.

Switch It Up

There was a period in my childhood when my mom, my brother, and I all slept in the same bed (in our six-bedroom house). Not sure why…maybe it was because Mom’s room had cable. Anyway, occasionally we’d all go spend the night in another room and call it vacation. Similarly, The Dude and I dragged my mattress from the bedroom, slid the coffee table over, and slept in the middle of the living room. It was like renting a trendy studio for the weekend.

Where No Man Has Gone Before

Locals rarely frequent their city’s tourist spots. New Yorkers don’t spend weekends climbing up the Statue of Liberty, D.C. residents don’t take field trips to tour the White House. But being a tourist for the weekend adds instant out-of-towness to any staycation.

Living in Orlando provided the Boo and I more than enough options, but we settled on WonderWorks, an interactive science-based exhibition housed in a three-story upside down building. We played the afternoon away with robots and giant bubbles; we rode on a create-your-own roller coaster simulator and even hung out in a hurricane wind tunnel.

Could have done without…

- …watching DVDs. Movie night is cool but way to “regular” for the staycation weekend. Fireworks popped outside my apartment as I struggled to understand the weirdness that is Southland Tales. We could’ve been out doing some of the other things on this list!

-Work. Somehow I let this intruder slide by me on the Ultimate 4th of July weekend, even suggesting we spend an afternoon at Panera with our laptops. Fortunately we didn't get a chance to do this.


Overall, we committed to the Ultimate 4th of July Weekend with as much gusto as if we had plane tickets and hotel reservations.

By Sunday evening, I felt like I'd been somewhere other than my old stompin’ grounds. It was a good time but required planning, an open mind, and a few ground rules.