Every summer, the travel industry and others release statistics on how many vacation days Americans leave on the table. Foregoing compensation seems silly, yet there are rational reasons people might not want to travel.
It costs money, and while research shows people derive happiness from anticipating their vacations, and we post happier tweets the farther we venture from home, travel stress can quickly quash the bliss. Just ask any of the tens of thousands of people stranded in airports across the globe during Delta’s computer system outage.
Are staycations the answer? “Vacations should really be an opportunity for us to rejuvenate mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually,” says Paula Davis-Laack. “There’s really a lot of stress that’s involved in physically traveling from Point A to Point B,” the founder of the Davis-Laack Stress & Resilience Institute tells Fast Company. If you take days off from work but stay home, “You’re not getting sick from being in an airplane. You’re not coordinating everything you need,” she says.
Of course, if you get limited vacation days, staying home could also make you feel cheated. Here are ways to maximize the pleasure.
Unhappiness stems from a gap between expectations and reality. This is true for staycations, but it’s true of vacations in general. Aim to make rejuvenation a regular habit in your life by getting enough sleep, exercising, and seeing friends and family. Then, “there’s not as much of an expectation that simply taking one or two weeks out of the year is going to transform you into this less-stressed person you want to be,” says Davis-Laack.
Ruth McMahon, a frequent staycationer who lives in Illinois, says that the staycations she’s enjoyed take a little bit of planning. “If you don’t plan anything, then the days can get spent doing nothing more than just watching TV, and that is not as enjoyable in the long run,” she explains. If you’ve planned a spa day, lunch with a friend, and a day trip to the beach, you can look forward to these events, just as you’d look forward to any other sort of vacation. For most people, this boosts the enjoyment factor considerably.
That said, if your life is tightly planned, and/or if you travel a lot for work, part of the appeal of a staycation might be the lack of plans. Tara Lynne Groth, a writer who lives in the Raleigh, North Carolina area, says, “I wanted my staycation not to have any plans. I wanted to be calendar-free. If I woke up and felt like hiking, then I went hiking.” In this case, having a very loose list of things you might like to try can help with your morning brainstorming.
The truth is, somebody probably visits the place you live–or places within an hour or two–on their vacation. McMahon lives in the Chicago area, where there are many museums, restaurants, and other places she wants to visit.
Cross some of these off your bucket list, and open your eyes. Taking photos of the familiar will help you see things in a new light. And feel free to indulge in one of the modern guilty pleasures of vacations: bragging about it online. “You can still document and promote on social media,” says Davis-Laack. The fact that you didn’t spend big bucks on airfare and hotels does not change the fact that the view from the top of a local skyscraper is awesome.
The problem with staying home is that you’re still surrounded by the piles of dirty laundry and the books that need to go back to the library. You’re also probably 20 minutes or so away from your workplace, which makes it easy to stop in if something comes up. So set ground rules for yourself.
Anne-Marie Morin, a physician, says, “I never work when we staycation. I can read a good medical article if I want to, but I do nothing that directly relates to my job.” Likewise, she says, “I only do errands that I find enjoyable.” If you love to garden, spending a morning perusing plants is great. Dropping off the dry-cleaning? Not so much. If you have so many personal to-dos piled up that they have become a source of stress, try to get them all done on your first day off so you can relax afterwards.
If you have a family, you want to spend vacation time with them. But keep in mind that with young kids, a staycation is basically the equivalent of how stay-at-home parents live. It’s not really a vacation in that sense. You might consider leaving the kids in daycare for a day or two, or sending them to Grandma’s for 48 hours so you can have some grownup fun as well.
At least think through how you’ll keep the kids busy. “We have a theory that multiplying kids means less work for adults as they entertain each other,” says Morin. “So we spend a lot of afternoons and dinnertime with friends and their kids,” she says. It’s a win all around.
Memories are malleable. Part of feeling like you had a great staycation is telling yourself, and others, that you had a great staycation. This is especially important when things go wrong, as they can. Groth felt like hiking one morning early in her staycation, but wound up with dozens of chigger bites from her foray into the woods. “The itching kept me awake every night that week,” she says.
“Fortunately, I did unplug from the Internet and my calendar, and it was, of course, freeing not to look at a screen,” Groth recalls. Despite the itching, she says, “with no urgency and no obligations, I felt relieved the entire week.” Indeed, she’s planning another staycation next month.