15 Tips for a Fabulous Family Staycation

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Think you need to head to the beach to have a great family vacation? Think again. We've got 15 ways the whole family can have a great vacation at home.

The average American spends $1,180 per person on their summer vacation, according to an American Express 2012 report. That’s a lot, but we’ve got good news – your family can take a leisurely and fulfilling vacation without hopping a flight, enduring an endless car ride, or sleeping on a strange mattress.

Chances are, there’s plenty to see and do within driving distance of your home – and even some things you can do in your own backyard. So instead of planning an expensive trip and dealing with the hassle of travel, why not create a staycation plan?

1. Set the scene

To get the most out of your staycation, treat the time off like a regular vacation – set a start and end date. Once the time starts, stop your mail, turn the home phone off, and don’t stay glued to your inbox. The best way to ruin a staycation is staying plugged in.

2. Camp in your own yard

If you’re like me and don’t live near a state park or campground, that doesn’t mean you can’t have the experience. Pick up a tent from a thrift store or borrow one from a friend. Set it up in the backyard, light a fire, make s’mores, and tell ghost stories.

3. Plan a craft day

If you’ve got an artist or two in the family, spend time together making crafts. There are tons of cheap crafts for both kids and adults: For example, have your kids create their own caterpillars out of egg cartons, use a plastic loom and old socks to make pot holders, or decorate plain wooden frames. Check out these articles for more crafty ideas:

4. Visit your dream location at home

You don’t need a passport and a wad of cash to travel overseas. One of my friends recently recreated her dream destination, Ireland, in her living room. She decorated the room with Irish flags, clovers, and even a Leprechaun statue she found at a garage sale. She played traditional Celtic music, and served Irish dishes like cabbage soup along with green beer (green Kool-Aid for her kiddos). At the end of the night, the family watched movies about Ireland.

5. Check out your local museum

Few of us take the time to visit the tourist attractions in our own city. Now is your chance. Look up a few local museums and see if they offer free or discounted days, then spend a day visiting.

6. Visit historic sites

Another thing we often miss is local historical sites. For example, I didn’t realize I live within driving distance of the spot where Bonnie and Clyde had their final shoot-out. I know now, thanks to the National Park Service. They keep a list of national historic landmarks. Check it out!

7. Write a book

If your kids are old enough to read and write (or old enough to color), use your free time to start a children’s book with them. Let your kids pick the subject, work together on the storyline, and have them finish up the illustrations. Once you’re done, pop the pages in a binder and decorate the cover, or photocopy the pages and add them to a folder for a professional look.

8. Spend a day at a community pool

You don’t need to shell out for a water park. Odds are your kids will have just as much fun at a local pool, and they’re much cheaper. Weather permitting, check out community pools in your neighborhood, free days at a local family gym, or ask the YMCA for rates and schedules.

9. Volunteer

Spend a day giving back to your community by volunteering. Many organizations have projects for the entire family. For example, a local animal rescue in my area has a family walk day where children can walk puppies. Call charities in your area; they’ll be happy to put you to work.

10. Pack a picnic

A few hours outdoors and you’ll feel rejuvenated and worry-free. Pack a picnic lunch with cheap and tasty meals like this lemon herb chicken or these sausage balls. Head to the park and spend the afternoon feasting and playing with your kids.

11. Tour unusual locations

If museums and art galleries aren’t your kids’ thing, that doesn’t mean tours are out of the question. Think of something they’re interested in and ask a local business for a tour. I recently took my goddaughter to tour a fried pie factory (she’s a bit of a foodie). You could also try movie theaters, arcades, and newspaper offices.

12. Put on a play

Have your kids write, act, and perform their own play. Improvising can be fun: Use a flashlight for a spotlight and your stereo for the musical score. You can also make a sock puppet theater with nothing more than a cut-out cardboard box, socks, thread, and imagination.

13. Have a scavenger hunt

When I was a kid, I loved searching for treasure in the backyard. Take your family around town with a list of things to search for and take a photo of, such as a really funny license plate, a woman with a purse dog, or a celebrity look-alike. The winner gets a sundae (you can win too).

14. Pick your own fruits and vegetables

Check the organic farm page of LocalHarvest.org and type in your zip code on the right-hand side. Chances are there will be a farm nearby you can check out; call ahead and ask if it’s OK to come and pick your own fresh fruits and veggies. Afterwards, make a meal and enjoy the organic goods outside.

15. Treat your family to a nice dinner

I spend a lot of time hunting for nice restaurants when I’m out of town. Oddly, I never went to some 4-star restaurants in my own.  Why not use your staycation to visit a fine restaurant or two near you? You might be surprised at how many incredible restaurants are within driving distance; and the tips in 15 Ways to Save on Eating Out will help you savor the flavor even more.

Stacy Johnson

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