How a cheap staycation can beat a pricey family trip
Spring break inspires many families across the country to shell out for big-ticket vacations—an overseas adventure, a cruise, a theme park. Americans use 10% of their income on average for vacation each year, and many are willing to go into debt to afford trips to their dream destinations. A week at Disney World for a family of four, for example, can run nearly $5,000.
If your bank account isn’t up for that kind of outlay, what should you do for spring break? Sure, you could stockpile your days off for some vague and exotic journey in the distant future, enrolling the kids in a science camp or basketball clinic and white-knuckling it through a stressful work week. Or, you could embrace the time off and have vacation-style fun—without breaking the bank. I’m talking a spring break staycation. (Okay, not my favorite word, but it gets the point across.) Because chances are, there are plenty of family-friendly adventures closer to home than you realize, and at a bargain. Here’s how to do it.
Enter vacation mode
First, get into the headspace: You are taking a vacation. This is not just a loose and lazy week off. Finish your work projects, or at least put them on pause. Set your out-of-office email notification as though you were leaving town. No conference calls, laptop time, or office email peeking.
If you don’t follow these rules, you could end up taking more of a “faux-cation.”
And if you check your work phone as often as they check Snapchat, your kids will know you’re not fully there.
Make an itinerary
You need some kind of itinerary when you go away, right? Do the same for your staycation to maximize your time off. Without overdoing it, plan at least one out-in-the-world event for each day—just enough to remove the temptation to lollygag around the house from morning to night.
Get the kids involved
There might be places nearby that the kids have wanted to check out, like the paint ball/laser tag arena or glow-in-the-dark bowling alley a couple towns away. Now’s the time to add a kid-chosen item or two to get them in the staycation spirit. If the idea of “family time” earns an eye roll, let your kids invite a friend along (the one who’s not snorkeling in Aruba). It’ll cost you a bit more, but they will be happier, and you’ll get to know their friends better.
Go before it’s gone
If you often miss out on those cool but fleeting activities that everyone posts on Instagram, here’s your chance to avoid FOMO. Take a look at your local paper, magazine, or Facebook pages for county fairs, pop-up shops, traveling museum shows, or other activities that you can take in during the break.
Be a tourist
When was the last time you experienced your local area like a visitor? Are there landmarks that you’ve driven past in your carpool? What about zoos, science or sports museums, or theme restaurants? Here’s your chance to check them out. Or is there something you’ve been dying to do a couple hours’ drive away? For ages now, you’ve been hearing about that indoor skydiving place, a race track, or the hike with stellar views. You might even spring for a hotel room and make an overnight trip out of it. (Yes, that’s allowed!)
Break out the tools
Doing work around the house doesn’t sound like a break, but if there’s a project that is overdue, why not? Maybe you need to repaint your son’s room a color of his choosing. Or clear his old toys from the basement. Don’t let a roof riveting job take over your entire week, but set aside one family project day, and it will be done in no time. Celebrate with (homemade) pizza and ice cream sundaes.
Order off the menu
If your go-to is takeout tacos or the local diner, look into well-reviewed, family-friendly restaurants with cuisines that your kids have never tried. Who knows, they may discover a love of dim sum or roti. And maybe it’s been ages since you tasted Ethiopian spices from that cozy spot you used to go to pre-kids, or the Thai flavors you fell in love with on your honeymoon.
If you’ve been like a bear in your cave all winter, this is a perfect time to get out and reconnect with family and old friends. Visit the great aunt you haven’t seen since your kids were toddlers, or head to your old neighborhood. It’ll feel good to get back in the social groove and see those familiar faces.
No matter what you end up doing, a staycation can be just as fun as a full-on getaway if you think ahead and include the kids in the planning process. The key is to approach a staycation as an opportunity, not a compromise. Now go out there (but not too far out there) and have fun.