5 Tips for a Successful Staycation

There’s nothing like vacation – and no place like home. Good thing you don’t have to choose.

There’s nothing like vacation – and no place like home. Good thing you don’t have to choose

Chances are, you know a Californian who rarely gets to the local beach, a New Yorker who's never seen the Statue of Liberty up close or a Washingtonian who has yet to tour the Capitol Building.

We're often so entrenched in our routines and occupied by daily demands that we fail to make use of the abundant resources around us.

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Doing so, at long last, is part of the beauty of the so-called staycation. The other part? Skipping the stress and expense of travel.

"In some ways, they're less stressful than getting-away vacations," says Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a professor of psychology at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. "Today, with all the agonies of travel that we all go through – especially business travelers who want nothing other than time to spend, really quality time, with their families – it's just a great way to make the most of an especially short amount of time."

For families with young children, staycations can prove particularly rewarding, says Matt Wixon, sportswriter and humor columnist at The Dallas Morning News and author of "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun For the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)." "They love any time they can just kind of get unqualified time with mom and dad, where we're not distracted by work or what's going on."

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And therein lies the challenge of staycations: summoning the will and creativity to make a vacation zone at home. This summer, should you choose to vacation at home, here's how to do it right:

1. Make plans – and let your kids help. "Treat it like a real vacation, and plan ahead," Wixon says. When he and his wife first attempted the family staycation five summers ago, they sought a reprieve from their daily routines as well as the financial and logistical toll of travel. But they didn't want to disappoint their three sons, now 5, 7 and 10, whose friends were off to Disneyland. "We tried to make it something pretty special," he says. They gathered around the calendar, blocked off vacation time and solicited their kids for ideas about what to do in Dallas. "For kids, no matter what their ages are, the big way to get them to buy into it is to involve them in the planning," he says.

Plus, planning can be part of the fun. And it helps avoid a situation Krauss Whitbourne describes as: "'Oh, what should we do today?' and then nobody can decide, so then nothing happens."

[See How to Be a Better Example for Your Kids.]

2. Get in vacation mode. "Just because you're staying on your home turf doesn't mean you should get sucked back into business as usual," says Nicole Lapin, founder of Recessionista, an online source for financial news and advice. Lapin suggests either turning off cellphones and laptops or designating an hour each day for work. "Ignore that dirty laundry and other to-dos – after all, if you were actually away on vacation you wouldn't be able to do it anyway," she says.

That's why Wixon's family dines out on staycation. "We don't want to do the dishes. That doesn't feel like a vacation," he says. While staycations are often financially motivated, he adds that "you definitely have to take care of yourself. You have to splurge a little bit."

[See How to Be Happier At Home: Tips from Gretchen Rubin.]

3. Explore your surroundings. As a sportswriter, Wixon knew about the minor league in town. But he didn't know he could arrange to get to the game early so his sons could run the bases and get autographs. Nor did he realize that on fan appreciation day, they could spread out on the outfield for a showing of "Monsters, Inc." "I'm just amazed how many things I didn't know were around," he says, suggesting to contact the local tourism bureau for ideas.

But even simple, off-beat adventures have become treasured memories for his family. Taking the local commuter train to the zoo or planetarium upped the fun factor for the kids. Given his kids' fascination with bowling, Wixon asked for, and received, a behind-the-scenes tour at the local bowling alley. "You just have to be kind of creative sometimes," he says.