One of the best vacations my family ever had was the one we never took.
Two years ago we were saving for a down payment and had a brand-new baby, so a lavish beach holiday was not in the cards. But rather than lament our lack of a getaway, we doubled down on the idea of staying put and had ourselves a five-star staycation.
We quickly learned that there are rules to follow if you want a fabulous staycation and not just a week spent vacuuming the living room. If done right, a staycation offers perks that can actually trump a week spent lounging on the beach. You can save money, splurge on local attractions and end the vacation more rested than you would if you’d traveled. And the best part: no unpacking!
First, consider the downsides of a far-flung holiday: According to a recent American Express Travel poll, the average family of four spends about $4,000 ($1,000 per person) on a family trip. Said trip is bookended by an exhausting day of travel. If you have small kids, you may not have babysitting available in Bora Bora, which means that you never get a date night on your week off. And, after shelling out lots on food and lodging, there may be little left over for other splurges to keep everyone entertained.
Which is why, with a savings goal like a down payment on a forever home in mind, we opted for our staycation. To do it right, we even made a rule book we stuck to.
Rule No. 1: Treat it like a real vacation
The biggest risk to a staycation is that you never take it seriously and don’t bother to put in for the vacation days at work or set aside a budget. If there are no airplane tickets to buy, it’s easy to treat it haphazardly. To avoid that, we picked a week midsummer and circled it in red.
My husband put in a vacation request, and I told my clients that I would be away for the week. We also made a budget. We wouldn’t need money for a hotel, travel, rental car or endless meals out. But we did want to treat ourselves. So, we budgeted $500 in gas for day trips, a few meals out and other incidentals.