I don't wear rose-colored glasses, but I bet I'm not the only one who's irritated by the proliferation of the term "staycation" on blogs and in the mainstream media. Defined loosely as "vacationing at or close to home," staycation advocates say that there are plenty of activities that can substitute for a vacation within a much closer driving distance -- most of the time, your proverbial backyard -- and which will therefore be cheaper.
Some say the word first popped up in 2006, but in 2007 the New York Times defined it as a term used by those "...who choose not to travel and prefer to unravel the mysteries of the world from the comfort of their living room couches." I'm not sure how that's possible, unless someone has invented a magical flying couch that I don't know about.
We know gas price are high. We know that food prices are high. I worry that airlines will soon charge us to use the bathroom. Depending on which survey you believe, somewhere between a half and two thirds of Americans plan to shorten their summer trips. However, the idea of "vacationing at home" is an oxymoron and does a real disservice to the benefits you receive by encountering new sensory stimuli and just plain getting the heck out of Dodge: stress relief, spirit renewal, expansion of one's mental, physical, or psychological horizons. We've complied ten compelling reasons that chuck this idea.
10. This is clearly a focused-group derived marketing term. You're a smarter and savvier consumer than to fall for that, right? Remember last year's equally repulsive term "mancation," described as men going on vacation together? 'Nuff said.
9. Staycations are often argued as ways for you to explore the biking or hiking trails you've long neglected in your town or to drive to a nearby park and have a picnic. That's not a vacation, nor is it a staycation: it's simply recreation. In order to receive the maximum benefit from a vacation, you need a real change of scenery. Instead, drive a couple (rather than many) hours with the family to a beach, lake or campground, and pack the bikes or hiking gear. Or, because Independence Day is coming, look into promotions offered by historic cities such as Philadelphia (www.gophila.com) or Boston (www.bostonusa.com), which throw big parties and offer incentives like hotel packages for families. Even many golf-and-spa resort type destinations (Arizona, California, Colorado, Myrtle Beach) boast special events and incentives for families during the Fourth of July holiday, which conveniently falls on a Friday this year. Furthermore, sites such as Hotels.com (www.hotels.com) and Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) have recently been offering deep discounts on city hotel rooms.
8. Some advocates argue that Americans live near attractions -- zoos, museums, theme parks, or amusement parks, for example -- that we've never visited. Maybe that is true. Although it is smart to not overlook the advantages and offerings of one's local area, and consuming fewer fossil fuels is smart for the environment, going to the zoo is not a vacation. That's a day trip; you are not required to pack underwear or a toothbrush. However, if you drive several hours (or within 200 miles) to somewhere fun, such as one of the many Six Flags parks (www.sixflaggs.com) throughout the country, chances are you're going to want to stay over. And chances are you won't have enough time to see the entire park in one day. Congratulations. That's a vacation.
7. For those getting married this year, economic factors may be cramping your style. For the love of your new and precious marriage, please resist the urge to have a "staycation" honeymoon. Instead, postpone it, and take two trips. This may be especially beneficial if your wedding falls during the height of the season -- such as summer in Europe -- when it's most expensive and crowded. Opt for a shorter trip somewhere within a reasonable driving distance to a place that will offer leisurely activities and things you have not experienced -- a beach or resort, a city, a small town full of antique shops and farmers markets -- for a few days. Book your real honeymoon for six or more months later, during an off or shoulder season if possible. It will give you time to save and something to look forward to, and you can plan the trip without the accompanying stress of planning the wedding. You'll save more money by planning ahead. Look to companies such as Go-Today (www.go-today.com), Friendly Planet (www.friendlyplanet.com), and Gate 1 Travel (www.gate1travel.com), as all of them regularly offer early booking discounts.
6. One writer described his staycation routine with his family as riding bicycles to the town pool early in the day, going home midday when it was crowded, and then returning later when fewer people were there. This is the beach-going strategy my family employed when we went to the Jersey Shore. On vacation. But heading to the neighborhood pool is the summer routine for many people. And because it's local, you'll still see familiar faces, people you would run into at the grocery store or coffee shop. That's not a vacation, either.
5. To reprise a favorite line of propaganda from a few years ago: If you don't go on vacation, the terrorists win.
4. For those who want to camp in the backyard or spend a week immersed in home-based social activities (think sleepovers and dinner parties), advocates say you should accomplish your chores around the house before your "staycation" officially begins, but most of us would probably feel guilty for being home and not working on projects like the unfinished bathroom, the floor that needs scrubbing, or the once-or-twice a year duties like power washing the siding or cleaning out closets. If you stay home, the distractions -- and the duties -- are simply too great. You might get such cabin fever that you decide to do something completely irrational to your kitchen countertops or to the color of your living room walls. And if you're home, easy Internet access may make you feel more accessible to the workplace than you really ought to be.
3. Don't want to drive? Hop on the train. It changes your whole approach to traveling, takes the stress of the road off your mind, and is relaxing. You don't have to worry about gas or parking. Admittedly, this option may be better if economical if you're just traveling with just a spouse. But right now, Amtrak is offering weekend fares starting from $30 or less for many of its Northeast routes, such as Philadelphia to Baltimore. While you are there, stay near or around the Inner Harbor, visit the Aquarium and watch a baseball game -- all of which is within easy walking distance.
2. Mass merchandisers like Target, Kohl's, and Wal-Mart are vying for your government rebate checks and your backyard staycation money. If you resent being told how to spend your refund check and don't believe it will stimulate the economy, take it out of the country. Exchange it for a peso or a baht: as you may have noticed in the Frommer's Global Price Index, in parts of Southeast Asia and South America the dollar still yields you something. Or head to the Caribbean, where it's off-season now so you easily can get a cheap deal to nearly any island and many places still accept the American dollar happily. Those tiki torches and inflatable pools cluttering the aisles of Lowe's will only be useful for a few months. Vacation memories last much longer.
1. I hate clichés, but this one is true: Life is short. Most of us live with a less than ideal budget, but please don't give up on a real vacation.
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