Thank you for subscribing!
Got it! Thank you!

6 Tips for Planning an Affordable Day Trip

If you haven't had the time or the money for a proper summer vacation, consider a daycation. Here are six ways to help you plan an affordable day trip this summer.

If you don't have the time or the money for vacation this summer, maybe you can spare a few hours for a daycation.

Somewhere between the staycations of 2008 and the naycations of last year there's the daycation trend of 2010.

Sure, it's another silly neologism. But the slowly improving economy means many travelers will take their first real vacation in more than a year this summer -- minus the long flight or drive and the hotel overnight. More Americans will opt for short day trips, instead.

After two consecutive years of decline, the number of domestic leisure trips is expected to edge up just over 1 percent in 2010, according to a study by Euromonitor, a market research company. "People are expected to get back on the road, although they will remain extremely cost-conscious," says Michelle Grant, the company's travel and tourism research manager.

Kathryn Watson counts herself among them. A business analyst with a health systems company who lives in Jefferson, La., she's daycationing in nearby New Orleans this year instead of taking an overnight trip. "I plan to picnic in beautiful Audubon Park with my dog and a great book, treat myself to lunches, dinners, and drinks at some of my favorite places throughout the city, stroll the French Quarter, and shop Magazine Street's vintage and antique shops," she says. No need for a hotel, since she lives only 10 minutes from the Crescent City.

The travel industry is seeing more people like Watson. At the discount travel site Hotwire, they refer to her kind of vacation as a "straycation," or "travel that's within a close proximity to the customer's origin," according to its president, Clem Bason. "A lot of our customers took vacations within their nearest metropolitan area." In 2009, the number was up between 1 percent and 9 percent, depending on the market. The trick, of course, is persuading them that they'd be better off in a hotel than at home. And that's not easy.

How do you have a successful "daycation" this summer? Here are a few tips:

1. Not Too Far

Christine Louise Hohlbaum, author of The Power of Slow: 101 Ways to Save Time in Our 24/7 World, says a vacation isn't her top priority this summer. "We prefer to pay off some of our mortgage, invest in a new porch, and enjoy the summer program that our town offers the kids," she adds. "We might venture off to the mountains or some such, but we are staying put."

I hear that a lot -- if you feel trapped in the city or suburbs, then get out of town, but not so far that you have to spend the night.

2. Think Like a Tourist

Lara Clayton lives in Miami, and she's planning a series of daycations with her boyfriend this summer. What's there to do in Miami? If you live there, you might not think there's a whole lot (I know, I used to live in the area, and after diving, boating and food, the list ended).

You have to think like a visitor, instead. Clayton plans to attend wine tastings, take a salsa dancing class, go jet skiing, visit a museum and go to a spa. "The list is nearly endless," she says.

3. Check Out Your CVB

Your local Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) has a wealth of information about daycationing in your area. In Florida, for example, there's a Florida Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus website ( that points you to CVBs in the Sunshine State. It, in turn, links to various CVBs and Chambers of Commerce, which have information about local attractions and events.

4. Visit a Park

Big-name national parks tend to get all the attention from the vacationing masses, but thanks to the daycation trend, state parks have found themselves in the spotlight this summer. State parks across the country are pushing the concept of daycations with a new advocacy group called America's State Parks. The organization is promoting state parks as the "smart vacation" because close-to-home getaways cut down vehicle emissions and save you money.

5. Crank Up the Culture

Scott McKain is taking his family to Indianapolis this summer. He lives in Indianapolis. What's there to do in town? Plenty. "When we realized here in Indianapolis we could visit the NCAA Hall of Champions, the largest children's museum in the nation, a great zoo, a brand-new State Historical Museum, and more ... well, there's no beach, but there is plenty to do," he says. He's not overstating the matter. You can find out more at the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association site (

6. Don't Blow Your Budget

Just because you're staying home doesn't mean you have to forsake the fun. Heather Sokol, a mother of three and a blogger based in Westfield, Ind., is planning to spend her vacation at a local arcade, amusement park, and a Dave & Buster's. The kids will "have a blast," she says, "but I won't have to spend a fortune." That's the general idea behind a daycation.

One final thought as you plan your daycation: Pack your phone and share what you find. I've been using a service called Foursquare ( -- you can friend me here -- that lets you trade location-based tips with people around you. Think of it as a personalized guidebook for your own neighborhood.

I'd like to think the economy is to blame for the daycation trend, but as a consumer advocate, I'm not convinced it's the only reason. The travel industry has dished out substandard service to us for so many years it's little wonder we are reluctant to get out there again. Maybe the service needs to improve before we hit the road.

Looks like we'll have to wait until 2011 for a real vacation. But you might as well have a little fun in the meantime.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the host of "What You Get For The Money: Vacations" on the Fine Living Network. E-mail him at

(c) 2010 Christopher Elliott. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.