The slow economy, rising fuel and food costs and busy schedules often make traveling difficult or impossible. A study by AAA found that the average North American vacation costs about $250 per day for two people — add in kids and airfare, and the price of a vacation skyrockets. Many families are choosing to either not vacation at all, or to plan a staycation in their own hometown.
What’s a staycation? According to Matt Wixon, author of The Great American Staycation and columnist for the Dallas Morning News, a staycation is a vacation at home or near home while creating the environment of a traditional vacation. So basically, you’re hanging out in your own hometown, relaxing and playing tourist in the same spirit as if you were if you were traveling for a vacation.
A staycation fits into people’s busy schedules better than a traditional vacation because it’s more flexible and requires no travel time — no being at the mercy of airline schedules, no long drives with kiddos in the car. For many people, that’s a welcome relief from the travel stress of worrying about lost luggage, packing, long waits at the airport, different cultures or languages, or hidden travel fees. A 2005 study by the Families and Work Institute found that up to 1/3 of employees with paid vacation time don’t use it, but it’s important for your mental and physical health to get away from the office and have some downtime.
So how do you plan a staycation?
Prepare for your staycation like you would for any other vacation. You’re not going to feel satisfied with your staycation if you end up sitting around your house staring at the TV or cleaning the garage the whole time. Do some travel planning. Check out some travel books about your own city (my fave is anything from Frommers.com), pick up brochures for local attractions and check out the websites of the area travel bureaus such as the State of Texas tourism deptartment (traveltex.com). Plan a list of activities you’d like to do.
Include the whole family in the planning. Have each person list out what they would like to do, and make an effort to include a little something for everyone in the agenda.
Decide if you’re going to stay at home, in a local hotel, or do a bit of both, and make any needed reservations. Decide between day trips versus an overnighter or two.
Make a budget. Since you’re saving on airfare and lodging, consider splurging on activities and meals out, items and supplies to up your fun (pool toys, camping gear, supplies for any hobbies you’ll be partaking in).
Determine any rules for your staycation: Are kids allowed to hang with friends? Is your husband allowed to check in with the office? How will chores be handled? Decide these things in advance, or by Day 3 of your staycation, your kid will be locked in his room on Facebook, your husband will be stopping by the office “just to check in,” and you’ll be up to your eyeballs reorganizing the linen closet.
Get in the right frame of mind. Be positive about your staycation, and treat it like you’ll really be away. Decide to not check email, stay away from work, and consider turning off the phone. Set boundaries and stick to them.
Plan simple meals that are easy to prepare, as well as plenty of meals out, just as you would on a regular vacation. List restaurants you’ve never been to but always wanted to try. Decide which meals you want to eat “at home” — like preparing simple breakfasts of cereal and fruit, or sandwiches for lunches, and which ones you’ll eat out, such as experiencing new restaurants and cuisines for dinners (and letting them do the dishes!). You don’t have to go pricey for every meal. Plan as much as possible to eat local, mom-and-pop joints instead of always defaulting to McD’s. If you love cooking, consider trying some new exotic recipes.
Check online for specials and coupons. Use your Entertainment Guide if you have one for your city. They are packed with restaurants coupons as well as discounts for just about every tourist attraction, museum and entertainment place in town. One nice dinner out more than pays for the price of the book.
Take care of bills and big chores ahead of time, as if you were really leaving. Consider hiring a cleaning service for a little luxury and to get that naggy feeling of needing to clean off your mind so you can relax. You might even want to try a laundry service.
What to do on your DFW staycation
Start with what you enjoy. Does your family love the pool? You can hang out at your neighborhood pool, the city pool or a pool at a local hotel. Love tennis? Try some free community tennis courts.
Head to the Lake Texoma, Lake Lewisville, Grapevine Lake or other area lakes for some boating, kayaking, beach lounging, fishing, swimming, hiking trails. Rent some jet skis, or consider renting a cabin for the weekend.
Camp out, either in the backyard or in a nearby camp ground or at the lake.
Try a picnic in the park or by one of our many lakes or creeks. For kids, even heading to a playground that they’ve never been to is a special thing.
Look for theater events, including Dallas Children’s Theater, Dallas Summer Musicals, Slappy’s Puppet Playhouse at the Galleria — Dallas Morning News and Guidelive.com are great sources for events information.
Look for local festivals, concerts in the park, arts fairs and other free or inexpensive community events. Also check for free admission days at museums.
Check out local sports teams — not just the big leagues with the Cowboys, Rangers, Stars and Mavs, but also Tornados hockey, Roughriders baseball, FC Dallas soccer, Wranglers indoor football, etc.
Treat yourself to some pampering — spa time, mani/pedi, massage. There are thousands of spas and salons all over the metro, and most of them offer coupons and discounts. If going out to a spa isn’t in your budget, try creating a spa at home, or for couples, consider taking a couples massage class.
Consider booking a package promotion at a hotel — they often include lodging, spa treatments, golf or food credits at a discount. Check for mid-week specials as well.
Arlington: Six Flags, Hurricane Harbor, University of Texas at Arlington Planetarium, Dallas Cowboys Stadium, Texas Rangers Ballpark, Louis Tussaud’s Palace of Wax and Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
Grapevine: Ride the trains in Grapevine, including special events such as Day Out with Thomas or the Spring Fling Train; Grapevine Mills outlet mall, Great Wolf Lodge or the Gaylord Texan, both phenomenal resorts. Great Wolf Lodge has a massive indoor water park and is a huge family favorite. The Gaylord Texan is a luxurious resort with decadent restaurants and lush indoor gardens.
Glen Rose: Dinosaur Valley State Park, with its 45-foot model of a T-Rex and dinosaur fossils and ancient rock formations, and Fossil Rim Wildlife Center with zebras, giraffes, rhinos, plus hiking and swimming in the river.
This list is by no means exhaustive — there are many many more. Look around with fresh eyes and see what suits your interests. One more tip: take lots of photos and pick up a few souvenirs, just like you would on any other vacation. You’re not only relaxing, but you’re creating memories with the kids and learning new things about your city to make your weekends more exciting. Bonus: you’ll have more ideas for showing visitors unique and wonderful things around Dallas/Ft. Worth. Have fun!