This staycation infographic helps you stayaway in style

6 staycation ideas that don’t suck

For many, the idea of a staycation is either sad, stupid, or a combination of both.

“How are you supposed to get away from your daily grind without going anywhere?” asks writer Angela Colley. “And how does spending money in my hometown actually save any money at all? I’m spending, aren’t I?”

No, Angela, you’re wrong.

The recession gave staycations a bad rap. They aren’t stupid, and they can be just as relaxing as a getaway — if you treat them as seriously as a “real” vacation. In fact, they can be better because you’re not worried about making flights and sticking to a tourist schedule. If you run out of time, there’s always next weekend.

Even better, you don’t ruin your post-vacation Zen with the high credit card bills that come due the month after your trip. Yes, you’re probably still going to spend, but any expense is less than what an out-of-towner would pay to do the same thing!

I love staycations, and I’ve taken few actual trips in the past few years specifically for financial reasons. My boyfriend and I bought a house last year, and we’re renovating this year. So we’ve hardly had funds to take our dream trip to Greece. Even traveling nationally is expensive – a four-day trip to Salem, Massachusetts, cost upwards of $2,500.

But we have mastered the art of a great stayaway – as in, “I’m on vacation, so stay the hell away and let us recharge.”

Of the six ideas below, we’ve done four — and the other two are already planned. Only one of these could end up costing anything remotely close to the $2,290 price tag you’d pay on a getaway for two.

Don’t buy it? There’s some explanation and a little math to back up the estimates after the staycation infographic…

6 Dream Staycations Infographic

Gamer’s Paradise: More Hot Pockets!

We did this. It. Was. AWESOME!

I haven’t been that much of a lazy slob since I graduated. For my money, there’s nothing more relaxing than using mutant powers to alternately save and fry the citizens of New Marias while downing Coke and Doritos.

As for cost, it really depends on where you’re getting the games. If you have GameFly on the two rentals plan, that’s $22.95 per month (that you’re already paying anyway). If you are buying everything new, then it’s going to be pricier.

For our stayaway, we purchased Infamous 2 just after the release. But we also replayed the first one, which we already owned. So we paid about $60 for the game, around $200 for food, and used our Netflix account ($7.99) to watch mutant themed movies when we needed a break from button mashing.

Foodie World Tour: Eat and drink your way to nirvana

Working foodies have it rough. Sure, you want to bust out the pasta maker and meat grinder for your stand mixer to make meatball spaghetti from scratch. But who has time for that?

For this stayaway, we picked a different country each day and did two meals, plus dessert. Breakfast? We weren’t up early enough for that. (Hello? Va-ca-tion.) We also did movies each night from that country. Supplementing that, we went to a tropical wine tasting at a local vineyard, took a cooking class at Sur la Table, and picked some strawberries at Knaus Berry Farm.

The expense was a lot higher for us on this one – the tasting cost $20 and we bought wines, and the cooking class cost about $120 for both of us. We went all out on meats and funky produce, too. All told, we went over-the-top for just under $800.

At-Home Spa: Even better than the real thing!

I like spas in theory, but not so much in practice. (I’m extremely ticklish.) Want to know who can give me a decent backrub? The guy who’s been with me through all the backaches of the past 11 years. And personally, laying side-by-side while two strangers massage you is far, far less romantic than tending to each other.

For this stayaway, we got everything we needed between Walgreens and Wal-Mart. That included one of those really cool massage tables ($150), an aromatherapy diffuser ($60), and a foot bath ($50). The total bill was still only around $500.

Great Outdoors: Work out all your stress by really working out

We haven’t done this yet, but we have it planned. Since we live in South Florida, we’ll do almost all water stuff – mostly scuba diving.

Which brings up the reason this one has such a variable (and sometimes high) cost. Scuba equipment is expensive, so if we purchased everything new, it would really cost us. Luckily, my boyfriend’s uncle is an expert, so he has gear to lend us. If you’re trying something new that requires a lot of equipment, find a friend to borrow from or rent it.

Of course, if you’re doing something that requires a ball and a playing field, then this can be really cheap.  A soccer-themed stayaway during the upcoming World Cup could be practically free if you already have the right cable package.

Hometown Tour:  Explore the nooks and crannies of your neighbor

I’ve done this more than once. When most people think Miami, they think South Beach, Ultra and Lebron James. Museums? Not so much.

We hit Vizcaya ($18/ticket), Pérez Art Museum Miami ($12/ticket), Lowe Art Museum ($10/ticket), and Bass Museum of Art ($8/ticket).

And there are always those silly things you never do because you think they’re cheesy tourist traps. This is the perfect time to go. We visited the Cape Florida Lighthouse ($1.50 toll, $8 park admission).

We also walked around cool areas, like the Art Deco District that’s now a featured walking tour in the travel section of NatGeo’s website. On the flipside, we stayed away from the really expensive areas like South Beach and Coconut Grove.

Even with going out to restaurants for most of the trip, we only spent $350, including gas and tolls!

Backyard Beach: Like a real beach excursion without the crowds!

I live near Miami and I hate going to the beach. It’s usually crowded, almost always overpriced, and parking is a nightmare.

On the other hand, I like the idea of being a lazy beach bum for a few days. But I can do that in my backyard.

We’re actually planning this one for summer, because it rolls into our house renovations. Once we buy our pool loungers and backyard BBQ stuff, we’ll do a pool-centric staycation. We’re even getting a Caja China so we can roast a pig for a luau.

Of course, BBQ stuff, loungers, and a Caja China are more expensive, but, we’ll use them beyond the four-day stayaway, so it’s worth the cost.

More tips for making a stayaway one for the record books…

Staycations have some unique challenges when it comes to relaxing, and keeping costs down. So here are six tricks to go with our six staycations that will make sure you get the maximum amount of fun for the least amount of money…

  1. Don’t work! If you’re one of the 61 percent of people who work on your vacation, you’re not doing it right. The temptation can be even higher when you’re at home. To that end…
  2. Turn off your smartphone email auto alerts for your work email. If you have a special phone for work, find a nice drawer for it.
  3. Do any shopping before the vacation starts, so you’re not spending the first part of your foodie world tour in the same grocery store you’re in every week.
  4. Put some planning into your trip ahead of time. Plan as if it were a regular vacation. Research places to go in advance so you’re not just sitting at home bored.
  5. Ask friends and family to leave you alone. Let everyone know that you’re on vacation and even though you’re in town, you’ll be out-of-pocket – hence the term “stayaway.” It may seem harsh, but remember that if you were away you’d be unavailable, too.
  6. Save up in advance just like you would before any vacation. This way, you can pay for everything in cash and finish your vacation days with zero credit card debt to pay back.
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