Can’t Vacation? 11 Ideas for a Great Staycation

by Vincent King · 18 comments

staycation ideas

It’s that time of year again. The kids are out of school and you really want to spend time with them and make wonderful memories, but a vacation is out of the question. You can’t get away and, even if you could, it’s way out of your budget.

Uncle Sam took more than his share, or your calculated share, anyway. Credit card bills are bleeding you dry, and you can’t put more on plastic. So you crawl under the covers and hide, wishing a solution would surface.

Here it is.

Look on the bright side, sunshine. For a beautiful time creating memories with your loved ones, you need only two days and some imagination.

Try these staycation ideas for a grand time (without spending a grand!).

11 Staycation Ideas for the Money- and Time- Strapped Family

1. Hit the road in your own city, armed with cameras and snacks.

If you’d be willing to visit a strange town, pretend yours is just that. If you live in or close to a metropolis, it’s easy — there are always places you don’t often see that should be fun to explore. If you live in a rural area, hit Google Maps and then the road. Fill your time with laughs, snapping goofy pictures everywhere you go.

2. Go on a city- (or county-) wide scavenger hunt.

Make a list for the family and get on the road with clues to help you find everything on it. The more obscure you get, the longer the hunt will take – great for bigger kids, but not so fun for the little ones, so plan accordingly.

3. Go to a motel in a neighboring city.

If your timing is flexible, bid on rooms via Priceline, or try calling and negotiating lower rates with the manager before accepting whatever they offer. After all, the goal is to save while you stay, right?

staycation ideas

4. Make it a movie marathon day.

Choose flicks that the whole family can watch together and enjoy. Start after breakfast and have a little family exercise break in between. Oh, and make it a PJ Day to really relax and enjoy!

5. Drive to anywhere.

Don’t use a map. Don’t have a destination. Just plan to drive in a direction for X hours, then stop and explore and stay where you are. If you can spend the night, BONUS! If not, that’s ok. Have fun exploring your new locale, taking pictures and snagging souvenirs.

6. Go to a waterpark.

It’s likely that your city, or one nearby, has a waterpark. What better excuse to jump in the water than saving money? If you can’t stay on vacation for a week or so, a day at a waterpark may be the next best thing.

7. If you can’t park it, raft it.

River rafting is another amazing excursion, and one that’s often cheaper than waterparks. Check for restrictions on ages if you have little ones, but many river dock rental places have options for the younger clientele.

8. Go camping.

Even if you can’t head to a nearby mountain range (bonus points if you can!), you can still hang with the neighbors and have a neighborhood camp-out at home. Or go it alone with just you and your loved ones. Either way, pack up the tent and make a rule to not go inside for anything.

9. Host your own neighborhood field day.

Make it complete with hilarious games and amazing prizes — and don’t forget the pictures! Top off the afternoon with a cook out and ice cream sundaes.

10. Call for a Blackout Day (or weekend).

Turn off all electronic devices for at least 24 hours. Spend the entire day focusing on the fun you’re having with your favorite people. If you’ve got tweens or teens, this may take something like a molar extraction to get going, but you can do it — and make it enjoyable for them.

11. Call in a cleaning service.

Yeah, this one’s for the moms out there. Why do we love going on vacation? We love feeling pampered. But if you can’t go and be pampered, bring the pampering home to you. Check or Craigslist for a cleaning service that’s reasonable. Let them worry about the dusting, sweeping, mopping and bed making for a week.

Do you have any tips for a successful staycation?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • James Heidebrecht says:

    We are in the market for a serious staycation. I don’t remember the last time we go away (outside of family visits). Luckily we live in a city that makes this not only possible but enjoyable. Thanks for the great post and reminder that some time out doesn’t have to cost a bomb.

    • David @ says:

      It sounds like you’ve picked a good city to live in. Keep exploring, and you might find a gem or two that you can even tell your friends about next time you meet up with them!

  • Joe on the Move says:

    We often make a “staycation trip” on free museum days. It’s awesome to visit these fabulous establishments for free and you get to learn a thing or two during the visit too!

    • David @ says:

      Free museum days sound awesome. I should find some kid friendly ones to take my kids. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • Alley Keosheyan says:

    More often than you’d realize, there are cool and inexpensive attractions in your town or nearby that you’re unaware of. Do a search on “Things To Do” in your town, or go on TripAdvisor and you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised at what you’ll find. I was born and raised in Fresno, CA. I left over 30 years ago, but only recently found out about the Forestiere Underground Gardens – turns out I drove by this place nearly every day!

    • David @ says:

      What a surprise that must have been! TripAdvisor is really useful for traveling. I bet you found some tips to best utilize your time at the garden too since there are so many reviews by helpful people there.

  • Lauren Moore says:

    These work especially great when kids are young. I’m almost 60 and Dad has been gone over 20 yrs now but my best times with my busy hard working dad were just being with him. I think we only went on 1 or 2 vacations in our life and I don’t really remember those at all. I remember the summers at home, with neighbors, riding in the car with him to run errands, drop off the mail at the train station, just being with him. I guess those were staycations – we just didn’t call them that. Summers full of great memories and rarely a vacation. We took our kids on expensive trips growing up – Disney cruises, disney trips, beach trips, etc even though they were 10 yrs old don’t even remember most of it. They do remember the good times in their neighborhood. Enjoy your staycations and time with your kids when they are young.

  • Mike Loshe says:

    Thanks for the share. If there are historical sites around you could also go visit them! This past summer my family took one of those Washington DC Bus Tours and got to see all of what DC had to offer. The kids absolutely loved riding around on the bus and my wife and I found all the historical stuff extremely interesting. Truly a great trip all around.

  • Sue says:

    These are great ideas for a family staycation! Finding a nice camping spot in your home town is a wonderful way to spend time with your family.

  • Karen Kay says:

    I decided last week that I was extremely tired of the routine and went MIA!!! I cancelled all of my appointments as well, since I am at the doctors office once or twice a week. I went to a market one town over that I don’t get to too often. I went to the thrift store there and my souvenir was a gorgeous Pashmina shawl. Instead of having the hour or so at the doctor just to get my blood pressure checked, I went to a walk in clinic and was out in 15 minutes. My blood pressure was perfect, by the way! I ate at a local restaurant and got more than enough to eat , so I was able to get a doggy bag and enjoyed this meal the next day. Next week, I am going to the city and plan on going to a festival. The only problem with my plan is that I might not want to get back on my schedule again!

  • Melbourne Staycation says:

    I love my Staycation & I think the key is setting it up right. Beware also of the ‘time bandits’ in your life and manage their expectations to ensure you really do enjoy a Staycation!

  • Abigail says:

    We did a staycation for our 5th anniversary this year. We chose a hotel near downtown. It was oretty affordable and we still got away for three days. (Snacks and beverages were brought with, of course. We even took the light rail into Tempe and went to a piano bar. It was great and I know it was a successful vacation because we reeeaaally didn’t want to go back home. Even though it was only 12 miles away.

    I actually have chronic fatigue, so my husband and I spend a lot of time watching movies and Hulu. While we don’t usually do the marathon sessions you describe, we have made the selection process a game. We each pick something the other hasn’t seen. If the person doesn’t like it, we forfeit a turn. Keeps it interesting, and it means we really have to think about what the other person would enjoy.

  • Property Marbella says:

    To just be with the kids in a playground or in a forest all day can make them happy. Just care about them, and turn off that phone.

  • says:

    You can make #4 even more inexpensive by using Netflix as your movie marathon source. My wife and I have done that many times and only had to buy the beer.

  • Kiko @ quickcashautoloans says:

    These are all really great ideas for staycations. I find that the best idea for everyone in the family to have a good time is always visiting a waterpark. You can not go wrong getting wet and wild.

  • Thomas says:

    Great ideas. I like to rent a house or apartment for the week. That way we can stay in and cook and therefore save money. It’s more of a base than a hotel.

  • Michelle says:

    These are all great ideas! We don’t really have time for vacations anymore, which really makes us sad 🙁

  • John S @ Frugal Rules says:

    These are some great tips, and we have used some of them in our family. I think key, for us at least, to having a nice staycation is to really unplugging and allowing ourselves to have fun. We typically like to do things we normally don’t and allow each person to pick one thing to do.

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