There's been quite a bit of talk this summer about the "new" concept of staycations - staying at home instead of traveling for a vacation, but making the at-home time fun, just like a real vacation. The high cost of gas has lots of people pulling in the reins on travel and looking for summer holiday alternatives.
In her book, Surviving Financial Downsizing: A Practical Guide to Living Well on Less Income, (Adams Media, 2004), AccountingWEB's Managing Editor, Gail Perry, describes the concept of the staycation and offers other alternatives as well for cutting costs and still having a good time with family and friends.
Vacations You Can Afford
If you have to cut your expenditures you probably think you can't afford to take a vacation. If your definition of vacation is a trip to Disney World, travel abroad, renting a recreational vehicle, staying in hotels, or other equally expensive ventures, you're probably right.
But if your definition of vacation is spending time away from the day-to-day chores and concerns, focusing on yourself or your family, and relaxing, you don't need to run up the credit card balances to accomplish a wonderful and memorable vacation.
First, get your family together and have everyone participate in developing a definition of the perfect vacation. Make sure something from everyone's list is included in your bargain vacation.
Vacation With Friends
If vacationing on your own is too expensive, consider visiting friends or family members. Make the social time part of your vacation. Offer to plan and cook meals while you're visiting, and clean up after yourselves so you won't be an imposition. Do something special for your friends while you're there, like helping with a project they would normally hire for or put off entirely. Home projects seem like more fun when you can share them with someone else.
Alternatively, try planning to go somewhere with friends or family members. Taking others along to share the costs, add extra driving shifts, and take care of younger children, can make a vacation much more economical.
Another alternative to the traditional expensive vacation is a house swap. Find friends or family members willing to trade houses for a week or a few days. Pack your belongings just as you would for any family vacation, and move to another home. Eat meals out or purchase your own food to cook. Be sure to wash bed linens and make beds and take out your trash before you return the home to its rightful owner (it's also a good idea to do these things in your own home before you turn it over to guests). You'll save on the cost of hotels and still get the advantage of visiting a new community.
Try Staying at Home
You don't have to go somewhere to make your holiday seem festive. Try something simple like camping out in the back yard, or on the living room floor. Or have everyone in the house swap bedrooms and pretend you're staying at a hotel. Don't just move down the hall and call it a vacation, pack clothes like you're actually going away and take them with you to your new room. Sleep late, stay up late, eat the kinds of snacks you'd have if you were away on vacation.
Promise yourself you'll cook meals that have never been tried in your family before. Find new recipes in your cookbooks, or go to the library and get cookbooks for some exotic locale. Do you dream of taking a holiday in Italy? Get a regional Italian cookbook and stock up on the ingredients for several days of Italian meals. Rent some movies that fit with the theme. While you're at the library get tour books and read all about the places you'd visit if you were actually overseas.
Be sure to act like a tourist in your own town while you're on vacation. Visit the local museums and other points of interest, or go to a sporting event. Take walking or driving tours, looking at the town as an outsider would.
Don't pick up the mail or answer the phone while you're on "vacation," so it will seem more like you're getting away from your everyday life. Send postcards to your friends and family. Just tell them you're taking a few days off from the regular pace of life and will call them when you return to your normal schedule.
Another alternative for a home vacation is to invite friends to visit you. Open your doors to people with whom you enjoy spending time, help your friends learn to appreciate your community while sharing meals, sleep schedules, and social events.
Dinner Parties and Day Trips
You don't have to devote several days to a special vacation - schedule just one day or an evening to share with your family or friends and let the memories last you for a long time into the future. Try planning a dinner party or luncheon with friends. You don't have to host a formal affair - just a casual cookout or hearty meal you prepare in your kitchen is enough to offer. You can cut costs on your party by throwing a pitch-in instead. Invite a group and have everyone bring a dish - there will be plenty of food and you won't have to spend a lot of money.
Also consider taking short one-day vacations if you can't afford a lot of time off or a hotel room. Determine a reasonable radius around your house - maybe 50 or 100 miles, a distance you can easily drive in a couple of hours - and investigate alternatives for exploration. Maybe there's a town you've never seen, farms, parks ripe for picnics, outdoor community concerts, historical courthouses, small-town diners, civic theatre, train rides, unusual architecture - the possibilities are limited only by your interests, and the available surrounding communities.
You'll find that the Internet is an excellent source for quick vacation material, information about the towns and areas in your state, and reviews of restaurants. Your library can also provide state tour books.
Excerpted from "Surviving Financial Downsizing: A Practical Guide to Living Well on Less Income," by Gail A. Perry, CPA.