5 Clever Ideas for an Affordable Vacation You Won’t Have to Leave Home For

You don’t have to leave town for a refreshing break this summer.
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You don’t have to leave town for a refreshing break this summer.

Vacationing on white sand beaches or wandering the cities of Europe on a balmy night are a dream. But it’s expensive to travel far away and sometimes not an option with work, family, and the general goings-on of life. But no need to be blue—you can have just as relaxing and memorable a break close to home.

After all, the most important reason to vacation is the chance to switch off from everyday duties and enjoy leisure time. Modern studies in mental health have flagged leisure as key to our psychological well-being and quality of life. Spending just one fun day out of the house, or simply taking an afternoon for yourself, could be enough to snap you out of the daily grind.

Don’t worry about lacking the time or money for an exotic trip. By living local and getting creative, you can make your summer count. Here are a few dreamy ideas for your next staycation.

01. Stay at a hotel in your city.

LaPiscine, Hotel Americano, New York

LaPiscine, Hotel Americano, New York

When my partner and I packed for a trip to Singapore, we never guessed we’d be in a cab home from the airport that same night. His passport was too close to expiring—we couldn’t travel! So instead, we spent the next day wandering our city like tourists before heading back to the hotel we booked at the very last minute.

The novelty of spending the night in a different place is enough to give you the same feeling as visiting another city. Add to it the plush sheets, the fresh towels laid out for you, the mint on your pillow, and other tiny comforts and surprises that remove you from your normal surroundings, and you have an easily achievable recipe for an exciting evening.

We called around to find our last-minute hotel booking, but you’ll have an easier, quicker time finding a room through sites like Hotel Tonight, Priceline's exclusive Tonight Only feature available via its app, and Airbnb.

02. Spend time in nature (or at least out of town).

Lake Minnewaska, Minnewaska State Park Preserve, New York

Lake Minnewaska, Minnewaska State Park Preserve, New York

It’s easy to take your own backyard for granted, but when visitors come from across the country—or even across the globe—to see the sights in your hometown, you know there’s bound to be something worth looking at.

This is a no-brainer if you’re the outdoorsy type, but for those who rarely venture past the urban sprawl, the National Park Service Find a Park directory offers a goldmine of parks and preserves, recreation spots, heritage sites, monuments and historic trails.

Plan to make a day of it, picking sites and attractions along a single trail to avoid the tedium of back-tracking. If you’re facing a long drive at the start and end of your day, turn the whole adventure into a road trip itinerary with pitstops, podcasts, and car-safe parlor games.

03. Soak up the surrounding culture.

The Odunde Festival, held each June on Philadelphia’s South Street, is the largest African-American street festival in the nation. (M. Edlow for Visit Philadelphia)

The Odunde Festival, held each June on Philadelphia’s South Street, is the largest African-American street festival in the nation. (M. Edlow for Visit Philadelphia)

Seeing life through the eyes of a tourist can welcome new perspectives on the things we take for granted. Like that dusty old house on the corner—what if it belongs to someone famous? Or that junkyard at the quiet end of town—what if it served as a hangout spot for Depression Era hipsters?

Spend an afternoon immersed in the culture of your city. Take in museums, gallery exhibitions, urban art, stage plays and street performances. Grab a coffee to go, and head to the library to learn the local history. Or hook up with a hobby group for their next outing. As a solo staycation, "culture time" provides the perfect opportunity for learning new things, indulging in self-reflection, and simply enjoying your own company. Otherwise, grab a buddy and plot out a landmark tour of a nearby district.

04. Pamper yourself with an at-home spa retreat.

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Enjoy some much-needed solitude, or bond with a friend without breaking the bank. If you can, set aside a whole day to remove that obliging feeling of needing to be somewhere or doing something. Keep your plans focused on a theme but open, as if you really were at a remote weekend spa retreat.

Wake up to some morning yoga, meditation or a creative activity to get into a state of much-sought mindfulness. Follow up with a light breakfast prepped the night before, so you’re doing minimal work on your day of rest. Stay hydrated to help keep your mind and body feeling relaxed and refreshed—if you get bored of plain water, try a fruity water infusion.

Turn your bathroom into an aromatherapy zone by adding candles, an aroma diffuser, essential oils, luxe scrubs and creams. Hire an in-home massage therapist or find your closest massage specialist, as they’re usually cheaper than what you’d pay at a day spa.

Finally, end your day with a good book, movie or podcast—something to get you immersed and entertained before returning rejuvenated to normal life.

05. Set up camp in your backyard.

Adobe Stock

Adobe Stock

It’s no exotic holiday by any stretch, but camping can be an entertaining break from the status quo—even if it’s just in your backyard. Pitch a tent early, then go for a hike, city walk, or bike ride to enjoy the outdoors. Come home to a picnic, barbecue, or bonfire dinner (check the local fire restrictions in your area first), and enjoy a balmy night under the stars. Invite friends over. You'll feel like kids again.

You’ll probably step indoors from time to time, but the atmosphere of a camping "trip" can be the perfect excuse for a device-free day. Take a break from the incessant notifications; distance yourself from the constant pull of social media. But if you must remain in contact with the outside world, allow yourself a half-hour of screen time, or simply check your call register once every two hours in case of emergencies.

Exotic getaways aren’t always an option, but "staycations" certainly are. Being close to home means time off is within reach whenever you’re ready—no waiting on cheap airfares, working around awkward flight times, spending hours on an intricate itinerary and lodging bookings, or lugging around a suitcase. And unlike a trip away, you can pull the plug on a home vacation any time you feel like it.