This summer, my family is going on a fairly expensive and lengthy road trip throughout the southeastern United States. It’s definitely going to be one of our pricier vacations, all told, so we’re already thinking about ways to make a much less expensive summer vacation next year.
Our plan? A “stay-cation.”
We actually did this a few years ago. It’s a simple idea – you simply enjoy as many vacation-like activities as you can while using your own home as nighttime lodging. You just spend the days visiting all of the things you want to see in your area that you never take the time to actually visit.
It ends up being surprisingly relaxing. There’s no stress over money. There’s no stress over adequate lodging. Meals are simple, too. It all just works out.
Here’s how to plan one.
First, start making a list of everything that’s interesting to you within two or three hours of your home. For us, that covers almost the entirety of Iowa, with only the corners of the state being out of reach.
Start looking for things to do within that radius. Start with sites like and the National Park Foundation’s Find-A-Park service. Find the state tourism guides for the states in your radius and see what they have listed as well.
Start this list several months before you’re thinking of going so that you can fill it up with ideas as the days and weeks and months pass.
When it gets close to “stay-cation” time, have a family meeting and figure out which things on that list you’d like to do. One good procedure is to have everyone pick two items that they really want to do privately and then make sure that all of those items end up on the plan.
When it’s actually time for the “stay-cation,” empty out your calendar for the duration. Remember, this is a vacation, no different than if you were traveling somewhere.
Each day, I recommend packing a picnic lunch. You can choose to eat dinner at a new restaurant that you haven’t tried before, but it’s usually smart to not weigh each day down with constant restaurant meals. I don’t even like to do that on normal vacations – we often pack sandwiches when we’re traveling.
Let serendipity strike. If you see something interesting, stop and check it out. This is a low-stress vacation without a tight schedule to keep. We rarely go on a road trip for more than an hour without finding something new that we didn’t expect to see, so keep your eyes open.
Mix in overnight trips if you’d like. If there’s something great that’s three or four hours away, don’t be afraid to stick an overnight trip in the middle. One night in a hotel isn’t expensive – and one night camping is really inexpensive.
Feel free to mix in days at home working on personally fulfilling projects, too. If you want to take a day or two in this “stay-cation” to stay at home and do something around the house or in the community that you deeply enjoy, mix that in as well. The goal is to simply have a string of low-stress low-cost high-enjoyment family days and personal or family projects can definitely be a part of that.
A “stay-cation” is a great way to enjoy a family week together on a very tight budget. It gives you an opportunity to enjoy the many things that are nearby that you may have overlooked and lowers the stress of a typical family vacation.