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Staycation Ideas When You Can’t Travel Freely

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Many people have reported increased stress, longer hours, and difficulty striking a healthy work/life balance since moving their offices home due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March. Even if you can’t go anywhere, because of travel or budget restrictions, it’s still important to take some vacation time, even if it’s just a day trip. Especially if your company has a “use it or lose it” policy, you’re essentially taking a pay cut by failing to take time off. Here are a few ways you can make the most of your PTO for a great staycation when options are more limited than usual.

Plan a Nature Getaway

If you have access to a car, your options extend as far as you’re willing to drive. Look for local attractions or hiking trails you might not have prioritized before for a solo getaway. 

Look for self-check-in options on vacation rental sites like Airbnb, where you never have to meet the host in person. 

Or opt for the original socially distanced family vacation: camping. You don’t even have to go far for fresh air. Look for reservations in nearby parks, forest preserves, or even set up a tent in your own backyard. If you don’t have your own setup and it’s not in the budget to invest, you can rent tent and sleeping bag kits from sites like Arrive and Outdoors Geek, which will be shipped right to you, or you can check your local outdoor gear shop.ear shop. And don’t forget the s’mores materials.

Try Out a New Part of Your Own Town

Especially if you live in a big city, a five-minute drive or a 20-minute walk might take you a world away from your own home. You’ll get a new perspective on your city or town even if you thought you already knew it super-well. You can spend the money you’re saving on a flight on take out or delivery from a restaurant you wouldn’t normally spring for or a well-deserved “souvenir,” like a piece of artwork or home décor that will bring you joy throughout the rest of work-from-home season. 

Spend as much time off your phone and social media as possible, and explore the corners of your neighborhood you’ve only ever seen by car. Identify an attraction of some kind in your city—it could be a park, a beautiful building you love to stare at, a hill that’s great for sunrise or sunset, a café—and walk there. The farther, the better. Consider getting an inexpensive film camera (Etsy and eBay have lots of options; local thrift stores may also have them available), which forces you to frame your shots more carefully, and challenge yourself to find the beauty you’ve previously overlooked.

“Get Away” Within Your Own Living Room

The key to enjoying a true stay-at-home vacation is completely turning off your work. Delete or pause your email app from your phone temporarily, close all work-related tabs and programs on your computer, and even consider putting all your electronic devices on airplane mode and shoving them in a drawer for the duration of your “trip.” 

Set an intention for your getaway, otherwise you are likely to just fall back into the habits of a normal weekend (i.e. more Netflix). Taking time to plan out how you want to spend your time, and preparing for it, may help. For example, if you want to spend the weekend painting or drawing, pick up or order supplies before you start the vacation clock. If you want to cook elaborately, allow yourself to splurge on ingredients or a cookbook that will inspire you. Pre-order small luxuries—say, bath bombs, tea, a new journal, a book, a puzzle, board games, a pair of slippers—and wait to open them until your vacation has begun.

If planning brings you joy and you’re eager to have something to look forward to next year, you could order guidebooks for cities or countries you want to visit and spend the weekend getting lost in the minutia of planning out travel while flights are still inexpensive and unprecedentedly flexible. 

Swap Homes with a Friend or Loved One

Whether you live in the same city or you’re a road trip apart, swapping homes with a friend could be a great way to get a real change of scenery and save money. Lonely Planet’s Everyday Adventures book—packed with loads of social distance-friendly ideas—suggests treating yourself to a DIY spa day in the home of a friend with a fancy bathroom. 

But there are a lot of reasons a home swap, even with someone who lives just a few doors down from you, can bring a welcome change of pace. Maybe they’ve always wanted to wake up to a view of the park that faces your window, and you’ve always admired how kitted-out their kitchen is. You can enjoy the sunrise or sunset from a new angle, experience a whole different set of sounds, and feel the thrill of packing a bag full of the things that bring you joy and devoid of the guilt that comes with sitting at home fretting about a non-urgent home improvement to-do list.

Things to Think About Before Traveling

If you’re planning a getaway with friends or the whole family, be clear upfront on what everyone’s expectations are. Everyone has different comfort levels, needs, and health concerns right now, and a successful trip relies upon communicating well and keeping your word. Maybe you can all agree to self-isolate at home for the two weeks prior to the trip and/or take a COVID test a few days before arrival. 

Assess everyone’s comfort levels and don’t push anyone who expresses discomfort. A lot of people are feeling conflicted about needing to break up the weeks, while not wanting to break quarantine, for good reason. Someone who says “I’m not sure how I feel about that” likely isn’t looking to be persuaded, they’re not sure how to veto an option without disappointing everyone else.

Stay informed as situations change. Many cities in the United States have self-isolation rules in place and you could incur a fine for visiting from out of state. If you live in an area that’s experiencing a massive outbreak, it may not be responsible right now for you to travel to a small community that has largely been insulated from the virus.  

Know where you can get tested, if the need arises, and have a plan for what to do in the event you get sick.

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Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.