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Can't Travel? 19 Staycation Ideas to Help Quench Your Wanderlust 

Women on the Road
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I really dislike that word – staycation – but the alternatives aren't much better: nearcation, mini-break, holistay...

So until the English language invents a better label for this increasingly popular pastime, let's grin and bear it. And so, here are 19 staycation ideas that are perfect if for some reason you cannot travel  now.

whats a staycation - French bread for a vacation staycation picnicSometimes, a vacation at home is as easy as pulling together a picnic. A loaf of this French bread, some charcuterie, and you're all set - you may not be in France but you might as well be on the banks of the Seine ©WOTR

Recently, a bout with pneumonia forced me to cancel my travel plans. And then, demonstrations in Beirut canceled that trip! What if your health or politics won’t let you travel when you want to?

Travel costs money and we don't always have as much as we'd like (although these tips about traveling even when you’re almost broke should help). 

And there are other reasons you might not be able travel… fear of travel, anxiety about new places, and yes, it's often hard to try something for the first time, like solo travel.

Yet travel doesn’t necessarily mean going to the ends of the earth.

You can still reap the benefits of travel – discovery, awareness, excitement – without changing hemispheres. In fact, in some cases you don’t have to go very far at all.

Here are 19 solo staycation ideas you can try instead of going far away! None will replace the real thing, but you’ll still get plenty of the benefits.

what is a staycation, exactly?

Ugly as the word might be, it's practical: a combination of "stay-at-home" and "vacation".

Its meanings in the US and UK differ slightly. According to Wikipedia, the staycation definition used in the US is "a period in which an individual or family stays home and participates in leisure activities within driving distance of their home and does not require overnight accommodations."

The staycation meaning in the UK is slightly different: "it is a holiday spent in one's home country rather than abroad."

For our purposes here, we'll combine the two. A staycation should be within driving distance, but it COULD involve an overnight stay.

 What's the difference between a staycation vs vacation? Hard to say, given the number of different definitions. Here's how I see it: a staycation IS a vacation, except you stay home (except for a night or two at most) and bring the vacation to you instead of the other way around.

how to plan a staycation

So how do you plan a perfect staycation? The same way you would plan a vacation, of course! If you plan to do this right, don't just wing it... plan and prepare it! These staycation tips will tell you just how to do that.

  1. Decide your goal. Do you want to relax? Get away from it all? Envelop yourself in a foreign environment?

  2. Go with the basics: when are you going, where are you going (even if it's just down the road), and for how long.

  3. Make your plan concrete. Reserve your hotel or book your restaurant. Buy your museum tickets. If you don't, you may relent at the last minute and end up riveted to Netflix all weekend.

  4. Run a movie through your mind. Imagine you've never been in this town/museum/venue before. And look around you in wonder.

  5. And go!

staycation guide: what should I do on my staycation?

Now that you've decided to have a stay at home vacation,  it's time for action.

Yes, you could choose to stay home and do absolutely nothing, but isn't the idea to quench your wanderlust by actually going on vacation? Even if you're staying nearby?

Here are 19 fun staycation ideas that should be easy to put together.

1. become a tourist at home

How well do you know your own town or city? I ask because sometimes we're more familiar with faraway places than with our own back yard.

I can navigate my way around Bangkok better than I can Lyon or Annecy down the road from me... something about familiarity breeding contempt, that odd feeling that things close to home will always be around but that faraway places should be cherished and deeply explored because "we won't have another chance".

If you can't get away to travel right now, why not flip that paradigm on its head and become a tourist in your own town?

Think of where you live and imagine you've never been there before.

  • Where do you start? Simple: your local tourist office website or a guidebook. 
  • Figure out which places you don't know. There are bound to be some. Even if you live in a rural area, surely there are nearby villages you haven't been to and if you live in town, there are probably neighborhoods you might like to get to know better.
  • Make a list of the top sights you'd like to explore (nothing replaces a good list). Are there galleries you don't know? Neighborhoods you're curious about? Monuments whose history you're unaware of?
  • Prepare your itinerary: how do you navigate from one place to the next? Should you drive? Take public transport? Where to first?
  • Establish a reward for yourself somewhere along the line - perhaps a good market for lunch or a chic restaurant you've been wanting to explore for dinner.

If you live in the countryside, like I do, pick the nearest fair-sized town and use that for your travel experiment. I live in rural France so when I feel the need to wear my Dora the Explorer hat, I head to Lyon (my latest discovery there involved a lot of food).

By the end of your "tourist at home" day, you will have discovered some new sights or attractions or had new experiences. Isn't that what you do when you travel?

travel alternatives - a nearby townWhenever I feel the need to "get away", I have two go-to towns: Annecy, which is about 45 minutes away, and Lyon, pictured above, an hour from home by train. It's not quite Paris - but for many people, it's every bit as lovely ©WOTR

2. DO SOMETHING wild or UNEXPECTED

Part of acting out as a tourist in your own town involves doing the kinds of things you'd normally do on vacation or abroad.

You may already do some of these but if you don't...

  • go to the beach, if there's one nearby
  • take a bike ride through the city
  • get on the water if you have a waterway near you – go canoeing, kayaking or sailing
  • visit a local national park you haven't been to before
  • join a walking tour in your own town
  • hop on a bus – you're savvy enough about your city to know which parts are safe, so jump on a bus that takes you to one of the better parts of town – one you don't know yet

Bottom line, look at your city through a visitor's eyes. What would you want to do if you weren't from here?

Often, these things will involve pushing out of your comfort zone.

My mother used to have an intriguing approach to this: she would make it a point to meet someone each time she went into town – meet a stranger. Whether at an internet café (oh yes, this was a thing then) or standing in line at the bank, she would pluck up her courage and initiate a conversation with a stranger, no easy feat for a woman brought up with European restraint. Walking downtown with my mother was an exercise in sociability – she seemed to greet every other person on the street, many of them from other lands and with many stories.

best staycation ideas - hike behind the houseA lot of people would pay for this experience - yet all I have to do was walk up the hill behind my house (with my dogs) to enjoy a winter staycation ©WOTR/Anne Sterck
travel alternative - sailingWhile we're on the topic of pushing boundaries, this was a real push for me. I can't swim (not well, anyway) and I instantly get motion sick when something - anything - moves. So this was a stretch and while I tried to enjoy it, I hung onto that mast for dear life. That said, this summer staycation was a mere 45 minutes away from home... ©WOTR/Anne Sterck

3. eat abroad - without ever leaving home

Flavors and tastes are so linked to our travels... those pungent memories of chillies in Thailand and Mexico, tortilla in Spain or breakfast croissants in Paris.

There's no reason you can't reconstruct those memories closer to home. If you're in a fair-sized town or city, you'll probably find a restaurant from every country under the sun.

If you're in a rural area (although my village can lay claim to a pizza truck in the supermarket parking lot two nights a week) you may have to go a bit further afield but you'll still find something. 

When you go to that Thai or Ethiopian or Georgian restaurant, don't order something you know. Instead, why not try something completely new? Ask the restaurant staff to recommend their customers' favorite dish. If you were treaveling, you'd be trying new dishes, after all. 

great staycation ideas - cooking classYou can always learn to cook a French dish in preparation for your next trip to France ©WOTR

4. cooking from a foreign country

If heading out to a restaurant for some solo dining isn't your thing, perhaps it's time to brush off those cooking skills and make a meal at home.

In a Mexican mood? Find some mariachi music online or on iTunes and let it linger in the background while you simmer those refried beans and spice up that salsa. Rinse and repeat for pretty much every cuisine on earth. (I have a collection of cookbooks from different countries I visit.)

You can try cooking a food you don't know from another land: head off to the foreign foods section or an international food shop with recipe in tow, and surprise yourself.

If food is the travel pathway to your heart, why not a picnic?

Recently in southwest France, I visited the central market in Biarritz and bought up an armful of Middle Eastern food − hummus, tabouleh, spinach and feta pastries − and walked down to the sea promenade to eat it all up.

If you really can't decide which finger food to gather for your picnic, just Google "picnic foods from [xx country]" and you'll get some great ideas.

City markets often have foreign food sections but if they don't, how about a nearby Chinese or Arab or Mexican grocery store?

Or just buy a French baguette, some Brie and...

5. test your city's social dining scene

Have you ever heard of social dining? Of paying to go to someone's house for dinner?

It's a popular activity for travelers − why not see if one of the social dining networks offers meals in or near your town and book a seat? It's a great way of meeting locals if you're passing through, so you could become one of those locals yourself and meet visitors to your town. 

The alternative is joining one of the networks and hosting dinners yourself to meet people from out of town (but that does sound like a lot of work - I'd just as soon have someone else doing the cooking). Since this is a popular travel activity, you'll probably meet travelers. But if you don't, you'll at least meet people who love to travel, and that will instantly give you something in common.

There are other groups through which you can meet travelers or join travel-related events. Check out meetup.com; depending on where you're having your staycation, you might find plenty of groups worth getting in touch with.

Speaking of social, there are many other ways to meet people from other lands. You could checkout expat forums and blogs in your city, or join groups on social media. Facebook has a plethora of place-based groups where you might learn about dozens of nearby places just waiting to be discovered by you.

6. immerse yourself in the language

Immersion is a great way to experience another culture without traveling very far.

Many cable networks carry foreign-language news. You can watch news from Thailand (in the original Thai) or news from Russia in English. Either way, you'll be opening that window to another culture.

Soap operas are a great way to catch a glimpse of faraway lives; imagine how much you'll learn about Brazil by watching a few episodes, even if you don't understand a word.

Of course you could watch foreign films. These are fantastic because you can usually find versions with subtitles, which means you'll actually understand the story as opposed to just hearing foreign words. Here in France, our Netflix has films from many countries. Perhaps yours does too. If not, YouTube is a great source of foreign cinema.

7. delve into other cultures through literature

I love finding out about a country's culture through it's literature. Guidebooks are great but they... guide you, that's all. A proper story actually plunges you into a time and a place and may make you feel as though you're actually there.

For example, before going to Sri Lanka, I read quite a few books, including Nayomi Munaweera's Island of A Thousand Mirrors and Michael Ondaatje's Running in the Family. Both these books provided me with texture, history, mood, and because they were so well written, with smells and tastes.

There are few towns or cities about which novels haven't been written, so do a bit of digging. For example, searches like "novels set in Denver" or "books about Cleveland" will yield more books than you can read in a month.

8. take yourself to a concert

Two senses succeed best at placing me somewhere else: scent and hearing. Have you ever felt transported to a different place or time by a single song?

Listening to music is one way to experience what the French so aptly call "dépaysement" – the art of feeling foreign in your own country.

You could aim for music from another land, like fado or a cappella music from southern Africa or reggae... or why not opera, and picture yourself at La Scala?

9. let art be your muse

Another great way of immersing yourself is through art. Even the most local museums put on international exhibitions. Sometimes, it's because one of the board members has a connection overseas and can bring something over but whatever the reason, finding a temporary show that is from somewhere else shouldn't difficult.

And if not museums, what about street art? Perhaps the best place for a staycation is just down the street, looking at wall art with new eyes. You may have come by here often but never really... looked.

travel alternatives - visit a museumOf course the Louvre will have foreign exhibitions - but so will small, local museums

10. take part in international festivals

If you happen to live in a large city, this won't be a problem. Most large cities have immigrant populations and since people are emotionally tied to their homelands, there's every chance they celebrate their familiar festivals. Look at Chinese New Year − any city with a Chinese population puts on quite a show each time the zodiac changes.

Most cities have websites that detail these special events − for example, have a look at this Milwaukee site: a festival or fair? No problem. In this case, the Search Engine is your friend.

Whether it's a national festival, dance event, book reading or food fair, people's pride in their heritage will often have them put it on show.

festivals near me - Lyon festival of lightsPeople will travel long hours to visit the Lyon Festival of Lights, which takes place in early December each year. All I have to do is hop on the train for less than an hour - and I have a perfect staycation!

11. take a cultural course

A great way to delve into another culture and quickly feel as though you've stepped into another land is by taking a class.

Does your city have foreign cooking classes? Or dance classes, like flamenco or tango? This list is potentially endless − it could include a language class or university foreign history class.

Anything to immerse yourself in a foreign culture for a few hours.

12. photograph your city like a pro

When I travel and take photographs (with my iPhone, mind you - that's the limit of my skill), I look at places differently than I do when at home, where things tend to slide by. I look at shapes, reflections, expressions, anything that provides me with a visual contrast or that evokes a feeling.

Have you ever done that in your own back yard?

Whether in the city or the countryside, heading out with your camera will uncover the unexpected. Look at things differently, and you'll see them differently. And you'll get a brush-up of your skills, too.

13. throw a themed party

How about throwing a party? That's right, a party with a theme. Say you have a Spanish party: you'd make tapas, play flamenco music, read from Spanish stories... anything to throw yourself into the mood! You could do that with virtually every culture on earth so think about it: where would you like to be?

14. RELIVE A PAST JOURNEY

You can't travel right NOW - but you can "act as if". Perhaps it's time to relive that last visit to Thailand or Caribbean beach vacation or week in Paris? You can wax nostalgic by stepping back in time and burrowing into those memories. So...

  • put that music on
  • pull out those photographs or videos
  • read your old travel journal entries
  • pull out your dog-eared guidebook, the one with all the scribbles...

And let that walk down memory lane begin!

15. have a hotel staycation

One of the things that make us feel most as though we're traveling is staying in a hotel room.

Even in your own town or city, you could book a room and suddenly, you'll feel like a tourist and as though you're traveling.

Order room service, use the spa facilities or hang around the lobby reading a book... you'll be doing what you do when you're away − without the expensive plane ticket. Throw in a bit of sightseeing in a new (for you) part of town and you've got it made.

It might feel strange but that will wear off. Just let your near and dear in on your secret so you won't have to come up with a quick explanation if someone you know spots you coming out of a hotel across town.

16. escape for a weekend getaway

Let's say you've explored your city, spent a day or more as a tourist, photographed your area from every perspective and eaten every cuisine... what next?

An entire weekend, that's what.

A weekend will allow you to fully submerge yourself in a different environment. As you would for the day, how would you go about planning a weekend away?

First, you'd choose a destination you really want to explore, a place that excites you or that has always attracted but which for some reason you never visited.

And then, as you would do for a single day, begin to plan: how to get there, what to see, where to eat, where to stay... just as you would if you were planning a trip abroad.

It may not qualify as full-fledged overseas travel, but discovery is discovery, and something new is something new.

17. do you like games? here's a global one

I've been wanting to get into geocaching...

Geo-what, you say?

It's basically a grown-up treasure hunt: people hide things around the world, and you find them (granted, that's a bit simplistic, but you'll find more information on the official geocaching site here or from my fellow blogger Dyanne over at TravelnLass).

It's not quite travel, but you'll find geocaches - hiding places - absolutely everywhere, including near your home. You can network with geocachers from other countries, and all you need is a smartphone, the Geocaching app and a bit of time to hunt for "buried treasure".

18. write up your own travel bucket list

If you can't physically get away, for a weekend or even for a day, the one place you can escape to is your own mind.

That's right - nothing prevents you from dreaming, although unstructured wanderings won't necessarily help quench that wanderlust.

No, for that you'll need a bit of a plan.

I suggest a bucket list. I've liked and disliked them, depending on the circumstances, but when it comes to wanderlust, they are an effective tool.

Dreaming is half of travel - most journeys start with a dream. So ask yourself... where would you like to go? Be as wild as you want - do it by region, activity, popularity... if you're really stuck, these questions will help you narrow down your destination choices.

A list is still too... vague? Get something more concrete: buy a scratch map and scratch out the places you'd like to visit. (Here's the one I have.)

19. plan your next trip - for real

If we push the bucket list plan to the extreme, we could actually plan a trip, a real one.

If you can't travel right now, why not start planning your next trip? But really planning it, in detail. Don't just go through the motions: build the trip.

Don't be too ambitious. Keep it realistic and choose a trip you're actually likely to take in the future. If you can't get away for more than a week, choose a European city or the Caribbean rather than a long Asia trek.

When the time comes to eventually take that trip, you'll be ready and most of the work will be done. All you'll have to do is board the plane.

So no, none of these staycation ideas will actually replace your taking a trip but if you have itchy feet, if you can't stop thinking of travel but can't get away just now, each one of these strategies will help you while you wait it out.

Actively doing something about travel is a lot better than just wishing you were somewhere else...

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