Taking a vacation is a great way to bond with loved ones and also enjoy new experiences while kicking back and unwinding from everyday life. But going away doesn’t come cheap, and many Americans are putting travel plans on hold amid the coronavirus outbreak and until their financial situation stabilizes.
The good news is you don’t have to travel far or spend a lot of money to create lasting memories with your family. In fact, a staycation is an affordable alternative to a traditional vacation when planned thoughtfully.
“Instead of spending thousands, you can recreate much of the same fun memories for hundreds at home,” says John Schmoll, founder of Frugal Rules, a personal finance blog. “If you choose to travel for a vacation and are currently in debt, it will likely only create more debt. Regardless of how much fun you may have on that vacation, it’s not worth the resulting debt.”
Although staycations are inherently cheaper than traveling to a new destination, you can still blow your budget if you don’t watch your spending. With careful planning though, you can create an at-home getaway for less.
Follow these budget-friendly staycation planning tips to get started:
- Set a staycation budget.
- Repurpose items you have at home.
- Pick up supplies from the dollar store.
- Plan free activities.
- Borrow supplies.
- Review local deals online.
- Get creative with crafting.
- Look for nearby hotel deals.
- Go on a free or cheap virtual tour.
Set a Staycation Budget
Budgeting for any planned expense is crucial to avoid overspending and going into debt – and budgeting for a staycation is no different. Begin by figuring out which activities you and your family value most and the associated costs. Through this process, you can pinpoint exactly where to spend money and where to cut back to stay within your overall budget.
“While not as expensive as a traditional vacation, you want to think through what you will need to make your staycation an enjoyable one,” Schmoll says. “It might feel burdensome, but when done wisely, will allow you to relax knowing you can enjoy your time without adding needless debt.”
Repurpose Items You Have at Home
Whether you’re planning a luau dinner, camping night or spa day, you may feel inclined to go all out with decorations and supplies to make up for not going away in the traditional sense. But the more elaborate you get, the more you will spend. In some cases, you don’t have to go overboard to recreate that vacation-like experience.
Before buying anything, consider how you can repurpose items you already have at home, says Teresa Britton, founder of MomsWhoSave.com, a frugal-lifestyle blog for families. Begin by gathering decorations from past parties, craft supplies, board games and other toys, beauty supplies and recreational gear to see what you can use for the various activities in your staycation plan.
If you need help coming up with low-cost ideas, Britton suggests searching Pinterest for frugal theme nights and other activities at home. “There are so many good ideas for ways to work with what you already have to make it fit your theme,” she says.
Pick Up Supplies From the Dollar Store
When it comes to theme dinners and other festive events, the dollar store is your best bet for finding inexpensive decorations and supplies. “At $1 each, you can choose enough items to make your theme shine through,” Britton says.
Plan Free Activities
A key to creating a vacation-like experience at home is planning activities you typically enjoy when you’re away, and these don’t have to cost a lot either. There are plenty of free activities you can take advantage of in your hometown without traveling far, such as a bike ride, hike or walk.
“While these things may not be in a vacation destination, when combined with unplugging from work, can help you achieve that vacation feeling,” Schmoll says.
If your staycation plans call for new supplies like a tent so you can go camping in the backyard or a bounce house so you can create an action park in your backyard, consider borrowing before buying. Ask family or friends if they own any of these items and if you can borrow them for your staycation.
If borrowing isn’t an option, save money by shopping for used items. Browse local listings at sites like Facebook Marketplace or OfferUp, where you can find gently used items for your staycation, such as a new-to-you grill or trampoline.
Review Local Deals Online
A big part of vacationing is enjoying new experiences and trying new restaurants, so you may want to add this to your list of activities. However, entertainment and dining can add a lot to your staycation spending, so it’s important to look out for deals online to curb costs.
“My favorite way to find deals on local entertainment is with Groupon or LivingSocial,” Schmoll says. “Another good route is to watch your local paper. Living in Omaha, our paper commonly advertises deals for local entertainment options.”
Meanwhile, Becky Beach, founder of MomBeach.com, a family and parenting blog, suggests checking Restaurants.com to find discounted gift cards to local restaurants and looking for coupon books to save on local entertainment. “There is a coupon book by Entertainment that I purchase every year to save money on restaurants and activities. The one in my area comes with two buy one, get one free $9 meals at Spring Creek Barbeque. That makes the book pay for itself with that deal alone,” she says.
Get Creative With Crafting
Crafting is a fun activity the whole family can enjoy and doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, especially if you use items you already have at home. For instance, Beach says you can make crafts out of cardboard boxes from Amazon deliveries, so tap into your creativity to come up with some new ideas and inspiration. If there are specific supplies you need, however, make sure you’re using coupons to save.
“There is often a 40% off coupon for Hobby Lobby and 25% to 40% off at Michael’s almost all the time,” Britton says. “You can stock up on craft supplies pretty easily if you use the coupons when they’re available.”
Look for Nearby Hotel Deals
If you and your family are ready for a change of scenery, staying at a hotel in your hometown – especially one that offers a pool for your kids – can help you feel like you’re getting away without the added costs of getting there. Plus, you can often find hotel deals by running a quick search online. You may also have luck calling a hotel directly to see what type of discounts they’re offering, Schmoll says. He also recommends bringing board games and packing some of your own food to help cut costs further.
Go On a Free or Cheap Virtual Tour
You can explore a museum or popular city site without leaving your couch and for very little to no money at all. “Numerous museums, art galleries and parks offer cheap or free ways to take virtual tours of the respective facilities,” Schmoll says. “You can do something as simple as livestream animals at various zoos, or virtually visit a museum, like the Louvre. All you need to do is visit the website of the place of interest to see what they have to virtually offer.”
Meanwhile, sites like Google Arts & Culture offer the opportunity to explore cultural institutions across the globe, including the British Museum in London, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Guggenheim in New York City for free.
If you prefer to get outside and explore, Britton suggests taking a self-guided tour of your own city, in which you can discover mural art, view interesting architecture and more.