I Did a Staycation. Here’s How You Can Do One Better

Man in black shorts sits on pool deck next to clear drinking glass with yellow liquid.
Photo by Megan Bucknall on Unsplash

My staycation was sort of an accident, bittersweet in its circumstances. It wasn’t meticulously planned out, or long-anticipated (the best vacations, IMO, are those that you look forward to for weeks).

I was grateful for the opportunity, but there are things I would absolutely change for the next time we try something like this. If you’re thinking about a staycation, check out my tips for how to make it really worth your while.

Background- The Accidental Staycation

My in-laws were planning to visit my husband and I in our little paradise. They were staying at a hotel most of the time so that they could be near a pool and restaurant. We still had to work during their trip so we wanted them to be properly entertained.

About a week before they were supposed to come, my MIL strained some tendons in her ankle. Her doctor put her in a boot, and said she wasn’t allowed to walk on any uneven or slippery surfaces, like sand, pool decks, or boats. Pretty much all the fun activities she had planned on doing were suddenly off the table.

So they cancelled their trip. But it was too late to cancel the hotel. So they put the reservation under our names, and while we couldn’t go for their entire stay, we took advantage of the weekend days, packed up a few pool and dinner outfits, and drove across the island.

What We Learned from our Staycation

Pack ahead.

My husband and I both came from a workday, packed really quickly, and rushed over to the hotel to make it in time for dinner. We both get really stressed when we travel, and a trip to a hotel 20 minutes away from our house apparently is not an exception. This is not the way to begin a relaxing weekend. Pack ahead of time so you’re not rushed (my husband forgot his deodorant), or better yet, don’t go straight from a workday if you can afford to take a day off.

Wrap up responsibilities.

As a marine biologist doing office work from home, I don’t exactly work a 9 to 5, but I do usually only work during the week. My husband, however, has a sales job where calls can come up at any time. As soon as we got to the hotel, I was able to turn off the work part of my brain and begin to relax. He, on the other hand, knew he had calls to make and quotes to send, so being away was stressful rather than relaxing. Plan your trip in advance so you can wrap up work and personal responsibilities before you go, and really unplug once you’re there.

Set your expectations.

Because I was in vacation mode and he wasn’t, I started trying to help him relax and forget about work. Of course you can’t ever tell someone to relax. I made things worse by talking about all the things I wanted us to do together the next day: tennis, reading by the pool, a nice dinner. My expectations were too high, and I was forcing them on him when he wasn’t prepared. Set your expectations with your spouse (or friend) while you are planning the trip so you’re not creating stress with forced “relaxation”.

The essence of vacation is the absence of responsibility.

I did a lot of reflecting during our trip, thinking about what the point of vacation was, and whether it was worth it if you weren’t exploring a new place. Personally, I think the travel makes the vacation. It’s hard to really relax when you’re in such a familiar place that reminds you of your day-to-day life and all its obligations. But the part of the staycation that was valuable to me was removing any productivity expectations on myself and doing whatever I wanted. Is that possible when you’re at home? I’m not sure, but I think it’s worth trying. Especially when travel from a tropical island is always long and/or expensive.

Stay home instead and unplug.

So if you want a vacation but can’t travel somewhere because of some kind of time or money constraint, what should you do? We went to a hotel for this trip because it was already paid for. We are not the kind of people who would pay for a hotel so near to our house (unless we become mega-rich someday). The price of a hotel isn’t worth it when our home is more comfortable for us: our bed, our bath towels, our full wardrobes, easy breakfast in the fridge, etcetera. What I want to try next is an alternative staycation: set aside a weekend where you stay at home but do no work and no chores, and unplug as much as possible. A weekend of relaxing outside, drinking cocktails and reading books. The hotel was a fun novelty, but I just kept thinking about how I would be more comfortable at home.

What We Loved about the Staycation

One day was enough.

We only had one full day of staycation, having only 2 nights in the hotel. I thought this wouldn’t be enough time, hence my forcing maximum relaxation on my husband. But the one day really was enough. I was able to finish a book, get some pool time, and play tennis: all the things I wanted to do. My stress levels dropped, and I was excited to go be home again. There’s an argument for diminishing on returns for vacation: eight days is optimal, but one is better than zero.

Eat. Everything.

The hotel has an amazing restaurant— great food with plenty of options for whatever you’re in the mood for. Eating out every meal was nice since we didn’t have to cook at all. On the downside, restaurant food is heavy and rich, and quite expensive. There weren’t any light options for when you’re feeling like snacking— munchies struck on the pool deck and the nachos were delicious but made me feel bloated and gross. My normal breakfast oatmeal was replaced by eggs benedict and fried chicken hash— a great way to feel greasy and lethargic the rest of the day. I reveled in the gluttony, but I was glad it was only one day. If there is a time, vacation is the time to eat to excess, and laze around by the pool.

Find your happy place.

The pool was nice. I love the back and forth between the pool and the lounge chair, using the water as a temperature management strategy. I’m an avid reader (check out all my book notes!), so I used pool time as a chance to put the book down and let my brain ponder the plotlines and character development. These pauses really expanded my thinking, and fueled my creative brain. For me, there is no better feeling than lounging around, drinking a cold beer and reading a book. Check out my book notes for some recommendations!

Parting Thoughts

One thing that came up in our discussion of how the weekend went was that having kids might change the equation. Packing and planning would be more difficult, and the trip would be more expensive, but we might get more out of not having to cook or clean and the kids would probably love it. It would certainly make a staycation more complicated, but also potentially more beneficial.

So to recap, here are my top tips for how to do a staycation right:

  • Pack the night before
  • Wrap up responsibilities before leaving
  • Set your expectations with your spouse while planning
  • The biggest benefit for me was no expectations of productivity— try this at home!
  • One day is better than none
  • Splurge on amazing food that you didn’t have to cook
  • Find a relaxing activity that makes you happy and do that for a few hours

So pick a weekend, and plan your staycation. You’ll feel like a new person, for much cheaper than a full vacation!

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