How to Take a Staycation That Feels Like a Real Vacation
Feel refreshed and reenergized, without venturing far from home.
The coronavirus pandemic — and shelter-in-place orders — have left many feeling more than a little stir-crazy. A recent report from American Express showed that U.S. consumers are missing travel so much that it’s taking an emotional toll: 48 percent of the 2,000 consumers surveyed said the inability to travel is stirring feelings of stress and anxiety, while 78 percent noted travel as one of the main activities they miss partaking in the most.
Still, despite states beginning to reopen, Americans are hesitant to venture far from home: That same survey found only 10 percent plan to travel over Labor Day weekend, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still warns against unnecessary travel.
But in the time of COVID, the need for an occasional respite from work has become even more important, says Margaret Seide, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist in New York City. “Typically, our home is a place of rest and relaxation, [but now it] has to additionally serve as an office, a classroom for our children and a gym.” This erases the separation between the pressure-filled workplace and the safe space that is home.
Enter: The staycation, “which allows us to reconnect with our home as a place of peace and leisure that truly belongs to us,” Seide notes. Below, mental health experts and hospitality pros weigh in on how to enjoy a few relaxing, stress-relieving days, without actually leaving home.
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Change Your Definition of “Vacation”
It’s easy to do — as soon as you hear the word “vacation,” images of faraway places start dancing in your head. But that line of thinking may be what’s causing Americans to leave 768 million days of paid time off unused.
While there isn’t statistical data available just yet, those unused vacation days are likely even higher now thanks to the pandemic. “Those of us who are newly staying at home are facing new challenges, like differentiating work hours from home hours, remembering to take regular breaks and switching off,” says Jon Staff, CEO and founder of Getaway and author of Getting Away: 75 Everyday Practices for Finding Balance in Our Always-On World. “For many of us, we’ve unwittingly found ourselves working [more].”
But the reality is that a vacation can simply mean taking a break from your day-to-day life stressors, particularly in the realm of work — which can easily be done from home.
Plus, staying at home has added benefits: “[A staycation] would be a good idea if you’re trying to be mindful of your budget and bank account, and they can happen way more often than international trips,” says Kruti Patel, PhD, clinical psychologist at Deep Eddy Psychotherapy in Austin. “Plus, staycations require less logistical steps, so you can plan one more easily than a vacation.”
It’s pretty common to work a bit while on vacation — one survey found 70 percent of over 2,000 full-time workers check in with their workplace regularly while on a trip. When you’re at a resort or cabin in the woods, you can more easily slip back into the vacation vibe after answering an email or two, Seide says.
But during a staycation, especially when you’ve been working from home, it’s tougher to note the difference between your routine life and staycation life if you do work-related tasks during the day.
During your staycation, commit to not doing any work-related activities, Seide suggests. “That means no emails, no business conversations and even interrupting yourself if you find your thoughts drifting toward work-related matters.”
Staff suggests going even further and ditching all digital devices — phones, computers, television, video games, e-readers and smartwatches — for at least one day. “Taking days off that are free from technological distractions helps people be more creative, happier and healthier,” he says. Instead, fill your time with screen-free activities, like cooking a meal, working on a craft project or reading a book.
Taking days off that are free from technological distractions helps people be more creative, happier and healthier.
Reconnect With Friends
Fun fact: Despite being cooped up with the same people for months, the aforementioned AMEX survey found 67 percent of respondents would still rather travel with members of their households than venture out alone once restrictions are lifted. So just like you would jet off to a white sand beach with your quarantine crew, step up your socializing during the staycation, Seide suggests.
“Scheduling something social every day of your time off will help keep you in staycation mode,” she says. This means being proactive about inviting your friends and family members for walks, hikes, Zoom happy hours, picnics or beach outings — while following appropriate precautions, of course.
Bring a Out-of-the-Ordinary Experience Home
A vacation isn’t a vacation unless you’re giving yourself the luxury of at least one experience, activity or purchase you wouldn’t normally make. Seide suggests bringing that sentiment to your staycation, indulging in something like a bubble bath an at-home spa day. (Find tips to do a DIY self-massage here, and shop our therapeutic body oils here.)
For the budget-conscious, an indulgence can also be giving yourself the luxury of leisurely, cost-free activities — think birdwatching or stargazing — or taking on a mental challenge, like a puzzle, Staff says. Bonus: “Not only are [they] a timeless source of entertainment, but they’re also great for our brains, as it gives both hemispheres a workout at the same time,” he says.
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“Spending time outdoors, particularly in green spaces, makes us measurably healthier and happier,” Staff says. “Researchers have found that regular exposure to nature offers a range of health benefits, from a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease to better sleep, reduced stress, higher self-esteem and improved memory.” Plus, switching up your change of scenery to a nearby park or forest has built-in social distancing measures in place.
If you don't have a plethora of parks or hiking trails that are convenient to you, your backyard works like a charm, too. Pitch a tent and overnight with the kids, roast s’mores in a fire pit or set up a projector and screen movies on the side of the house for a fun night that’s different from the norm.
DIY a Staycation "Souvenir"
People buy souvenirs on vacation to serve as a tangible reminder of a happy experience — and while it may sound strange, you can totally recreate that positive trigger during a staycation by drawing, painting, making a craft or even journaling, Patel notes. Bonus: Research shows creating something with your hands can improve your mental health.
Staff recommends writing a postcard or letter to yourself, then storing it somewhere you’ll come across once in a while to remind you of the time you spent unplugged.
Also, while you're off Instagram, turn to sharing photos the old-fashioned way. "Take pictures of your time on staycation, including the food you eat, the people you spend time with and the places you go," Seide suggests. Bonus points if you use a real camera, instead of your smartphone. Then, print them out and exercise your crafty side by putting together a collage or scrapbook of your images.
Research shows creating something with your hands can improve your mental health.
Ease Back Into Reality
The worst part of vacations is that overwhelming feeling of all the things you need to take care of once you’re back. To avoid feeling stressed all over again, Patel suggests setting aside a day or two at the end of your staycation to transition back to your regular routine.
“This could be a time you slowly start to tackle your to-do list, complete errands or transition your home back to home/work mode,” she says.
Seide notes that you'll want to get back on a regular sleeping schedule too: “Get back to going to bed and waking up at the times you typically do when you’re working to prepare your body for the transition.”
This time can help you slow down so it’s not an abrupt change, Patel says, and helps avoid that feeling of needing a vacation after a vacation.