Thursday, July 3, 2008

Staycationing: When Home Is the Hot Travel Destination

As any working parent knows, a true vacation is a rare thing, and the term "family vacation" can sometimes seem like an oxymoron. The few times we've vacationed with all five kids, the kids have had a blast and my husband and I return more tired than we were before the trip.

Right now, vacationing close to home -- or "staycationing" -- is the new travel trend, and I can totally understand why. I've been a die-hard staycationer for years...

We almost always stay home for the summer. I say "almost" because there have been two exceptions: In 2003 we drove to Niagara Falls because the kids were complaining that they'd never been to another country (hello, Canada!), and last week I had to research a couple of family travel stories and so we went to an old-fashioned amusement park and careened down a snow-less ski slope on a bobsled and spent a night in a tree house. It was way cool. The kids loved it. My husband and I did, too, but I think that, while the kids came home re-energized after our little adventure, us parents were more exhausted after our "vacation" than we had been when we left.

With gas prices skyrocketing and airlines imposing new and bigger fees for everything from checked baggage to warm soda, "home" is becoming a hot travel destination. Hotels are marketing "getaway" packages to their local clientele. AAA offers "Drive Vacations" to make road tripping trendier (even with gas costing more than $4 a gallon, it's still cheaper to drive than fly if you're taking kids along). Camping and hiking have become popular again.

But for some of us, staycationing has always been the norm. Yes, gas prices are high, but stress levels are even higher when you cram five kids into a car and hit the road for hours at a time. Add in a handful of food allergies, which makes it impossible to indulge in fast food during the trip, and stress levels can reach a whole new high. And if any of your kids are still in diapers, it's worth noting that hell hath no fury like that of a preteen stuck next to a toddler with a blow-out.

(That didn't happen this trip, thank goodness.)

The biggest upside to staycationing, for this working mother, at any rate, is that I know the territory. There was a point in my life where exploring a new city would have made my heart go pitter-pat; lately, though, just the chance to avoid the daily commute makes me giddy. I live near a big city -- there are plenty of museums to visit and cultural events to attend; they're close enough to do easily if I have a few days off, and far enough away to be impossible with my regular work schedule. Staycationing gives me a chance to take advantage of the things right in my own backyard... why deal with packing and plane fare, especially during one of the most crowded travel times of the year?

Do you have summer vacation plans? Or will you be staycationing this summer?

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