Think Frugally, Vacation Locally: Secrets to a Successful Staycation

Think Frugally, Vacation Locally: Secrets to a Successful Staycation
Think Frugally, Vacation Locally: Secrets to a Successful Staycation

Spring break season is well under way, and summer vacation is coming. And while some Americans' wallets are a little fuller than they were at this time last year, the lingering 8.8% unemployment rate suggests that most people won't be heading to Aruba this summer.

In the last few years, the term "staycation" has gone from new and revolutionary to old and tired with amazing speed. It isn't hard to see why: "We'll spend some time relaxing at home this year" is only a short distance from "We're going to spend our vacation cleaning the house and getting cabin fever." After all, there are only so many times you can mop the floors, plant the garden, or clear out the attic before you start to sympathize with Jack Nicholson's character in The Shining.

The funny thing is, chances are good that there is someone, somewhere who would love to spend their vacation in your area. The key to being a successful local tourist lies in trying to see your home through their eyes. If you can discover what makes your area unique -- which travel-worthy attractions lay just around the corner -- then putting together a truly wonderful staycation becomes relatively simple.

Make It a Real Vacation

For me, this isn't that hard: I live in New York City, and have a long list of restaurants, museums, parks and other attractions that I still haven't had time to visit. But my last home was in a southwest Virginia town that, while not exactly a hotbed of tourist activity, was filled with unique and bizarre attractions. Among other things, it was where the most-decorated veteran of World War II had died, was the childhood home of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, and was the site of a brutal massacre during the French and Indian War. A short drive away, I could visit the largest neon star in America, a perfect miniature copy of Graceland, two dormant volcanoes, the hotel where Dirty Dancing was filmed, the second oldest river in the world, an ostrich farm and some of the best bluegrass venues in the country.

The key to being a local tourist lays in treating your home town the same way you would treat any other vacation destination. This means buying tourist guides: Moon Guides, Let's Go and Lonely Planet are a good place to start. Once you've put together a list of basic attractions, try taking a peek at more specialized guides. Fans of movies might check out Shot on This Site or The Worldwide Guide to Movie Destinations. Those whose tastes tend to the more bizarre or eerie might check out The Cockroach Hall of Fame and 101 Other Off-the-Wall Museums or the Weird USbooks.

Of course, vacations aren't just about unusual attractions. A good trip also gives you the option to try out interesting local food. Depending on where you live, it may be a bit hard to find meals that are unique or particularly world class. A good place to start, however, is with Jane and Michael Stern, whose books, Eat Your Way Across the USA and 500 Things to Eat Before It's Too Late, document their obsessive love of America's cafes, diners and small-town restaurants. They also have a website, Road Food, that lists some of the best regional restaurants in the country.

For some people, one of the big joys of travel lies in spending the night in hotel rooms. If your idea of a vacation revolves around having someone else make the bed and straighten up after you, why not book into a hotel in your area? Sites like Travelocity and Travelzoo aren't just useful for traveling out of town -- they can also point you toward great rates near home. And, even if you can't get a good rate, a couple of nights in an expensive hotel in your area will probably cost far less than a traditional vacation.

Monetary savings aside, the best part of being a local tourist is the new knowledge that it will give you. Having checked out the nearby attractions, you'll be able to visit them again with relative ease. And when it comes to eating, you'll have a new understanding of the best places in the area. In fact, with a little bit of planning and a fair bit of research, your local tourism jaunt can keep returning dividends long after your vacation is over.