Last weekend, long-time GRS reader Vintek came to Portland. Kris and I joined him and his wife for a Saturday morning culinary tour. On our four-hour trek, we visited a bakery, a cooking store, and a brewery (where I drank beer for the first time — seriously). Along the way, I saw places and learned things about the city that were new to me. Afterward I realized how fun it would be to actually spend a weekend touring Portland as if I didn’t know anything about it, as if I were visiting it for the first time.

With record gas prices and soaring airfares, a hometown vacation is a great option for frugal folks. Last fall, Mrs. Micah noted that hometown tourism can save money and sanity because:

  • You can save big on hotel rooms by not having any.
  • You can pack meals from home.
  • You save gas and other travel expenses.
  • You stay in your comfort zone.
  • You can use your knowledge of the area to pick cheap attractions.

But you don’t have to pinch pennies if you don’t want to. You’ll still save money even if you stay in a nice hotel, dine in fancy restaurants, see a show, and take a couple of tours. Because you have no travel costs, and because you’re familiar with the area, your vacation dollars go further in your own city.

Of course there are many options between frugality and luxury. Regardless how much you to choose to spend, here are some tips for enjoying a vacation close to home:

  • Set a budget. Just as you’d use a normal vacation budget, set one for your stay-at-home getaway. Whether you opt to take the frugal approach or allow yourself to splurge as if you were traveling out of town, create a spending plan and stick to it.
  • Grab a guidebook. Tourist guides contain great info about cheap eats, cool spots, and local history. You’ll find guidebooks at local book stores. Or if you’re a member of AAA, pick one up at the local office. (Better yet, borrow one from the public library!)
  • Book a tour. I used to dismiss guided tours as worthless, but now I think they’re kind of fun. They can be a great way to get to know a city. Book a walking tour or bicycle tour of your town, and get ready to learn local history and trivia.
  • Be adventurous. Try things you wouldn’t normally do. When Kris and I went to Alaska a few years ago, we took a kayak trip. We never do stuff like that. If we were to vacation in Portland, maybe we could go white-water rafting. Make your hometown more exciting by trying new things.
  • Chat it up. Talk with the actual tourists. Ask them what they like about the city. Get recommendations for cheap or fun spots to visit. Answer their questions. Talking with tourists is a great way to see your surroundings with new eyes.
  • Be unreachable. Pretend you’re vacationing out of town, even if you’re still in your own home. Ignore the phone. Don’t check e-mail. Forget the kids’ soccer games. A vacation is a time to relax, to forget the cares of the workaday world. This is true whether you’re on a Caribbean cruise or simply walking down Main Street.
  • Swap houses. Have some like-minded friends? Swap houses for a week (or a weekend). This cheap change of scenery can make you feel like you’re in a completely different city. It may also give you insight into new neighborhoods you haven’t explored.
  • Think outside the box. After living in the Portland area for forty years, I tend to have favorite routes, places, and things to do — this sort of vacation is an opportunity to explore! Ask your friends where they take out-of-town visitors. Use the events guide in your local paper to research activities. Keep a list of things you’d like to see and do.

Though this idea is novel to me, surely many people have taken hometown vacations in the past. I’d love to hear your impressions. Does it really save money? Was it a good way to learn about your city? What did you do to make the experience even more fun?

Photo by blmurch.