5 ideas for a productive staycation

According to a recent blog by the Wall Street Journal, Americans leave $52.4 billion on the table each year in unused paid time off (not including sick or personal leave). This lowers employee productivity and can lead to burnout and retention issues. It is also quite expensive for companies themselves, since the time and money associated with PTO are liabilities on their balance sheets.

Sometimes, though, it is just not feasible to get away, even if you follow these tips to save money on a family vacation. However, even if you're not able to get away to an exotic (to you) locale, that doesn't mean you should let your vacation days go to waste. Here are some ideas for a fun and productive staycation.

1. Complete a Home-Based Project You've Been Putting Off

Is there a project you've been hoping to complete that's too big to accomplish in a weekend? It may just be the perfect candidate for a staycation! Ideally, you want to take enough time off to finish what you have in mind — with a day or two left to relax and admire your creation, whatever it is.

Just be sure that your plan isn't too ambitious to accomplish in the time allotted, and that you have accounted for any other external factors. No one wants to start a project only to have to head back to work with it half completed.

And depending on what you're trying to do, the time of year can be a factor. For example, with highs above 110 degrees where I live, summer is probably the wrong time to be working outside. Plus, if I planted a garden now, everything would burn and die anyway. So the best staycation project for my locale would be something that is done inside. Yours might be different.

2. Play Tourist in Your Own Town

No matter where you live, it's likely that people from elsewhere come to your region or town on purpose! It's called tourism. So why should you fly or drive long distances when there is plenty to do right nearby? Here's a list of things that you can probably find where you live:

  • Museums (historical, art, natural history)
  • National, state, or local parks
  • Botanical gardens and zoos
  • Sporting events
  • Theater, ballet, symphony
  • Concerts
  • Outdoor activities (hiking, swimming, skiing)

Admittedly, these options are not necessarily frugal. But being a tourist in your hometown has its advantages. The two main reasons that traveling is so expensive are:

  • The travel itself, and
  • Dining out, since you don't have access to your kitchen

Since by definition you already live in your state or town, you won't incur those expenses on your staycation. So you can be slightly splurge-y with the other stuff! Plus, lots of places offer discounts to locals, particularly during the off season.

3. Volunteer

Okay, volunteering can actually be hard work instead of relaxation. However, there's a lot of satisfaction to be had in taking your paid time off to pay it forward.

If you're like me, once your full-time job and other obligations are taken care of, there's not as much time as you'd like to volunteer in addition. This is especially the case if your chosen cause operates out of a location across town.

But if you are on a staycation, you can spend two or three entire days giving back to your community and still have plenty of time for some R&R. If this sounds appealing to you, consider giving your charity of choice a heads-up so they can maximize your presence.

Additionally, lots of charities hold events throughout the year, like a week-long adopt-a-thon at an animal shelter. When you're planning your time off, ask whether there's a labor-intensive event coming up where they could use some extra hands. That way you can plan your time off around it.

4. Purge and Thrift

The Goodwill in my city most likely to carry designer clothing is 40 minutes from my house. The best used bookstore is 30 minutes from my house … in the opposite direction. During the course of my regular life, it can be tough to squeeze in a visit to either of those places, let alone both of them. And in the meantime, my bookshelves are filled with books I've already read and my closet is stuffed with clothes that no longer fit or that I'm sick of wearing.

The solution here is a purge-and-thrift staycation. The bonus is that you can start a donation pile in your spare time so it's ready to go when you are! Then all you need to do is load up the car and drop off your donations before spending as much time as you want putting your thrift-store ethic to work combing the shelves for good deals.

And if you've got some items to donate that exceed your car's capacity, then you can schedule a home pick-up. Lots of thrift stores managed by charities will come to your house, load up whatever you've got, and be on their merry way without you ever having to lift a finger. Lots of times it's easier for them to schedule pick-ups during the week, which gives you the opportunity to get a tax write-off, help others, and catch up on trashy reality TV simultaneously.

5. Learn a New Skill

Finally, vacationing in your home is the perfect way to pick up a new skill, particularly one that you hope to incorporate into your everyday life. Whether you're interested in something like learning how to cook, playing a musical instrument, or sewing your own clothes, a week is long enough to pick up the basics and gain some confidence.

Once you've got a foundation in place to draw on, practicing or taking on smaller projects on nights and weekends becomes something to look forward to rather than something to feel intimidated about. Just be careful you don't buy a bunch of expensive equipment for a hobby that you're not sure you're going to enjoy. Use what you have, or pick your hobbies strategically and save!

There's time to invest in specialized tools once you're more experienced. At that point you'll have the added advantages of knowing exactly what you want and being able to save up for those things over time. And if you're already an expert, maybe the new skill you learn could be launching a side gig based on your know-how!

Do you enjoy a good staycation? What do you do when you've got time off but not the money or urge to travel? Share your experiences or ideas in the comments below!

More about...Travel, Frugality

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Nicola
Nicola
4 years ago

There are so many places near us that we’ve never visited purely because we live in the same place. Me and my husband have made a promise that we’ll visit places closer to home when we have some time off together 🙂

Jon
Jon
4 years ago

When I was working for a corporation, my boss and I couldn’t believe when other co-workers didn’t take their PTO. We always joked that if we could, we would buy their PTO and use it ourselves!

In all seriousness though, it is so important to get away from work. You don’t even have to go anywhere as Honey as pointed out. Heck, you don’t even have to do anything! Just get away from work and allow your body and mind to rest from working all of the time.

Jeff
Jeff
4 years ago
Reply to  Jon

My PTO rolls over into the next year, for it to become “use it or lose it” I’d have to accumulate over 240 hours worth, which would take me a while to build up. While we do have some people who never seem to use it some are deliberately saving enough to take a month or two off rather than just a couple weeks.

lmoot
lmoot
4 years ago

If you do this, also look into getting an annual pass. Alot of places (especially zoos and aquariums) have nation-wide reciprocity where you can get half off at other institutions. Also hiking and trailing is free, or only a few bucks for access. A GREAT way to get to know your local area.

Sometimes I like to drive through or walk through beautiful historic or unique neighborhoods…places I didn’t even know existed. I also take note of houses tht are for sale 🙂

Carla
Carla
4 years ago

I’ve always crinkled my nose up at the thought of a staycation though I haven’t had an actual vacation in almost a decade so I guess a little something is better than nothing. I guess my resistance to was the fear of “wasting time” doing the same things such as cooking and cleaning at home, things I do anyway. At the same time, I know my husband can you some time off. He hasn’t had any more than a holiday off in years and when he left his last company, they somehow “misplaced” his three years worth of PTO he… Read more »

Another Beth
Another Beth
4 years ago
Reply to  Carla

I like this list. I would only add that you could take the personal day to indulge in a favorite activity, guilt-free. You could binge-watch a new show, play a marathon session of a favorite video game, or read, read, and then read some more.

I’ve found that if I plan a working staycation (tackling chores, etc.), I can make it kind of fun by eating dinner at a new restaurant or splurging for breakfast.

Kyle
Kyle
4 years ago

I’ve been trying to do all of these things with my free time not just vacation time. But play tourist and volunteer have taken a back seat for now. I think frequenting all of the above suggestions leads to a good balanced life.

Jen from Boston
Jen from Boston
4 years ago

Several years ago I did a “proper” staycation. By “proper” I mean that I intentionally decided to play tourist where I live as opposed to just hanging out at home because I had to take vacation and I hadn’t made any plans to travel anywhere. (Use or lose it vacation policy at work.) It was great! I went to the art museum and aquarium. I hadn’t been to the aquarium since my teens!! I also walked along the Rose Kennedy Greenway, which back then was a brand new string of parks where the old I-93 overpass used to be. And… Read more »

Laura
Laura
4 years ago

One should check to see if their local libraries provide museum passes to borrow. They do here in Boston, and it’s a great way to go to local museums for free or greatly reduced cost. Although we opted for a Museum of Science pass (the cheapest one that allows 2 people in) since it pays for itself with two visits per year, I usually get passes from the library for the Aquarium etc. Also check to see if your employer offers anything – my employer provides Museum of Fine Art passes for 2 and I’ve used it before to get… Read more »

Mal
Mal
4 years ago
Reply to  Laura

Another vote for check your library for museum passes! Mine does it for some great museums around here. Also, many museums have free entry days so also look for that.

Jen from Boston
Jen from Boston
4 years ago
Reply to  Laura

In addition to check the local library for museum passes folks should check if they have any hidden perks through their employer, credit union, bank, etc. My employee ID gets me in for free at the Museum of Fine Arts, and I think Bank of America customers can get into many museums nationwide with their ATM card. Also, AAA would entitle you discounts.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
4 years ago

My partner was being bugged by the bean counters because so much PTO was piling up. He took a week off in May and spent it finishing the greenhouse he was building and getting raised beds ready to go. Can’t plant until Memorial Day here, but we did cheat and put some tomato and cucumber plants in the greenhouse. It was staying warm enough at night not to freeze them out. Now we’re eating cukes and impatiently glaring at the tomatoes, willing them to ripen faster. (The greenhouse has no heat source other than the sun, and it cools off… Read more »

Ashley
Ashley
4 years ago

I’ve lived in Southern California my whole life and I still haven’t explored about 75% of it (maybe more). So, an ideal staycation for me would definitely be to explore my home town!

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