Cheap vacation: Be a tourist in your own hometown

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.

More about...Frugality, Travel

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Mrs. Micah
Mrs. Micah
12 years ago

Thanks for mentioning it JD. You’re completely right about not having to pinch pennies, given all the other savings. In DC, we’re fortunate enough to have a lot of free (and interesting) attractions, which is a bonus. 🙂 I’d also recommend taking a tour bus around the city as well, it’s a great way to get ideas.

Remember
Remember
12 years ago

I live in Omaha, so right now is a GREAT time to enjoy a hometown vacation for an evening at the Rosenblatt! It feels sort of like a road trip with all the traffic, but you can’t beat the atmosphere of thousands of baseball fans cheering on college kids. You’re right! We should chat it up with some tourists and find some additional hot spots! 🙂

Mike
Mike
12 years ago

Drank beer for the first time?!?!?!

No wonder you are able to save so much $$$!

Adam
Adam
12 years ago

I agree and am glad you posted about this. My family always gets on me for rarely leaving town and telling me I need to take vacations more often. This may be true, but then again I’m not the one having to decide which bills to pay this month and which can wait until next month. I’ve always thought that the things we idealize in our minds about ‘other’ places, can be found right in our own backyards if only we look for them.

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

To be clear on the beer thing: I’d had a few sips in college, but hated it. I’ve avoided beer ever since. During our tour of the brewery, they offered three samples: a bitter hoppy beer, a bland yeasty beer, and an in-between beer. I figured what the hell. I just forgot how much I hated the stuff and gave it a try. Turns out it’s sort of like drinking bread…. I’m not going to turn into a beer aficionado anytime soon, but I may shock some of my friends in the near future by actually having a beer with… Read more »

Eric
Eric
12 years ago

Unfortunately, I see this comment thread being hijacked with comments about your first beer. I’ll gladly oblige 🙂

What did you think? Besides “like drinking bread”? I think beer is definitely an acquired taste. But once you acquire it, the taste possibilities are boundless and so much fun to explore. Once you feel up to it, next time you’re out eating at a nice place, ask the waiter for beer recommendations to compliment your meal.

seawallrunner
seawallrunner
12 years ago

I may shock some of my friends in the near future by actually having a beer with them instead of a glass of wine. so essentially, you are a Get Beer Slowly kinda guy 😉 I love your post about being a tourist in my own town. Some months ago, on a dreary Vancouver weekend, I went to a high-end mall in Richmond – a neighborhood near our airport that is primarily Chinese. All the stores had (only) Chinese signage, even the BMW in the centre of the mall had leaflets in Chinese nearby. I was looking at latest fashions… Read more »

guinness416
guinness416
12 years ago

I’ve had family in town the last couple of weeks and have done lots of local sights and sounds which has definitely been good fun and very relaxing. The tourist guide advice is definitely great – paging through a guide to even a city you’re quite familiar with gives you plenty of “I didn’t know that was there!” moments. I also agree about the walking tours – some are tourist schlock, but here in Toronto, for example, Toronto Heritage gives some great free walks. You can also type [neighbourhood] + walking tour into google and get some suggested walks and… Read more »

L
L
12 years ago

Like Guinness I do the touristy thing when relatives come to visit and like to make use of local festivals for entertainment.
This year I am spending a week staying at my friend’s parent’s house (about 20 mins away) to dog and cat sit- I’m excited I get to live in a house with a garden, a tv, pets and a large kitchen for a week, and get paid for it!

Kate
Kate
12 years ago

When I first started hearing about the “staycation” trend, my thought was “Not for me!” I’m far more willing to cut back on just about everything else in life, but I love experiences — during the weekends, I like to see attractions in my area, and when I am able to, I like to really “travel” on vacation. Most of my traveling has been seeing relatives, which is relatively frugal aside from transportation, but when I can, I like to travel just to see new places and experience new things. On top of that, as a mom with a husband… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

Eric hijacked the thread by asking: What did you think? Besides “like drinking bread”?

Well, it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. I’ve always joked that drinking beer is like drinking urine. Obviously, I was wrong. Plus, I figure if I can be a fan of peaty Scotch, then surely I can learn to appreciate beer…

Chad @ Sentient Money
Chad @ Sentient Money
12 years ago

Good points except for the:

“You stay in your comfort zone.”

We stay in our comfort zone too much. It kills our social circle and growth prospects.

Oh…and you haven’t had sip of beer since college? There are some good micro-brews out there and they taste vastly different from each other and the mainstream swill. Try a few more and maybe you will stumble on one you like.

KC
KC
12 years ago

Something people don’t think about is going to a minor league baseball game. Got to Milb.com and find one near you. Most teams provide lots of entertainment both on and off the field. And the great thing is the players are very approachable. Take a pen and a baseball and get a few autographs. Talk to the player – ask them how their season is going or how much they like the city they are playing in. Generally tickets are pretty cheap (buy the cheapest and sit anywhere you want at most stadiums). Food can be a bit expensive, but… Read more »

Kyle
Kyle
12 years ago

Ahh! You live in a beer-drinker’s paradise and don’t drink it!

No Debt Plan
No Debt Plan
12 years ago

Most impressed by the beer statement, and good for you (both for finally trying it, and for waiting this long).

For me, beer is about quality over quantity.

gousalya
gousalya
12 years ago

This type of vacation would not work for me. For me a vacation is away from home, away from cooking and cleaning. I need a total change. Then I would consider it a vacation…otherwise being in the same place and visiting places in the same area would be like it is a weekend.

Mary
Mary
12 years ago

Yeah, I think one’s definition of vacation may dictate how this would work. As a family, we do this all the timeduring the warmer months. I don’t view them as vacations, but more as a way to teach and expand my kids horizons. I usually plan something every other weekend. Most of the activities are low cost or free and within an hour of our front door. But it’s not an away from the daily grind type trip that I see a vacation representing for me. While I don’t need to go far.. I need to be out of my… Read more »

elena
elena
12 years ago

My husband runs races during the summer around the state and we plan daytrips around those using state travel guides and for inspiration. Connecticut has a lot of fun hot dog stands with great names like “Swanky Franks”, “Super Dog” and “Super Duper Weenie” that we visit along with other unique place and keep a photo album for bragging rights. I try to keep a list on the fridge of local things or places we’ve been meaning to visit. Free weekly alternative papers do a great yearly “Best of” edition that I keep. CT also has great hiking guides which… Read more »

lulugal11
lulugal11
12 years ago

Hey JD. Are you aware that there is a site that is publishing your full articles? It is called MoneyTP. I won’t put the link here….but I found it as in incoming link in my dashboard to some of my posts and then I saw this post and a couple of others. Just letting you know, because they have adsense on it. Check your incoming links and you will see what I am talking about. They also have posts from other PF Blogs.

minnemom
minnemom
12 years ago

My husband’s schedule doesn’t allow much real vacation time during the summer, so the kids and I visit a lot of local sites–both the popular ones and little-known ones. There’s so much to see and do right in our own backyard.

Another advantage of a staycation for families (if you don’t stay in a hotel or swap homes) is that kids usually sleep much better in their own beds.

kick_push
kick_push
12 years ago

this is a great idea jd..

i live 30 minutes away from san francisco.. and sometimes i forget that i live near one of the greatest cities in the world

i think i’ll go exploring this weekend =)

Shanel Yang
Shanel Yang
12 years ago

For years I actually preferred “vacationing” in my own home. Just not having to go to the office for a week was a very big deal. I loved my local restaurants, shopping malls, and movie theaters more than any I’d ever found while traveling with my parents when I was younger. But, then, a few years ago, I finally went to Europe! Now, the idea of staying at home (even though I live in L.A., which is has been a popular vacation spot for most of the world for a long time) has really lost its sparkle!

Kristen
Kristen
12 years ago

JD – I have the perfect event for you to attend. Do a search on the Tour de Fat – it will be in Portland in August. Go see March Fourth Marching band – they’re so much fun and will be performing. The event is free (though there’s a suggested donation). Oh – it’s also all about bikes and beer, so ride your bike there. Fun event, great entertainment. Disclaimers: I didn’t learn to like beer ’till my mid-20’s, now love it. Also – I have relatives in the band. But they’re still awesome! I catch every show I can.

patricia
patricia
12 years ago

Don’t forget, most public libraries have free or low cost passes to local museums, zoos, etc. That might be a good place to start planning.

Kevin
Kevin
12 years ago

Since I love beer and brew my own I have to say, try more beer! As I am sure you started to learn at the brewery there are multiple styles of beer. Trying just the American lager style and nothing else is like trying an Ice wine and saying you dislike wine. My wife loves a fruity wheat beer, I love a malty American IPA, and in the winter nothing tastes quite so good as a double chocolate stout. There is bound to be a style you like. Maybe even a nice Belgian style ale which tend to be a… Read more »

Beth
Beth
12 years ago

I like the idea of taking lots of pictures during a staycation. That would make it seem much more like time spent away from the mundane.

Rebecca
Rebecca
12 years ago

While I wouldn’t take a full week-long vacation in my home-city, I make it a point to do “tourist days” on a regular basis. It’s an important aspect of finding joy in my frugality. When I lived in Boston, I did “random T-Stop Days” where I took the subway somewhere I’d never been and just walked and explored (avoiding the “bad” parts of town, but willing to explore the more “marginal/possibly gentrifying”). Now that I’m in LA, I do walking tours (LA Conservancy, self-guided), neighborhood festivals, local tourist spots (bring your camera!), and scour newspaper websites, local guide blogs (flavorpill,… Read more »

Writer's Coin
Writer's Coin
12 years ago

I’m with you Beth! Go out and take pictures for a few hours and you’ll explore new parts of the city/hometown and maybe look at everyday things a little bit differently.

TopazTook
TopazTook
12 years ago

Actually, according to the book, A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage, drinking beer is *exactly* like drinking bread. The earliest versions of both were from the same “recipe.”

As for vacationing at home…we do “activities” in our town, but it’s kind of hard to do the tours and stuff with a toddler, when you’re still planning around naptime. Something to keep in mind for future years, though.

kdub
kdub
12 years ago

This is a very timely post. I got an email yesterday from a friend in Arizona who is coming here (NYC) for a vacation next month and since I have time off that week she wants me to show them the city. Now I have to think about things I want to show them that aren’t the usual touristy stuff like Times Square, Empire State Building, etc. I’ll get to take a little vacation in my own city.

TosaJen
TosaJen
12 years ago

With the kids (4 & 6), we try to have “adventures” near home on a regular basis. Even if DH and I are rather jaded because of our worldly travels, the kids aren’t yet. I went with them for a “hike in the woods” in an urban park on a river that had been flooded a few weeks ago. They pointed out the little fish, a beach, broken trees, recovering grasslands, rocks, walked on a “cliff”, and a whole bunch of things I wouldn’t have noticed or seen that way on my own. And it’s a lot easier to take… Read more »

Rachel
Rachel
12 years ago

As much as I would love to say having a vacation in your hometown is great it just isn’t the same. There is something about going in a plane, train, or automobile to a new location that makes it feel like a true vacation. I have found many cool things to do in my city and it really can be a good time. But if I want a vacation I want a vacation. Somethings are worth saving for!

Erica
Erica
12 years ago

I live in NYC and have taken several staycations. I love my town!

Matt Hubbard
Matt Hubbard
12 years ago

Oh brother…

Vacationing in my home city? Um, that’s what we call weekend plans.

Agreed: There’s more to your hometown than dinner at the Chili’s and a movie at the googleplex. But if you have to call it a vacation, you have other issues.

Mary Sue
Mary Sue
12 years ago

Hold on a minute, I’m trying to get my head around how you live in PDX without ever drinking beer… Does not compute.

I’m planning a weekend getaway myself in September to the far-off distant land of Forest Grove. I’m spending Sunday night (cheaper hotel rates) and taking Monday off. The money I would have spent on plane/train tickets I’m spending on an all-day spa splurge.

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

I can understand not wanting to call it a “vacation”, but I think there’s a lot to appreciate about taking a few days to get to know your city better. I like the fact that the “staycation” (great term) can be as frugal as you’d like, or as expensive as you’d like. I’ve never had a chance to stay in Portland’s nice hotels. It’d be fun to spend a couple days doing so, and just being a tourist.

Not for everyone, but maybe for me. 🙂

Kendyl Bradford
Kendyl Bradford
12 years ago

Wow this post was definately an eye opener it made me think about all the places in my town that I have never explored. I am a very frugal person and I would love to save money and still have a great and wonderful experience. Also, to get people interested in vacationing in their own home towns you could come up with an attention grabbing headline by using a tool called glyphius! This tool allows you to create unique headlines while imporving your security score! Now go ahead and convince your family that a staycation can be tons of fun… Read more »

Dave N
Dave N
12 years ago

Here’s a great way to set up the home exchance vacation! (As seen in the movie “The Holiday”)

http://www.homeexchange.com/

guinness416
guinness416
12 years ago

I don’t get it, what’s wrong with calling it a vacation? Not-a-weekend time off work to relax is vacation in my mind, wherever I spend it. That’s the problem with the stingy vacation allowances given in North America, people feel the need to pack in all sorts of excitement during their time off, and think if they’re not jetting off somewhere it doesn’t count.

allen
allen
12 years ago

I really like that idea. A nice way to get to know the area you are living in, too! Great idea for people who have just moved, or have decided to call a place a home. I’ll have to look into it. 😀

secondly: Good beers take time to appreciate. Try a variety, and be prepared to dislike alot of them.

Funny about Money
Funny about Money
12 years ago

Portland is a mighty fine place to vacation, at home or not. I also live in an area where people pay to spend their time off. Having already seen most of the world, I’d just as soon vacation in my resort, which has a pool, gardens, and all the ambience I desire…and I don’t have to pay extra to stay here. Last winter I took off two weeks, told everyone at the office that I would not answer e-mails and would not be available to fix whatever wacky new crisis came up, and hugely enjoyed my own backyard and home.… Read more »

CC
CC
12 years ago

I am not joking here. Please tell me where you went. I’m on summer break now and would love to “tour” the town.

VinTek
VinTek
12 years ago

You get a backstage view of the Pearl Bakery (croissant, baguette, chocolate muffin, and a brioche-like bread studded with anise and candied orange peel), Flying Elephant Deli(tomato soup made with fresh orange juice), Bridgeport Brewing Co.(we tried 3 different brews here), Via Delizia (gelato, sorbetto, and ice cream, as well as Illy coffee and some tiny melt-in-your-mouth chocolate truffles), Hot Lips Pizza (seasonal pizza with broccoli, cheddar, and hazelnuts, and a fresh apple soda to wash it down), and In Good Taste (we sampled a local Pinot Noir and a few different mustards).

http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g52024-d663253-r11902760-Portland_Walking_Tours-Portland_Oregon.html

shoyu
shoyu
12 years ago

Ah, the staycation. Those are popular this year. It’s a good thing I live in Florida. I only have to sit in my backyard for a few hours to enjoy an extreme staycation. After that, I drive to work.

Jeffeb3
Jeffeb3
12 years ago

I love Portland. what bakery was it? voo doo doughnuts? and was the brewery one of the mcmenamin ones? If you liked it, you should stay at the Edgfield. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s very eclectic.

Anca
Anca
12 years ago

This article has great timing for me. I couldn’t decide where we should go July 4th weekend (and after planning a 2-week European vacation recently, I had no desire to plan more vacations), but now we’ll probably go to a large picnic that Friday and stay in town, so I’m excited to plan easy touristy outings to prevent it just being another normal weekend. And I’ll finally have a reason to read the Seattle books I bought when I moved here.

Steven
Steven
12 years ago

I just moved to Chicago three years ago and now I know what Frank Sinatra meant by “my kinda town”. I live one block from Lincoln Park and two blocks from Lake Michigan. Even though I am a senior, and public transportation is free for seniors, I walk everywhere – even the 18 blocks to Wrigley Field. Boredom is not in my vocabulary. When I moved here, I picked up a book called, Free Chicago. I’m still on chapter one.

Alan Cordle
Alan Cordle
12 years ago

K. and I are going to the Organic Brewfest next weekend and would love it if you and Kris would join us: http://www.naobf.org/

Sara
Sara
12 years ago

We like to do this on three-day weekends. We each take just two days off, but we get nearly a whole week to enjoy the Boise area. We’ll eat out a few times, catch a game (minor league ball, arena football, BSU games), watch a movie, and explore. It’s not for everyone, but I also like to come up with a signature cocktail for the week. It gives each at-home vacation its own flavor. The Pacific Northwest is awesome for hometown vacations!

Shirley
Shirley
12 years ago

Another idea when staying home is to plan a little in-home summer camp for your kids. Inexpensive and fun for all. Flylady (www.flylady.net) has many ideas. An example of specific ideas are at http://www.flylady.net/pages/campgonnawannafly.asp. Doing something out of the ordinary even from home home base can be fun for all.

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