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.

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Ideas for a cheap vacation

It's been a long time since my wife and I had the luxury of thinking in terms of vacation. When we came to America more than 30 years ago, we also discovered two things:

  1. People in America work very hard, probably harder than anywhere else in the world. Two weeks' vacation seems to be the norm here, while in Europe and the rest of the world anything less than a month is inhuman, insane, or both. (I am not convinced they're wrong, by the way.)

  2. With all our family on other continents, we needed to spend those two precious little weeks every year with them. That led to employing all manner of strategies and devices -- like accumulating as much vacation time as we could and squeaking out an advance on the coming year -- so we could spend two whole weeks with our family and another week just for travel, there and back.

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10 amazing waterfront rentals for under $1,000 per week

It's getting to be summertime, and the living should be easy. But if you've ever priced out a week-long vacation, you already know what a shocking experience it can be. Even when you're frugal, the costs that come with domestic and international travel are inescapable and really add up quickly.

Not only are you on the hook for lodging at a hotel or resort typically, but you may also have to pay for airfare, a rental car, resort fees and travel-related taxes. And if you want to have any fun or eat, your expenses won't stop there. Add in the cost of park tickets, excursions, shows, and meals and you're ponying up a great deal of cash for your relaxing getaway.

Combined, all of these costs can take a heavy toll on the average American family's pocketbook. According to a recent study from American Express, an average vacation in 2013 cost approximately $1,145 per person, or $4,580 for a family of four. That's a whole lot of money to spend for an annual trip, especially when you consider the fact that the median household income still sits at around $52,000 a year.

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Cheap luggage or expensive luggage?

It's spring! Don't you just feel like hitting the road? Well, maybe you do if you don't travel for a living.

Either way, luggage. I've had my fair share of experiences with luggage over the years. Lost luggage, broken luggage, matching luggage -- you name it. Currently, I travel with a non-descript, black roller that I can barely distinguish from anyone else's. I bought it for $49 at Target in 2008. It replaced a smaller roller that lasted two trips and cost all of $19. (No wonder, right?)

I can get away (haha) with a $49 roller because I don't travel a lot these days. If anything, it's a weekend jaunt to visit family and friends every six months or so. I expect I will have to buy something new later this year because one of the wheels is shot and it wobbles when I walk too fast.

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How to save money on family vacations

Earlier this month, my little family of four embarked on a much-needed spring getaway to the Caribbean. I'm sure that doesn't sound frugal at all, but rest assured that it was. After a year of planning and a whole lot of strategizing, we were able to book that particular trip for what amounted to a boatload of hotel loyalty points, a bunch of airline miles, and around $700.

I know that isn't cheap by any means, but it was a good deal when you consider the fact that our trip price included round-trip airfare for four, a six-night hotel stay at an all-inclusive resort, transportation, and tips. Pretty sweet.

Still, this whole travel-with-kids-on-a-budget thing is getting infinitely more difficult. We used to be able to travel anytime -- off-peak, off-season, and last-minute. But now that my oldest daughter is in school, we are stuck planning our budget travel for the school breaks that take place during spring, fall, winter, and summer. Needless to say, the school schedule sure does throw a wrench into my plans.

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Should you travel in your 20s?

When my mom was in her early 20s, she took a few months to travel abroad with a few of her college friends. I wouldn't call it an around-the-world trip since they only visited a few regions, but I would call it amazing.

So amazing, in fact, that my mom shared numerous stories of her travels with me as I was growing up. I remember those stories well. At the time, it all sounded so exotic, so mysterious. To this day, she even has the letters she sent her parents from abroad, many of which share vivid details of what it was like to travel internationally some 45 years ago. My mom grew up poor -- with seven kids in a two-bedroom household -- so you can imagine how thrilling it must have been for her to fly overseas and experience other worlds.

Fast forward 30 years and I was intent on traveling much like my mother did. But then life happened. I spent my 20s busy with school and my social life and then, all of a sudden, I wound up married with a good job, a house, and more than enough responsibility. Kids followed shortly thereafter and, consequently, the thought of travel became the furthest thing from my mind.

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Best way to redeem travel points: Why hoarding points is a bad investment

For most people, pursuing credit card rewards is a game of cat and mouse. You keep a watchful eye on your credit score, seek out the best offers, and strike when the iron is hot.

But that is just one component of the hobby; the other part of the equation is that it can be extremely exciting to watch your point balances climb. Obviously, the more credit card rewards offers you sign up for, the more sign-up bonuses you earn, and the more spending you complete over time, the more points you accumulate.

If you love to save like I do, it can be tempting to do the same with your points and miles and hoard them in the same fashion as you would your monthly paycheck. But there are a number of reasons why you shouldn't treat your airline miles and hotel points like cash in the bank. Here are a few:

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Retirement travel and frugal living

Photo of a retro RV camper

Retirement travel is in. Out is the era of spending unending retirement days on a golf course in plaid pants and interminable games of bridge with the blue-rinse set.

The new generation of retirees is looking for more adventure, with more activity … and lower costs. Few strategies deliver like the recreational vehicle (RV) retirement lifestyle. Continue reading...

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Lifestyle inflation: How to decide if it’s ever okay

Despite that I don't own it, I like my apartment. It's got a mountainous view, it's comfortable, and my neighbors are few but friendly. Sure, I'd like to own a home someday. But, unless I move to another city, that probably isn't going to happen in the next few years. I'm fine with that. Like my neighbor said, I'd rather live here than anywhere else, at least for now.

If you sense a wee bit of defensiveness in my tone, you're not imagining it. Part of me is trying to justify something.

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