So, let’s say you’ve got a bunch of kids, and it’s the summertime, and all around you people are posting expertly filtered photos of their family beach trip to the Cape, and you are stuck in your parched and quiet suburb, twiddling your thumbs to the tune of 1,000,000 cicadas. Let’s say your kids are little, or sick, or you have limited funds, or your partner can’t take time off from work, or you can’t take time off from work.
Let’s just say that your classic summer vacation—the one in your fantasy, complete with chic straw hat, excellent beach read, and cute-dresses-with-carefree-sandals at dinner on a dock somewhere—isn’t happening, for whatever reason.
Fear not. You are going to plan yourself one kick-ass staycation—with kids.
[Disclaimer: This is not going to feel anywhere near the same as that fantasy I describe above. That fantasy is best put to rest until your children are much, much older than they are now. Don’t torture yourself. There are plenty of years ahead where they’ll either be at sleepaway camp, or college, or off with families of their own. It is then that you will take your cruise to Antarctica or Barbados or backpack through Southeast Asia and beam photos directly into the chips we’ll all likely have implanted in our brains.]
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For now, dear readers, lets get cracking on that staycation plan. Here are 10 tips to get you started:
1. Identify a week when your kids are otherwise unscheduled. This means, do not plan your staycation for a week when they are in day camp or when you have a sitter. Pull out the staycation card when there is nothing else going on, there is no one else available to pitch in with childcare, and you have a blank slate to contend with. Let’s say, oh, those two hellish glorious! weeks between the end of day camp and the start of preschool.
2. Print out a blank calendar. Yes, we all have calendar apps on our smartphones, but printing out a hard copy calendar, even if it’s just for one or two weeks’ use, is a great way to have your kids follow along with you, as you review what will happen each day. You can fill in the boxes in advance, and then, over breakfast, as the first, “What are we going to do today?” emerges from the mouths of your babes, you can whip out your calendar, show how busy you’re going to be, and cross things off as they occur, so that you can regularly remind your children how fortunate they are to be on a staycation at all.
3. Make a quick list of the things you want to do. Sure, it’s really about what your kids want to do, but you don’t want this to be a total drag for you, either. Maybe you’d be happy sitting in a cool and quiet theater while the kids watch a college production of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Maybe you can tolerate an afternoon at a local beach. Maybe you like pancakes and early movies during the week. Perhaps you’d be up for a drive a few hours away, just to get a change of scenery. Consider your own priorities as you consider those of your kids. You’ll all be happier for it.
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4. Determine a budget. Staycations, while they don’t have the added cost of lodging, can be pricey. So decide what kind of staycation you want to take. Is it going to be a DIY staycation? Complete with art projects in the backyard and baking cookies in the afternoon? Or do you plan to spend a little bit more money and take the kids to some “attractions” or theaters or otherwise expensive events? If you figure this out ahead of time, you’ll stress less.
5. Make a promise to yourself that even though you are staying home and not going “anywhere,” you will still let your kids live like they are on vacation. That means following up an afternoon at the pool with ice cream every day during this “vacation” week even if you would normally never do that. Go out to eat—even if it’s just to the local diner. Let them watch movies; let them stay in their pajamas all morning; let them eat dinner in the backyard in their underwear. Those rules that you would normally chuck while on vacation should be chucked while on staycation, too.
6. Be intrepid. Plan a day in a nearby city, if you don’t already live there. Have your kids been on the commuter train? The subway? Take public transportation. Get some culture. Take them to a kids’ theater production, or an art museum, or the old-timey carousel in the park. Ride the ferry. Take lots of photos. Filter the hell out of them; post them on social media. (Make sure to buy a pretzel or ice pop from a street vendor, and let the kids pass out on the train ride home. Post pics.)
7. Have a few surprise goodies on hand at home. You don’t have to spend a lot. Forty-five minutes in the dollar store or Target and you’ll be set. A new backyard sprinkler, a big jar of bubbles, new paints, magic pen books, bouncy balls, ingredients for cookies, or a new puzzle will do it. Pull a different one out each day. Savor being the hero.
8. Make one day a playdate day. Call another parent in advance; schedule it all down to a tee. Meet up for breakfast, and share in the joy of shuttling your brood out to that waterpark/amusement park that’s an hour away. Take someone’s minivan so that you can drive together and talk. Get an enormous iced coffee and enjoy the ride. Time it so that all the children fall asleep on the way home.
READ: Labor Day: How to Relax Over the Long Weekend
9. Don’t be afraid to “get stuff done.” Sure, this sort of contradicts my decree in #5 that you should chuck all rules while on staycation, but this could be fun. Been waiting all spring to empty the kids’ drawers of their winter clothes? Get them in on the action. Make sure their bellies are full, pick a good station on your favorite music app, and let them dump everything out of their dressers and onto the floor in their room. Sort through what you’re going to donate, keep, put in storage, etc. Or do the same with books and toys. Then, reward yourselves with a trip to a local town pool or beach, slice of pizza, etc.
10. Maintain a rich and detailed narrative with your kids, of each and every staycation day. Review the photos you took to remind them of the fun you all had. Pull out the calendar each morning and ask them what they most loved about the previous day. Talk about your staycation until it becomes a thing of legend, one for the history books—that time when Mommy and Daddy got us ice cream every day, let us wear pajamas to the bagel store, skipped baths for days in a row, and showed us how to have some good old-fashioned fun.
Who needs a fancy beach vacation anyway?