Fun ideas for affordable family staycations

A family riding bikes on a trail.

Family vacations can make for great memories…or the stuff of nightmares. That’s why, with so much in the news about skyrocketing transportation prices, endless security lines, canceled flights and lost luggage, many families are considering scaling back their vacation plans for something less stressful.

Enter the staycation. Wikipedia defines it as “a period in which an individual or family stays home and participates in leisure activities within day trip distance.” According to AAA, a staycation “offers many of the same mental and physical benefits as a traditional vacation, but with less stress and a lower price tag.”

If less stress and a lower price tag sound good, we have some ideas for fun and affordable things you can do to make your staycation a memorable one for your family.

Ideas for a fun staycation

Here are a few suggestions for staycation activities. If certain things aren’t available in or near your town, they may spark some ideas that you can adjust for your area.

  • Be a weekday tourist. Are there places you haven’t visited because they’re too crowded on weekends? Mini-golf, a popular museum exhibit, that new superhero movie—this is your chance! (Also: Weekday prices can be lower.)   

  • Take in a concert or festival. Check your county and community websites for low-cost or free local festivals and concerts. Don’t forget to check nearby universities and museums to see what else is available.

  • Visit the park. Fly a kite, toss a frisbee, people-watch, walk the trails, play on the swings and slides, or just lie on a blanket and find shapes in the clouds. And while you’re there…

  • Have a picnic. Don’t worry about creating an Instagram-worthy spread; even peanut butter and jelly sandwiches taste better outdoors on a beautiful day. All you need is a blanket, some utensils and a cooler filled with treats and drinks.

  • Create a tasting tour. From a new type of ethnic cuisine to the best local ice cream, search online or ask friends for recommendations on the best places to eat in your city or in nearby towns.

  • Plan a game or movie day at home. Stock up on snacks and get the video or board games ready for a super gaming extravaganza. Or, if your family is more into movies, rent or stream your favorites for an all-day marathon.

  • Camp out in the backyard. Set up a tent, get out the sleeping bags and spend a night outdoors. Grill dinner, roast marshmallows and tell scary stories by firelight. Bonus: The bathroom’s only a few steps away and the shower’s clean.

  • Take a hike or a bike. Find new hiking or biking trails to explore, and spend some quality time in nature. Don’t forget the safety gear (i.e., helmets, mosquito and tick repellent), water bottles and transportable snacks.

  • Hold a Staycation Olympics. Tug of war, hula-hooping, egg and spoon race, watermelon eating, three-legged race or water balloon toss are just a few of the sports you can play at this Olympiad. For more together time, create fun medals and ribbons beforehand to hand out at the event.

  • Enjoy a “no plans” day. Have someone pick the first activity of the day at breakfast, then let the next person choose the next activity when the first one is done...and so on for the rest of the day and evening. Just see where the day takes you! 

Hints for a successful staycation

Whether you take a long weekend or a full week, with a bit of advance planning, your staycation can be every bit as memorable as a “regular” vacation trip. (Not to mention a whole lot more relaxing.)

Create a plan—Make a list of everyone’s suggestions, then create a plan that gives everyone something to enjoy. And don’t forget to include some time for relaxation.

Set your budget—Allow for admission, rental fees, meals and gas costs. There are plenty of free or low-cost places to have fun, (i.e., local parks or community events), and also check out sites like Groupon and Living Social to find coupons and deals for local activities and dining.

Take a vacation from housework—Straighten up the house before staycation starts…and don’t worry about it again until it’s over. If you’d rather not eat out every day, make a few meals ahead of time and freeze them for easy heat and serve, make simple meals (i.e., sandwiches), or just graze for dinner.

Unplug—This is your time to enjoy fun experiences together. Don’t check work emails or handle work tasks while you’re off. When you’re out, consider taking a single phone in case of emergency and leave the rest of the family phones at home.

Include downtime—Don’t exhaust yourselves with a constant, “Go, go, go!” mindset. That can tend to make the most cheerful of us cranky. Sleep in a couple of mornings or spend an afternoon or an evening relaxing in the backyard.

We hope we’ve inspired you to consider your own staycation this year—and that you have a wonderful time. Don’t forget to take lots of photos for the family scrapbook!