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How Do You Plan a Staycation? (Plus 27 Great Staycation Ideas!)

How do you plan a staycation? I'll show you loads of cheap staycation ideas (including ones for winter staycations, too!).

Woman looking out over ocean, thinking about best staycation ideas to plan a staycation

How do you take all the awesome staycation ideas I’m about to give you and make a plan for your staycation?

Let me share with you what you need to do leading up to your staycation to make it feel like a real getaway, plus how to plan your staycation ahead of time to get the most from it.

What is a Staycation Holiday?

“Staycations” made their official debut in dictionaries right at the height of the last recession (2009-2010).

Which is exciting because even though staycations became popular as a result of the Great Recession, they continue to be an awesome money-saving tool in your toolkit.

A staycation holiday or just a staycation is when you stay with you (the “stay” part), and do things you would normally do on vacation or on holiday, but locally.

You still take the time off from work, but instead of going somewhere, you spend time in your local town/area like a tourist.

So…why exactly would you want to go on a staycation? Here are a few benefits:

  • To save money (psst: you might want to check out my best frugal living tips)
  • Because you can’t get enough vacation days to justify buying airfare somewhere but still need to take your vacation days or you’ll go nuts/lose them
  • To go deeper with your surroundings, not wider
  • Because the kids can’t take off that much from school, or can’t do so around the time when you can take days off
  • Because you want to

Good enough for you? Let’s take a look at what exactly people DO on staycations (and better yet, what YOU can do on yours!).

What Do You Do on a Staycation?

Before we dive into what you do on a staycation, I want to make sure you understand that it’s not necessarily about WHAT you choose to do, just that you choose experiences that will make it feel like a vacation.

In order to make your staycation feel like a vacation (despite not leaving home), you need to pick experiences that:

  • Take you out of your daily routine.
  • You’ve never done before. OR
  • You’ve done before, but briefly, and you’d like to dive into it deeper.
  • Help you experience your familiar surroundings in new ways (so that you feel like you’re exploring).

How Do You Plan a Staycation?

Now that you know what a staycation IS, and the elements that it needs to have, how do you actually plan a fabulous staycation?

Step #1: Pick a Theme

You can pick a theme for each day of your staycation, or a theme for each entire staycation that you take. Themes can depend on what time of year it is in your local area (don’t worry – I’ve got winter staycation ideas, summer staycation ideas, fall staycation ideas…and spring ones as well!), local events/festivals, your own needs, and wants, etc.

Theme examples:

  • Romantic Getaway
  • Adventure Expedition
  • Oasis Escape
  • Voluntourism (volunteer tourism)
  • Quality Family Time
  • Kidventure
  • Hygge Inspired
  • Taste of International
  • Personal Project

Psst: here are 11 family winter staycation ideas.

Step #2: Setup Your Environment

One of the problems with staycations is that you are home, where there are chores to do kids to tend to, and any number of undone projects leaving your mind spinning.

You may not be leaving home, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make your home feel a bit more like a hotel.

How can you do this?

The week leading up to your staycation, get ready as if you were leaving for a week-long (weekend-long, or however long yours is for) vacation.

This means:

  • Clean your Home: No one likes to come home to a dirty house, and since you’ll actually BE in the house this time, you’ll want it to look spic’n’span. This also includes giving your car a scrub-down! Make it look like a rental (or, as best as you can).
  • Get to Zero-Clutter Surfaces: One of the escapes we all get from going on vacation to a hotel or AirBnB is the cleaned-off surfaces. You can have this at home, as well. Put everything away on your bedside tables, your countertops in the kitchen, the dining room table, and any other surface you’ll be looking at for the next week or so. Trust me, this will feel GREAT!
  • Take Care of Details: What logistics need to be handled before you can “leave” for your trip – so that you don’t have to worry about these things when you’re on your staycation? Think about bills that need to be paid ahead of time, errands to run, etc. You want to clear the field of all home-life distractions (or as many as you can) before your staycation starts.
  • Fix A Few Annoyances: Since you’ll be in your home if you can swing it, fix a few daily annoyances you’ve let slide into your home life. For example, the sliding pocket door to our laundry room came off its hinge. I use this several times a day, and if I were going on a staycation, I would want to have this fixed before the staycation starts (we did get it fixed, thank goodness, but it took us a whole year!). Add WD-40 to drawers that won’t slide shut/open easily, and just take care of a few annoyances to ready your “hotel” ahead of time.
  • Set Up an Out-of-Office Message: Just like if you were going on a regular vacation, don’t forget to create an “out of office” message for your email account (maybe even your voicemail!).

Set a hard deadline to get these things done by writing your staycation “leave” date into your calendar.

Step #3: Choose Your Experiences

I’ve got loads of ideas for experiences that you can choose from below. Pick them according to the theme you chose, or use the list like a smorgasbord.

Before we get into those, let me show you how to uncover your OWN staycation ideas (think: hidden gems in your area you never knew existed, at a discount!):

Uncovering Cheap Ideas for Staycation in Your Area

I want to help you with the tools you need to uncover cheap staycation ideas, whether for this year or for next year.

Use these tools:

Tool #1: EventBrite.com

Did you know tons of people create listings for FREE events on EventBrite.com? I started noticing this a year or so ago, and decided to give a search in my own city. I was so excited by what I found (I think you will be too).

screenshot of eventbrite homepage, with arrow pointing to location input field

Once you input your local area, then you'll be taken to a page of results. Click on “More Filters”.

screenshot with arrow pointing to "more filters"

Then choose “Any Price” — “Free”.

arrows pointing to "any price", and then "free"

Just look at what I uncovered for Houston in the next few weeks.

activities for houston include a fit day with dad, a food truck festival, and more

Staycation Strategy Idea: An idea for you? Why not choose one activity that will be a bit of a drive to (maybe even an overnight), and then choose very local activities for all the rest of your experiences?

Tool #2: Resident Discount Passes

I made a really cool discovery when I lived in Florida: Resident discount passes to Disney World.

And it turns out? There are resident discounts on passes to attractions all over the United States!

Search the term “resident discount + your local area, city, or state” to uncover some deals.

Tool #3: Entertainment Book or CityPASS

Most people buy an Entertainment Book or the CityPASS when they're going to be traveling somewhere else. But why not buy one for your local area or local city? You'll save a bundle (plus really start to see your own area as a tourist would).

Next up, I'm dishing on some of my favorite staycation ideas you can do any time of the year.

Fabulous Staycation Ideas for Anytime of the Year

  • Do an Ethnic Food Market Crawl: My husband and I did a version of this on our culinary trail date. Basically, you want to research all the ethnic food markets you have access to (within 1-1.5 hours from your home), and then draw out a trail on a map of how which ones you’ll visit. You can theme it by area of the world, specific country, or do a bit of around-the-world. Look up some recipes ahead of time that take special ingredients, and write a list of what you’d like to find so that you can cook it later. Bonus: pick up prepared foods you’ve never tried before, and have a smorgasbord of new tastes for the next few days at home.
  • Put together a Beer and Wine Trail: Have you ever explored your locally made beers and wines? Take a taste-tour through your area, or the city nearest to where you live. Find tastings/tours for whiskey, wine (we even found a winery tour for just $5.00 about half an hour from our home in Houston, Texas!), vodkas, etc. Do one new place a day, or if you’re brave, several in one day.
  • Witness Animal Migrations: What animal migrations occur near you each year? Here in Houston, we have the massive Monarch butterfly migration to Central Mexico that occurs each year in late summer/early fall – my husband got to see a whole bunch of them while fishing with his father-in-law out in the Gulf several years ago. We also have a daily outpouring of hundreds of thousands of Mexican Free-Tailed bats you can go see under the Waugh bridge. Search for what’s going on in your area, and how best to witness it.
  • Go on Product Factory Tours: Make it a goal to check out all the local product factory tours that you can. You can search here for ones all around the United States.
  • Go Animal Spotting: My parents did this with us as kids – we would get a deer spotlight, and go searching for deer near our mountain cabin in the Poconos. Personally, I love to go alligator spotting now that I live in Texas! I also did a fair amount of bird-watching in college (yes…I took a birding course in college). What animal spotting can you do?
  • Put Together a Free Museum Crawl: Make a list of all the museums you’ve always wanted to visit in your area. Now, look on each of their sites to find out when/if they have free visitor’s hours (which you should *actually* be able to make if you’re taking off work!).
  • Set Up an In-home Dinner Trail: Get together with a group of other families, and each family takes one night to host dinner in their home.

What Do You Do on a Winter Staycation?

Is winter the time you’ve earmarked for your staycation? Perfect.

Choose from below:

  • Get a One-Week Pass to a Sauna: Do you have a local gym with a spa/sauna area? It’s one of the best ways to warm up and luxuriate. See if you can get a one-week pass, or a free trial to try the gym out. Go every day!
  • Get Lost in Books: Are you a voracious book reader? My husband and I are! Take a staycation where you focus all on the books. You can get lost in book stacks at rare/used bookstores, pick several books you want to dive into near the fire, and just get lost in the written word. Attend a book reading, *actually* make it to a book club.
  • Do a Family Winter Beverage Competition: This is both an indoor AND outdoor activity, so there’s room for warming up. Great way to get the kids involved PLUS learning valuable money lessons as well!
  • Make Use of Ice: Look up any ice sculptures near you, go outdoor ice skating, and create an outdoor ice scavenger hunt for the kids. Do you have access to some ice-fishing (safely)? It’s something I’ve always wanted to try doing!
  • Get Lost in Hygge: Have you ever heard of Hygge? You’ll definitely want to check it out, and maybe spend an entire week baked in it.

Fall Staycation Ideas

I’ve got specific Fall staycation ideas for you, below. Of course, you can also use/adapt any of the anytime-ideas from above, as well!

  • Do Oktoberfest-ivities: You’ll want to find an Oktoberfest celebration (probably at a bar) near you, plus add in some festivities for home, such as visiting any German-heritage shops/restaurants/museums/cultural organizations you can find, taste-testing beers imported from Germany, cook Bavarian dishes/snacks, etc. You could also throw an Oktoberfest party, with free-themed printables here. Splurge on some traditional Oktoberfest music.
  • Find Dinosaur Tracks: Do a quick search and see if you are near any dinosaur tracks. I found out there are several a few hours from us here in Texas, which is quite exciting!
  • Harvesting: Become part of the harvest this time of year – either enjoying the fruits by visiting and buying local produce or actually helping with the harvesting of it by going to pick-your-own farms.
  • Go on Foraging Hikes: You will be amazed at what you learn about the food + medicinal resources right in your own area. Search for guided forage hikes in your area, or even look for books on the subject to see what’s available to you.

How to Save Even More Money on Your Staycation

We’re all about saving money here, so I wanted to leave you with a few more tips on how to save money on your staycation (you know, beyond the airline ticket fees, hotel costs, and car rental costs you’re already saving on?).

First up, you might want to buy the Entertainment Book for your area. Not only will it point you to common tourist attractions you might pass over during your commutes, but you can use the savings for the rest of the year as well.

You can also check out the CityPass for your local city, and see if you can make good use of it for the time you’ll be on your staycation.

To save money on food (plus make things feel a bit more like you’re on vacation – a hybrid of eating out and eating at home), actually take advantage of a free-box offer from a meal delivery service for the week you decide to go on your staycation. It’ll be so fun for you to unbox your meals and slowly work on making meals (instead of the after-work and after-school rush that’s your norm!).

Traveling and moving around has been a mainstay in my life ever since I left the farm I grew up on for college. I’ve lived in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Florida, Houston (currently), London, Japan, and have traveled to many other places. I’ve never gotten to everything that I wanted to do in any of these places. So, besides saving me money, I’ve made it a mission of mine to go on a staycation in every place that I live so that I can get around to doing all the things I want to.

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Amanda L Grossman

Personal Finance Writer and CEO at Frugal Confessions, LLC
Amanda L. Grossman is a writer and Certified Financial Education Instructor, Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Frugal Confessions. Over the last 13 years, her money work has helped people with how to save money and how to manage money. She's been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, LifeHacker, Real Simple Magazine, Woman's World, Woman's Day, ABC 13 Houston, Keybank, and more. Read more here or on LinkedIn.


Tuesday 12th of February 2019

Some great ideas here. We have done several staycations but not really with "themes" I am off this Friday through Monday and am putting together a themed staycation we will both enjoy!

Amanda L Grossman

Wednesday 13th of February 2019

Ooohhh -- I'm so excited you like my staycation ideas around themes (and not only that, but you'll be using it!). I'd love to hear what you come up with.