Mary Hunt

Mary Hunt

This summer, a cash shortage and travel restrictions need not eliminate a family vacation. Clever and creative parents can turn time off work into an amazing vacation experience without leaving town.

The idea is to take a stay-at-home vacation, or a staycation.

Make a plan. Determine the dates of your staycation. Create a schedule and itinerary that includes activities and meals. Make a big colorful chart, and allow the kids to participate in the planning.

The point of a staycation is to make it feel as much like a real family getaway as possible, without leaving the comfort of your own home. To make sure the whole family is on the same page, it is good to establish ground rules on which everyone can agree.

Save the date. Start with deciding exactly when your staycation starts and ends. Make sure these are dates are cleared of all regular life, just as if you and the family were leaving town for a period of time.

Establish guidelines. Set a few guidelines for what your family may and may not do during this time. These could include all or some of the following:

— No mobile phone.

— No email.

— No computer or video games.

— No television.

— No working from home.

— No worrying.

— No fighting.

— No outside plans or activities or people — family only.

— No cooking.

— No cleaning.

— No laundry.

Plan for fun! Just like a traditional vacation, the more you plan for fun, the more successful your staycation will be.

Find the cash. Start by setting a reasonable, realistic budget for your week of fun at home. Set some money aside for activities, eating out and perhaps even a splurge or two.

Next, take the time to figure out what you will do on your staycation. If your kids are old enough to have an opinion, hold a family meeting to discuss your ideas and get a feel for what everyone wants to do.

Think like a tourist. Do an internet search for the name of your town plus the word “tourist.” You’ll be amazed at what you discover. We’re talking hiking trails, bike paths, community events, museums and playgrounds that you may not know exist. Look for special deals and coupons offered by local merchants.

Notify friends and family. Let everyone know the dates you’ll be on vacation. In the same way you would not be available if you were flying to another country, they need to know you will not be available during your vacation.

Do things differently. This is the fun part. Break all the rules during your staycation — within reason — so it doesn’t look anything like regular life in your home.

Unplug the phone. Sleep in late. Stay up later. Watch videos. Play games. Go on bike rides. Explore places you’ve never been. A few days of junk food is not likely to create any serious problems.

Camp out. Kids love to camp out, so haul out your basic camping gear (borrow or rent if you need to) and set it up in the backyard. What fun!

Create a fire pit so you can sit around the campfire late into the night (be sure to use proper care and be mindful of local rules and guidelines). Brush up on campfire songs. Cook, eat and sleep outdoors.

Unplug. This is the challenge for parents on staycation: Everyone has to surrender cellphones and computers to a central holding area for the duration. Sure, it will be an adjustment, but it’s possibly the best move of all. Let the mail collect to be opened when you return.

When you are not taking some well-deserved naps, let your kids know they have your undivided attention. That will make this a true vacation because you vacate the normal routines and stresses of life.

Memories. Be sure to take lots of pictures and let the kids help create a scrapbook of memories. Don’t be surprised when they call it the best family vacation ever!

Mary Hunt writes this column for Creators Syndicate. She is the founder of www.EverydayCheapskate.com, a lifestyle blog, and the author of “Debt-Proof Living. Submit comments or tips or address questions on her website. She will answer questions of general interest via this column, but letters cannot be answered individually.

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