Staycation Ideas for Families and Couples: How to Feel Like You’re on Vacation without Going Anywhere

Hollywood Beach Boardwalk Biking
(Photo: Emergent Media)

Sometimes the best family vacations are actually staycations. Far from being a consolation prize for those who can’t afford an exotic getaway, the best staycations can be exactly what you need to relax, rejuvenate, and rediscover the things you love about your hometown—or even your own backyard. Here are some fresh ideas to help you make even a budget-friendly backyard staycation feel special.

Fun Staycation Ideas Close to Home

The key to success is choosing fun staycation ideas that take you outside of your usual routine and into something that looks and feels different than the day-to-day.

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1. Start by Hitting Pause on Chores and Distractions

Everyone’s idea of a perfect staycation is different, but most people can agree on what it doesn’t look like: the same old same old. One of the best staycation tips you can follow is to avoid your work email—remove it from your phone altogether for the duration of your staycation if you can—and get rid of other real-life distractions as well. Something as simple as turning off work reminders and notifications that might pop up on your phone or smartwatch can go a long way. 

The same goes for the kind of routine chores that make daily life feel so mundane (we’re looking at you, dirty laundry; you too, un-mowed lawn). Only when you make arrangements to remove yourself from the ordinary can your staycation really begin. 

2. Treat Your Staycation Like a Real Vacation

There’s a pretty good chance you haven’t gotten around to doing everything a visitor to your home state would want to do. One idea for a staycation is to make plans as if you were a tourist. Heading to a popular museum, zoo, aquarium, ballpark, amusement park, or other attraction near your home are all great staycation ideas that can elevate your minibreak into something that feels more like a vacation than just another day at home.

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If you’ve already been to all the popular tourist spots in your home state or neighboring areas, take advantage of your staycation time to visit during off-peak hours. You’re bound to enjoy a day at the zoo or aquarium a lot more if you’re visiting on a Tuesday afternoon when everyone else is still at work, giving you time to wander and take everything in without bumping into a large weekend crowd. 

3. Make it a Spa Day

Pamper yourself with a full spa experience. Incorporating a luxurious manicure, pedicure, haircut, massage, or other treatment—or all of them!—into your hometown getaway are all fun things to do on a staycation. One good staycation tip to make it feel extra special: Look for an upscale hotel or family resort near you that offers spa treatments to non-guests.

You can still feel like a VIP even if you aren’t spending the night, and often you’ll get access to the full spa facilities with your treatment—so look for a hotel and spa that comes with a hot tub, sauna, relaxation room, or other special ways to pamper yourself. If you’ve planned a weekday staycation, you may find midweek discounts and off-peak availability working in your favor, too. 

4. Spend the Night Away from Home 

Then again, if you can spend the night at an upscale hotel or resort on your staycation, go for it. Few things are more rejuvenating than sleeping in a fancy hotel bed that someone else has to make in the morning, or enjoying room service or a late-night cocktail at the hotel bar. 

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Maybe you live near the coast and there’s a charming little inn on the water you’ve been meaning to visit. Maybe there’s a hotel and casino within a day’s drive. Maybe you’d enjoy a rustic lodge, campground, or glamping resort near one of your state parks. The idea is to get outside your everyday life, and whether that’s for a night or a long weekend, it’s one of the top things to do on your staycation.  

5. Combine Your Staycation with a Special Event 

One of the most helpful staycation tips is to plan your time at home around a special event you want to attend, like a concert, film festival, or new movie premiere you’ve been dying to see. Pairing a highly anticipated event with your staycation at home is a fantastic way to make your time off feel even more special. 

If there aren’t any live performances or special movie events near you, consider making your own event by holding a backyard movie night (portable projectors and screens are surprisingly affordable) or heading to a drive-in movie theater.  

6. Take a Cooking Class, Shop for Ingredients, or Dine at a Fancy Restaurant

Food is an important part of almost every memorable getaway, and one of the best staycation ideas is to build your minibreak around a delicious food experience. Adult cooking classes are offered in many communities, for example. These can make for a great low-key date night activity after a day of staycationing at home, and they’re often BYOB as well. You can find family cooking classes that let the kids get involved, too, if your staycation includes the whole family.

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Another staycation idea: Shop for local ingredients at a farmer’s market or indoor market and then cook a fresh meal at home. Of course, if your idea of a perfect staycation involves having someone else cook for you, try making reservations ahead of time at a restaurant you’ve always wanted to try or wouldn’t normally splurge on. Cultivating special vacation-like experiences is a great way to make any staycation memorable.

7. Get Outdoors

Enjoy a picnic at a state park, stroll a shaded walking trail, or take on a more challenging mountain hike on your staycation. Other outdoor staycation ideas include canoe or kayak rentals, a scenic bike ride, or even an overnight camping trip. (Camping out in your backyard counts, too!)

8. Shop Local

If you love shopping at local boutiques and finding the unique keepsakes on vacation, why not do the same in and around your own community on your staycation? Head to local shops you don’t usually visit—like an independent bookstore, a boutique jeweler, or an art gallery—to truly see your hometown through new eyes.

9. Above All, Make Time for the Fun Stuff

The most enjoyable things to do on a staycation are the ones that resonate with your interests and mood. Use your staycation as an opportunity to change your routine and make time for the fun stuff you’ve wanted to do but haven’t necessarily had time to focus on yet.

View of the town of Ephraim in Door County, Wisconsin, a perfect Midwest fall getaway
You don’t have to go far to feel like you’re on vacation from your everyday life (Photo: @keithbetti via Twenty20)

How to Save Money on Local Weekend Getaways

By their nature, staycations are generally cheaper than typical vacations. Shorter stays and no flights mean you can skip out on some of the more painful costs associated with travel, like airport transfers and parking, bag fees, and expensive multi-day resort fees.

But that doesn’t mean you have to skimp on the fun or the great memories to enjoy a budget travel experience. Here are some great time-tested staycation ideas guaranteed to save you money on a close-to-home vacation. 

10. Make Your Own Weekend

Because it’s peak travel time for most people, weekend getaways tend to be expensive. But if you can make your own weekend by traveling midweek, you’ll save money and find wider availability wherever you’re headed because hotels and other accommodations typically have lower occupancy on these days.

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Even if you can’t find time for a Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday getaway, look for an opportunity to overlap your stay a day before (Thursday) or a day after (Monday) most other people travel. You’ll get a lot more bang for your staycation buck. 

11. Plan Your Staycation for the Shoulder Season

If you’re not familiar with the term “shoulder season,” let me introduce you to the best-of-both-worlds time when the tourists have all gone home but the weather’s still nice at popular destinations. Think New England after Labor Day but before foliage season, for example.

One of the great joys of a cheap weekend getaway is wandering the streets and dining in the restaurants of a prime tourist spot while feeling like you have it all to yourself—and knowing you’re saving a ton on accommodations, too. 

12. Look for Last-Minute Deals

If you know you want a cheap weekend trip but don’t know exactly where you want to go, last-minute deals are for you. Sometimes rooms don’t fill even in high tourist season. Sometimes there’s a sudden cancelation and vacancy. Whatever the reason, you can find deeply discounted accommodations for your staycation by keeping tabs on last-minute deals. It helps to have some staycation ideas in mind and call or look online a day or two before you want to go. Stay flexible and let the savings come to you. 

13. Take Advantage of Travel Rewards Credit Cards and Hotel Loyalty Programs

Membership, as the saying goes, has its privileges. And among the privileges afforded by a good travel credit card are flexible rewards points that can be redeemed for travel, lucrative bonus offers, and built-in benefits like complimentary room upgrades.

Even if you don’t want to carry a travel-centric rewards card, you can still join the free loyalty programs of major hotel chains to earn points and special offers for discounted staycations close to home. 

14. Use Coupons, Discounts, and Multi-Attraction Passes

Coupon books for major U.S. cities like those offered by CityPASS are a great way to save money on your staycation ideas. Contact local tourism offices or convention and visitors bureaus to see what kinds of discounts are being offered to tourists and take advantage of those on your local getaway, too. 

Many popular destinations also offer savings on multi-attraction passes, so if you’re already planning to visit the science museum and the aquarium on the same staycation, you might save money by looking for a discounted pass that covers both attractions. 

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For hotels and other accommodations, look for discounts that come from your other affiliations, such as AAA or AARP travel discounts. Buying a nonrefundable rate will also bring the cost of your staycation down. And, when in doubt, call or check the hotel’s website directly to see if they can offer you a better price than what’s available from major online travel agencies. 

15. Get a Room with a Kitchen and Shop for Your Own Food

One of the major expenses on any vacation or weekend trip is the food. The cost of dining out adds up fast. If you book a room with a full kitchen or even a smaller kitchenette, you can save money by preparing some meals in your hotel. On romantic weekend getaways, cooking and shopping for the ingredients together can be a great way to start a staycation date night. 

16. Never Say No to a Free Breakfast

It’s hard to beat free when it comes to saving money on a local getaway. Fill up on the pastries, granola, and scrambled eggs served at every major hotel chains’ continental breakfasts and consider the money you’re saving by eliminating one meal a day from your budget. Don’t forget to grab a to-go coffee on your way out.

17. Make Lunch the Fanciest Meal of the Day

Sometimes the restaurant you can’t afford for dinner is right within your budget for lunch. Enjoy a nice meal at an upscale restaurant during this off-peak time for a taste of the high life on your staycation, without the accompanying price tag. 

18. Don’t Over-Schedule Your Staycation

Staycations go wrong when you try to cram too much into a weekend getaway or midweek trip. Plan to do some fun activities, but don’t overschedule it. The idea is to return to everyday life relaxed and refreshed, not feeling like you need another vacation. Bring a good book and take a break now and then. Maybe even take a nap. (You know you want to.) And, bonus: Taking it easy is a great way to save money, too. 

 19. Arrange a House Swap

Take your staycation ideas to the next level with a house swap through a reputable service like Home Exchange. You can also trade homes with friends or family to cut costs even further. Sometimes all it takes to have a great staycation is getting outside of your ordinary life for a day or two. 

Family playing classic board game Twister (Photo: Elena Nichizhenova/Shutterstock)
Game nights are a great way to reconnect with each other on a staycation (Photo: Elena Nichizhenova/Shutterstock)

How to Save Money on Staycations at Home

If your staycation doesn’t involve a getaway to a nearby destination, whether for time or budget reasons, don’t give up hope. You can still enjoy a cheap break at home. Here are some staycation ideas for trimming the costs even further while keeping your vacation hyper-local. 

20. Go to a Matinee Instead of an Evening Film

There’s something indulgent about heading to an air conditioned movie theater in the middle of a summer heatwave when everyone else is at work or baking in the sun. It also feels good to pay about half the price of a regular movie ticket. 

21. Get a Free Museum Pass from Your Local Library

Many local libraries have memberships at the major local museums, aquariums, zoos, and other organizations. Make a true budget travel power move by reserving a free pass ahead of time for your staycation. It requires a little planning, but it’s a smart way to save on entry fees. Some museums offer free days once a week or once a month, too; others take a pay-what-you-can approach.

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22. Take a Hop-on, Hop-off Bus Tour of Your City

Convenient and economical, hop-on, hop-off tours are a smart way to cover a lot of ground in major cities without having to worry much about mass transit schedules or budget. You can easily spend a day sightseeing like a tourist and still sleep in your own bed when night falls. 

23. Enjoy Free Outdoor Activities

For truly budget-friendly staycation ideas, nothing beats getting out into nature with a mountain hike or woodsy stroll, kayaking at a local lake or river, or taking a long bike ride on your local backroads. Don’t own a bike or kayak? No problem, many places offer inexpensive day rentals, and—in the case of kayaks and canoes—offer lessons if you need them, too. 

24. Pack a Picnic Lunch

One tried-and-true budget staycation idea is to pack a picnic lunch (or buy to-go sandwiches from a local restaurant or deli) and spend a leisurely afternoon in the park, by the lake, or at another quiet spot. Pair it with a long drive to make a full day of it. Picnics aren’t just inexpensive, either—they’re also an essential component of any great romantic getaway on a budget.  

25. Go for an Ice Cream

It’s your staycation, so why not eat dessert first? Head to a local ice cream parlor for a cone or frappe and luxuriate with one of the greatest (and most affordable) outdoor dining experiences ever invented? 

26. Plan a Day at the Beach or Public Pool

Hit the beach on your local staycation for a fun (and basically free) way to spend a day. If you’re not near an ocean, lake, or pond, chances are there’s a community pool near you that will do the trick. Get there early for a prime lounge chair. 

27. Rediscover Board Games

Whether you’re playing as a family, a couple, or with friends, planning a game night is one of the best staycation ideas because a) it’s basically free, b) it’s probably not something you do very often, c) it’s a great way to connect with each other minus the daily distractions or technology.

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Josh Roberts
Josh Roberts is the Editorial Director and Co-Founder of FamilyVacationist. He is the former Senior Executive Editor at Tripadvisor, SmarterTravel, Airfarewatchdog, and FamilyVacationCritic. He has been recognized with multiple awards for excellence in travel journalism from the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and the North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA). His work has also appeared in Insider, Yahoo, USA Today, Tripadvisor, and many other publications.