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On Staycations

The travel media is very excited about “staycations” these days. Airlines and destinations are their advertisers, so perhaps they’re getting new ad campaigns for staycation services? Otherwise, you can bet they’ll be back to pitching how great it is to spend Christmas in Buenos Aires in a few months. Anyway, the idea behind a staycation is that you take the week off of work, but you… stay home. With your family, friends, kids, dog, neighbors… etc.

Anyone who has ever been laid off of work for a week knows what a ridiculous idea this is: you’re home, broke, and bored. Here’s how I imagine a typical staycation going: you set up the pool in the backyard for the kids, pull out a lawn chair and the margarita mix. By 10 AM, you’ve had four phone calls – three of them are work “emergencies,” and one of them is your neighbor asking if, since you’re home and all, you wouldn’t mind picking up her kids from daycare and watching them till she gets home at 5. The margaritas turn sour in your mouth and you go into the kitchen to pour it out. While there, you realize the remains of the nice dinner you made for your family last night is still sitting on the plates in the sink, and you spend the next hour and a half washing dishes and cleaning up. At the end of which, the kids run through the house, dripping wet, screaming for peanut butter sandwiches and a side order of marshmallows. You suddenly realize that there’s a reason you work full-time, and it’s only partly so you can afford a roof over your head.

The main reason touted for staycations is to save money, of course. This is because we are all broke. We are broke from spending more at the pumps, more at the grocery store, and more on our IRS forms (do not be fooled by the rebate check – that was your money to start with, and the government made interest on it before returning it to you!) We’re broke from having our home values plummet, stranding our empty houses on the market for a whole year and hemorrhaging money. And yet, the financial impact of the staycation? Since you’re already at home and don’t have anything new to entertain you, you’ll fall prey to the advertisements and go shopping. Unlike when you travel, though, you don’t have a limit to how much stuff you can buy or bring home, so the next thing you know, there are piles of lumber from Home Depot in your driveway, five bathing suits “motivating” you in the closet, and four video games to distract the kids, now that the neighbor’s 4 year old barfed in the pool after daycare and ruined the fun for everybody.

For the green staycationer, you can fool yourself into thinking the staycation is a great way to save fuel, and maybe it is – as long as you don’t have any errands to run, lumber to buy, or groceries to pick up. All I know is that you’d probably save more energy and have a great time if you spent your week bicycling through French vineyards or on a beach within walking distance to a hotel.

Employers love the staycation, because there’s a good chance they can bother you if you’re at home, whereas if you’re on a beach in Jamaica, you can reasonably get away with ignoring the phone and pretending you just didn’t hear it. If employers really wanted you to save money and gas, they would let you telecommute 4 or 5 days a week. My commute used to be almost an hour each way. Having an extra 8 hours of daylight every week would have been like a vacation all its own. Most working women say that they would take a pay cut if it meant they could have 2 hours in the afternoon once a week, without kids, to run errands.

Your environment does have to change to give you a real “get out of your head” kind of vacation. That can mean leaving home to visit a nearby city, or hauling yourself off somewhere too remote for Internet and cell phone service. Otherwise, being in touch means work or other commitments can and will interrupt.

If you disagree with this article, then you’re lucky. You’re one of the resourceful people for whom boredom is never a problem, and home is an ongoing source of amusement, energization, and spiritual awakening. You have my envy, because the majority of us have a really hard time getting away from it all without getting away from ourselves.