The other morning I was glancing through the Wall Street Journal and read an article on how staycations are catching on across the nation. The article was geared for wealthy executives and didn't really address the needs of frugal families. To remedy that, I'm providing my best ideas on how to take a cheap family staycation.
(Note: I'm doing this on the fly. No research. Tightwad brainstorming at its finest!)
First of all, choose your destination. Where have you always wanted to take your family? This is the time to dream BIG because you won’t really be going there. A really good staycation is a journey you take in your mind. What about Mexico? Yeah, that sounds about right. (You can adapt the ideas here to work for any destination.)
Approach your staycation as if you were really going to Mexico. Create a budget, set a date, put it on the calendar, and schedule time off from work. Taking time off from work for a staycation is kind of like calling in sick to stay home and goof off. But it won’t end up in your personnel file.
Next, check out language CDs from your library. Buy a Spanish/English dictionary. Make labels in Spanish for everyday items around your house so that your children can learn some vocabulary. Look for books and DVDs at the library that will give you and your kids insight into Mexican culture and history. If you have teenagers who have taken Spanish in school, consider making one night a week Spanish speaking only. (You won’t need a translator when they sigh and roll their eyes.)
As any mother will tell you, family vacations are a lot of work. Staycations are no exception. To make your experience as authentic as possible, consider creating individual passports for family members complete with photos. (Note: Real passports are expensive. Adult passports are $100 and are good for 10 years. Children's passports cost $85.00 and are only good for five years.)
Prepare to write to family and friends about your trip to Mexico by creating your own Mexican postcards on cardstock from on-line photos. During your trip have everyone write a line or two to Grandpa and Grandma. Grandparents love getting letters from their grandkids. And when they see the lengths you’ve gone to save money by staying home for your family vacation, they might feel sorry for your kids. They may even send a reply letter with some cold, hard cash.
Staycations are cheaper than a regular vacation, but they still cost money. If you're trying to make your family trip as authentic as possible, consider investing in maid service. You can justify it as a means to reproduce the effect of staying in a hotel. (You’re doing the planning. You might as well enjoy a few perks!) Other ways to simulate a hotel stay include:
Place glassware by the bathroom sinks with paper covers. (Cupcake liners serve as easy covers.)
Fold the toilet paper end into a point each morning.
Call room service. (Pay a friend of neighbor to perform this job.)
Learn how to turn towels into animals. (Check out this video.)
If you’re heading to Mexico, stock up on bottled water. During your staycation don’t drink tap water. You might also want to arrange for taxi service during your trip. The best way to get an authentic experience is to hire a recently licensed teenager. Have your kids practice asking, “Are we there yet?”
During your staycation be sure to visit all the Mexican restaurants in your community. Try to give your order in Spanish. Insist that everyone in your family learn how to say, “Please pass the salsa” in Spanish. When the waiter comes with the check, have everyone say, “Muchas gracias!” in unison. If there aren’t restaurants in your area open for breakfast, make scrambled eggs garnished with salsa and cilantro at home. (They’re called wayvose rancheros. But I forgot how to spell “wayvose.”)
Many destinations in Mexico are known for great snorkeling. Get some snorkel gear and explore the bodies of water in your area. Snorkel in an irrigation ditch. Try the local lakes. Your neighbor’s backyard koi pond might also prove to be an interesting excursion. Stay away from square lakes. They’re sewage lagoons. They are off limits to snorkelers.
You can’t come home from a Mexican vacation without a tan. Don’t lay out in the sun without sunscreen! Instead, invest in sun-less tanning products. My favorite is Loreal’s Sublime mist. Unlike many of the lotions that I’ve tried, the spray mist from this products doesn’t leave me streaky. I know from experience that pre-teen girls also like this product. Just advise your kids that it’s not meant to be applied so heavy that it runs down their legs. If that should happen, my daughter Lou has learned that a pumice stone will rub the runs right off.
Look for a Latin grocery store in your city. Buy a pre-made piñata and fill it with Latin candies and treats. If your area doesn’t have a grocery store that caters to the Hispanic population, most large chain grocery stores have sections that will have similar products. Go out on a limb and try something new. Let each of your children select something to buy and try back at the hotel, uh . . . I mean home. Have a family fiesta.
When your family staycation is over, don’t wait too long before planning next year’s staycation. This time make it a couple staycation. That’s when you send the kids off to their grandparents’ house and you and your spouse stay home alone for a week.
Who says saving money can’t be fun?