Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Frugal Rock Travel: Be a Tourist in Your Own City

If the web traffic from the photo heavy post on Frugal Backpacking was any indication- you folks like to hear about frugal travel. I'm back with what may be the most frugal traveling of all- staying in your own city! Or is it?

Having some back-to-back out of town guests this summer inspired me to be the frugal traveler in my own city. The 'staycation' has been a phenomenon through the recession brought on by individuals who didn't have the money they were used to due to wage freezes, unemployment (or underemployment), etc. As a result of the tightening financial times, more people didn't have the cash to spend on fancy vacation- or even relatively cheap ones. Since you are on a frugal finance site, I also probably don't need to tell you why you should NOT put your vacation on credit cards (unless you are doing it to just earn points and can pay it off right away).

In researching average vacation costs, most often, the calculated expenses were done by credit card companies, who have more then a vested interest on what you spend for vacations. These companies weighed in with average amounts that seemed very high to me. American Express recently estimated just under $5,000 for a vacation. So if you don't have the money for a vacation or just don't like to travel, having an 'at-home' vacation and being a tourist in your own city may be the way to go.

There are some big pitfalls to avoid so keep reading for a) frugal ideas for a great staycation, and b) secrets to making it a success. Note- every city is so different that instead of giving you exact sites or places to check out, I've collected several vacation activities to look for when planning a staycation.

1. Do something that locals typically don't do in your city.

In our city, the lakefront is always teeming with locals- jogging, walking, roller blading and biking. It's always a popular spot. But there are also some 'touristy' things, like renting a paddleboat in a nearby lagoon. The lakefront also boasts a kite store, which hosts an annual kite festival each year. I haven't flown kites since I was a child, let alone at the lake front. It was a fun way to spend the day and try something in my city I hadn't done in years and made me appreciate the same views and parks, but in a different way. Think about the common spaces in your city- what are some areas or activities that you haven't tried (or haven't in a while). What can you do to make those spaces part of your 'staycation'?

Let's go, fly a kite!

2. Take a tour.

Is there anything more touristy, then taking a city tour? Always one of my favorite parts about discovering a new city, there are plenty of options. Many historic districts will have architecture tours, walking tours, or food tours. Food tours seem to have become very popular lately, with stops at many area eating (and drinking) spots. Some cities even boast more offbeat tours. In the last few years, Mr. FR and I have done two different ghost tours in various cities, where you visit sites of 'intrigue' in the community or areas where scenes from horror movies were filmed. This past summer, we also did two tours that were new to us in our own city. While we come from the land of beer- I discovered our city also boasted a soda (and beer factory) and a distillery. Both of these made our list of tours to try when we had company. Slightly less frugal options for tours may include a bike or bus tour- or even more ritzy, many cities will offer views of the city by boat or by Segway.

3. Go out for a nice meal in a new area of town...linger.

One thing I do when I travel is look up Yelp or travel reviews to find the places where locals eat...so what do you do when you are a local? Make a reservation at a place you wouldn't typically frequent- maybe a type of food that's out of your comfort zone or explore a different area of town then you normally would. If you are anything like me, you develop favorite places, and frequent them mostly. This is your chance to try something completely new.

While at dinner- don't rush! While we don't eat out nearly as much as we used to, it can be a stop on the way somewhere or doesn't feel special if you are in a hurry out of there. When traveling, I normally find I take my time, linger over a appetizer or a coffee at the end of a great meal. Maybe have a cocktail. Try to channel that when you are local and slow the heck down.

4. Get Outside!

The best free activity out there is exploring local parks, trails and rivers. Now is your chance to go further and devote a whole day to spending time in the woods. Maybe this is the chance that if normally you hike, you try doing some canoeing or kayaking around that favorite spot. I recently learned that many of the county parks in my area have Mountain Biking trails, you better believe that the next long weekend I have, I will try and conquer some of these!

Shadow Selfie

5. Take Advantage of Free/Cheap Local Events or Festivals

Want to plan a great staycation? Try planning your vacation around a free or reasonably priced festival in your area. Many cities have live music for cheap to check out. Not a live music person?  How about a sporting event? No need to go expensive- it's often the experience that makes the event good. Think baseball, basketball, or maybe something more exotic like cricket or futsal.

Baseball by Moonlight

Secrets to a Great Staycation

1. Set good boundaries.

So the hard thing about vacationing at home (can you tell that I kind of hate the word staycation??) is that the world can - and probably will try to interrupt at anytime. I recently attended a meeting at work where someone who was on a 'staycation' came in because they felt the meeting was important. While it was important, if she had been across the country traveling, she would have felt guilt-free about skipping the meeting. If you are vacationing at home, make sure that you don't get your work email, answer calls or heaven forbid, attend work meetings.

The boundaries aren't just about work though. Think family and friends- if your goal of the staycation is to spend quality time with your spouse, how will you respond to requests to make plans (since you will be in town) without offending people. How will you let people know if they stop by that they are not exactly welcome? This would be infinitely harder to do if you have children who may be requesting sleep overs, friend dates, etc. during your family staycation.

The secret may be clear communication. Ensure that everyone in your household knows the plan for the staycation and what the boundaries are. Be clear with individuals requesting your time, whether that be work, personal or other obligations that you are not able to assist. Know that it's okay to take that break, even from people you care about.

2. Give yourself a budget.

I had a long weekend about a year ago, where I decided to forgo the weekend trip away to visit a friend and save money. I decided to spend that weekend at home doing a mini-vacation. The problem was that I didn't give myself a budget or an amount that was okay to spend. As a result, I found myself feeling guilty for every spending item, or conversely, forgoing fun things that I love doing, in order to not spend. If your vacation is being replaced by staying in your city- it's okay to splurge a little, but give yourself some parameters.

You may have the opposite problem-  what all tourist hotspots know is that people will spend money on vacation on things they never would have considered otherwise, like knick-knacks or a ridiculously overpriced drink- because you are on vacation! You deserve it! I still have a seashell frame somewhere in my house that says 'Cozumel' on it. Can't remember why I thought I would want to display that- so I am clearly guilty of that as well.

In researching this post- I came across a great article that included some really interesting research out of the UK, in surveying over 1000 people, they actually found that travelers spent MORE dough on their staycations then when away. I would hazard an educated guess about why this may be. When I feel like I have been good, and ate healthy for a few days, I'm much more likely to eat a whole giant pizza by myself- because I have earned it. In the same way, if you feel like you are forgoing something, like a big international trip, you may be more likely to 'spend away' when you are at home.

3. Get off Social Media- but Take Photos!

I didn't say get rid of your phone for the whole time, that would be just about plain impossible, BUT, many of us when on vacations are too busy 'doing'  to post or cruise other's social  media feeds. In some countries our internet or cell service may be spotty when we are vacationing and it turns into a blessing in disguise to keep those other distractions at bay. Give it a try during your staycation- maybe start small and turn off your push notifications. Maybe leave your phone at home (if you are with others, I'm sure someone else will have their phone to navigate or take photos if needed), or for the strong willed- stay off Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat and all the others for your whole staycation. That being said, while you aren't instantly posting photos of your staycation, don't forgo taking pics altogether. Vacation photos are often fun to look back on for years- just because you are staying local, doesn't mean those aren't important and great memories that you may want to capture.

On last parting note:

For those of you reading State Side, we should take a note from our international brothers and sisters out there and use our vacation time. Americans are the WORST at taking vacation and many leave vacation time on the table. This leaves us more over-worked and more stressed then are European friends. Get with the program folks- and use that vacation time.

Have you ever done a staycatation? Did you love it, or hate it? What were the things you did to ensure it was still a 'frugal' option?


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