How to Create a Joyous Vacation Near Home

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Dig out the passport, and dust off that suitcase — summer is the season when wanderlust seduces us to travel far and wide. Allianz Partners reports that after more than two long years of people staying safe at home, “revenge travel” is still surging. Thanks to restrictions mostly lifting worldwide, American travel to Europe is predicted to skyrocket 600 percent over last summer. But with the ongoing air-travel chaos and flight cancellationsgeneral social unrest, inflation, and surging gas prices, it might mean that the smart vacation choice is sipping those beachy beverages closer to home.

We talked with renowned experts — including Laurie Santosa cognitive scientist and professor of psychology at Yale University and host of the popular podcast The Happiness Lab With Dr. Laurie Santos — to find out the best ways to get that vacation feeling without having to venture too far. They shared tips and tricks to help you experience a staycation so joyful, you’ll be grateful you vacationed right from home.


Resist checking your work email

It’s easy to always keep one eye on work while trying to relax, especially at home, but it can hinder your ability to unwind. “Vacation brings us joy in part because we wind up being really mindful, present, and paying attention,” says Santos. “Anything in your daily life that might prevent that would be something you want to change on your staycation. So, putting on an ‘out of office’ email might allow you to be more present because you’re not doing work all the time.” Putting away things that signal work mode, like your laptop, also helps. “We want a clear delineation between our work time and our vacation time.”

To help spend our time intentionally, Santos recommends getting off social media and not checking the news. Indeed, taking a vacation from doom-scrolling and zombie-scrolling may be the paradise your brain needs.

Change your mentality with “positive reappraisal”

Yes, it’s upsetting having to pivot plans to stay at home. But there’s a way to approach this letdown while also changing your mindset. “‘Positive reappraisal’ is taking a situation you initially interpreted as stressful, difficult, or disappointing — like, ‘So I’ve got a staycation instead of going to Paris’— and then thinking about either the good that could come out of it or how it’s not as bad as initially thought,” says Judith T. Moskowitz, a professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University.

“For a staycation for someone who’s immunocompromised, for example, think, ‘Well, this is the best decision for me right now because it’ll help me stay healthy.’ Or another way to reframe it is ‘I’m saving money by staying home, so maybe I’ll save that money for something in the future that’s even better.’ I wouldn’t start big. … You acknowledge this is not what I wanted. But it’s what has to happen right now, and there are good things about it.”

“One of the other skills we teach is noticing positive events,” says Moskowitz. “So, being home on a staycation and realizing, ‘Because I’m not working, I am noticing the perfect summer weather today, and isn’t that great?’ Then share it with someone, or put it in your diary.”

Clean your home before your staycation

Tidying up and vacationing don’t go hand in hand. “You don’t want to do chores on your vacation. It doesn’t feel like vacation,” says Cassie Holmes, a professor of marketing and behavioral decision making at UCLA and the author of the upcoming book Happier Hour: How to Beat Distraction, Expand Your Time, and Focus on What Matters Most. Getting your living space in order early means you can actually enjoy it when vacation really starts. If you find yourself pressed for time, consider splurging and hiring a cleaning service to do the job. Finally, if you have a staycation theme or planned activities, be sure to find and organize any gear that you’ll need so you can simply grab and go rather than get mired down in sorting clutter.

Gallery Books

Happier Hour: How to Beat Distraction, Expand Your Time, and Focus on What Matters Most

Turn on your vacation mindset

While it may seem out of reach, the vacation mindset is possible to achieve. Santos suggests setting up a ritual for a staycation. One that says: I’m on holiday. These rituals don’t have to be elaborate as long as they make you feel calm and happy. Whether it’s lighting your favorite candle and sitting with a book, making a new indulgent meal each day of your vacation, or trying a new exercise class, creating these small moments that are outside daily life will turn on your vacation mindset. “It’s as simple as following those instructions for yourself,” says Holmes.

Surround yourself with vacation signals

If your staycation is in your home, “create signals to yourself that this is a special time,” says Holmes. “It’s making sure your space is pretty. Because that’s how it would feel at a hotel. It’s a cue that this isn’t routine.”

Ideas include buying fresh flowers, putting out special bath salts, a different or nostalgic candle, using a diffuser with relaxing essential oils, specific music, stocking up on hotel-like snacks, ordering food via delivery, and premade cocktails, wine, iced tea , or coffee in the fridge. Use your best bed linens and favorite or fanciful dishes. Dress down with a fluffy robe and slippers. “It doesn’t have to be fancy,” says Holmes.

Home Resort

Home Resort Three Candle Set

Don’t schedule too many (or too few) activities

It’s a delicate balance finding the right amount of fun outside the home to include in a staycation. “You don’t want a schedule that makes you feel like you’re rushing from activity to activity. Then it becomes more of a chore as opposed to enjoying those things. But on the other hand, you don’t want to end up not doing anything. So, I suggest planning one activity each day,” says Holmes, citing her research article “Having Too Little or Too Much Time Is Linked to Lower Subjective Well-Being.” “Even if that one activity is sitting on your couch and watching a movie you’ve been anticipating, during your staycation, schedule activities as a deliberate way to invest your time in a way that feels fun.” Cue the popcorn and movie candy!

Choose activities that feel joyful

“This is where you really need to be mindful about how you’re experiencing this vacation,” says Santos, adding that it’s not about overachievement. “If you think about taking a French class or cooking class and that feels onerous, like, ‘Oh, gosh, that’s going to be so much work,’ then that’s not what you need out of your vacation. You want to think about that new class and get excited about it. The key is, on your staycation, finding ways of experiencing true fun.”

Ideally, you’ll experience a sense of playfulness. “It’s one of the reasons I like to switch the phrasing from a ‘staycation’ to ‘holiday at home,'” says Santos. “You’re not staying and doing something boring. You are engaging in something that should feel like a holiday.”

Get social

Solo time is very important, but it’s also crucial to include some sort of activity with another person. “If possible, the best staycation involves something social,” says Santos. “Many of our vacations involve other people. Even if you’re traveling solo, you might talk to new people in a different way. Getting a little bit more of a social experience into your staycation can be quite powerful.”

Be a tourist in your hometown

“Many of us don’t enjoy the things in our own city,” says Santos. The staycation goal is to get out of your routine. “Think about where you would take visitors.”

See famous city landmarks, take a local hop-on, hop-off bus tour, buy souvenirs or a day pass for a local resort pool, or check out any new restaurants that have opened. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Try a new coffee shop, free outdoor summer concerts, plays, movies, free museum admission day, a new hike or walk around a different park, or explore a new neighborhood.

Stay overnight in a hotel or Airbnb near your favorite activities

If you can’t make your own home feel like a high-end hotel, staying even just one or two nights in a new place can do wonders for getting that I’m-on-vacation feeling. Try a boutique hotel or an interesting Airbnb that also offers proximity to activities, then imagine your perfect day. Museums and brunch, yoga and meditation, the beach and biking, a hike and picnic, a hotel pool and a good book — the possibilities are endless. Other ideas include a day at the spa (Groupon has tons of discounts!) or perhaps a night at the theater. Oftentimes, there are discounts for locals that may include perks such as complimentary bikes.

Take a day trip

Perhaps there’s a quirky small town nearby you’ve always wanted to visit. Or the great outdoors beckons. Plan a trip to a beach, lake, desert, mountains, or park. California, for example, now offers free access to state parks via the State Library Parks Pass. Now’s the time to add camping to the list.

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Splurge and stay for a few days at a resort

According to a Bankrupt study, Americans are taking fewer trips and traveling shorter distances in response to high inflation. So while, yes, resorts can be expensive (and it’s obviously not in the comfort of your own home), oftentimes, if you book far enough in advance, there are usually excellent promotions that will bring the total cost down. Also, consider that everyone’s meals are included in the total price, and the resort organizes tons of activities — a perfect option for anyone, but especially families with children!

Savor and seal staycation memories

It’s not surprising that anticipating good things creates positive emotions and reduces stress. But reflecting on these positive experiences can increase happiness. One way to do that is through photographs. “As long as you’re taking the pictures to capture the memory for yourself. Taking the picture just to post on social media actually increases social anxiety and pulls you out of the moment,” says Holmes.

Holmes takes her family through happiness checks, where they go around the table and share their favorite part of the staycation. “Talking about it cements it in your memories and makes you feel more connected.”

Remember that leisure time is important

Holmes found that people who take time for a vacation are significantly happier, physically healthier, and feel more enjoyment and life satisfaction, and less day-to-day stress. Her research studyHappiness From Treating the Weekend Like a Vacation” shows that workers are more creative and engaged on Monday at work.

“It is absolutely important to take these breaks,” says Holmes. “It doesn’t require you to get on an airplane. … But staycation does require you to disconnect from your routine and simply be in the moment, take that deep breath, and stay at the brunch table for a little longer.”


Alene Dawson is a Southern California-based writer who has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Ella, Glamour, Marie Clareand Fodor’s. Follow her on Twitter @AleneDawson.

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