Best Summer Staycation Ideas When You’re on a Budget

May 27, 2021

Travel is opening up this summer. But as vaccinations roll out and pandemic restrictions ease, demand may be outpacing supply. For many, however, high prices and continued coronavirus concerns make long-distance travel a no-go. But that doesn’t mean your only other option is doing nothing. In fact, it’s the perfect time to plan a staycation and fill your summer with fun activities that are also easy on the wallet.

What Is a Staycation?

A staycation is a vacation from your usual routine that doesn’t involve much (or any) travel. Staycations can be a great way to avoid the stress and cost of a travel vacation while still enjoying the rewards that come from taking a break.

5 Tips for Staycation Budgeting

Avoiding travel costs can help you save money no matter what, but your budget will dictate which summer staycation ideas work for you. If money is tight, there are plenty of options that cost next to nothing. Alternatively, if you’ve been saving for a big trip, but don’t quite feel ready to travel long distances, you can put those extra funds toward a more luxurious staycation.

However you’re choosing to spend your break from routine, taking the time to plan will save you money and stress.

1. Set a maximum budget.

Though it might be tempting to pick a staycation and try to make your budget work around that, knowing your maximum spending power first can help alleviate planning stress. When you have a good idea of what you’re able to spend, you can more easily narrow down what you can do within those means.

2. Prepare for the unexpected.

As is often the case, having a little extra cushion in a staycation budget can be helpful. You don’t want an emergency or unanticipated expense, like a flat tire or unexpected entry fee, to ruin the entire experience. If everything goes to plan, you can use the extra money for your next trip.

3. Consider local package options.

Places like Costco, Groupon, and Travelocity sell offers that range from discounted admission tickets to full packages complete with hotel accommodations. Bundling your day together can help save money and keep your budget on track.

4. Plan for obvious, larger expenses.

Just as you would on a long-distance vacation, do research and get a good sense of what you’ll do and how much it will cost. You don’t have to plan out every minute of the day, but having a general understanding of the costs associated with your staycation can help you budget and save money accordingly.

5. Don’t forget the little things.

Once you have your approximate costs, consider the smaller things you might spend money on. Aside from meals and entertainment, allocate money toward often-overlooked like items—like gifts and souvenirs, gas and transportation, and a pet sitter if you plan on being gone all day.

16 Best Summer Staycation Ideas Your Budget Will Love

Summer staycations can be novel, relaxing, fun—or all three. Everyone’s preferences and budgets differ, but there are many possibilities to consider. Here are 16 great summer staycation ideas to get you started.

1. Take a food truck pop-up tour.

Food trucks, pods, and pop-ups were popular before the pandemic, but restaurant closures have pushed more professional and amateur chefs, bakers, and ice cream makers into the mobile food business. Research the best food trucks in your area and spend the weekend trying a few. Alternatively, you could hit one per week and have something to look forward to all summer long. You can even pair each excursion with a hike or visit to a nearby museum or park to round it out.

2. Visit nearby state or national parks.

The outdoors are a big draw during the summer, so you may need to plan far in advance if you want to secure campsites or nearby lodging. If you’re looking for something more last minute, consider lesser-known state and national parks for a beautiful respite without the crowds. If you’re into the rugged outdoors, you can often camp for free in National Forests and Bureau of Land Management areas.

3. See the local sites.

Play tourist for a day and hit the local attractions that other people would get on a plane to visit. You may already know some of the main spots, or you can do a little research first to find hidden gems that most tourists never see.

4. Explore other customs and cuisines.

Create a list of countries or cities you’d like to travel to one day and use it as inspiration for your staycation. For example, you might spend the day making a multi-course Spanish feast—complete with a 10 p.m. dinnertime. Or spend the weekend wine tasting and eating pasta as if you were in Tuscany.

5. Build a “Little Free Library.”

Some people travel abroad for volunteer vacations, so why not serve your local community during your staycation, instead? Take a few days to build a Little Free Library for your neighborhood, then take up a collection for used books to get it started. If there’s already a free library nearby for books, you could create one for stickers, seedlings, or canned goods.

6. Learn a new skill.

Instead of traveling for a course or workshop, check out the online or local options. Whether you’re gaining a new certification to help with career prospects or taking an online cooking or mixology class, having time to focus will make your new skills stick.

7. Sample local drinks.

It’s not hard to find craft breweries these days, and small distilleries and wineries are also cropping up across the country. As a bonus, many of these local businesses offer outdoor seating, gourmet food trucks, and live music. Gather a group of friends for an afternoon (or weekend) of much needed escape.

8. Host a theme party.

As pandemic precautions begin to subside, gathering with friends and family members can feel like an exciting experience on its own. To spice things up, add a fun theme that will encourage people to dress up and interact—like a luau, barn dance, or the Roaring 2020s.

9. Organize a tournament.

Bring people together for a little friendly competition. Create team names and wear uniforms to up the ante. Whether it’s a board game tournament, classic sports, or unique outdoor group games, treat the day like a true organized event. Food and drinks never hurt, either.

10. Create your own summer camp.

Host “summer camp for a day” in your own backyard or a local park. For children, a full schedule of activities, crafts, and games like capture the flag will be sure to delight. In fact, that could be a great list for an adults-only summer-camp staycation, as well.

11. Enjoy a local spa day.

A spa can be a great option if you’re looking to fully unwind. Some spas offer day passes to use the pool and sauna even if you don’t book a treatment, and you may qualify for a discount if you live locally. If it’s in your budget, a massage, facial, and lunch by the pool could be exactly what you need.

12. Stay at a nearby hotel.

A night at a local boutique or luxury hotel could be a welcomed break from your everyday routine. Staying the night gives you the ability to travel a few hours farther than a day trip, so you can check off a spot on your bucket list and really feel like you’ve gotten away.

13. Find a unique rental home.

Look for nearby unique homes on AirBnB, such as a yurt, treehouse, teepee, or even a lighthouse. You can also search for privately owned campsites on Hipcamp, a site that takes glamping to the next level. If you live near water, a houseboat for the weekend could provide the change of scenery you’ve been craving.

14. Go beach hopping.

If you live within driving distance to the coast, take a day to hit a few beaches in the area. Stock up on snacks and sunscreen ahead of time to limit how many pit stops you’ll have to make, and plan to spend the whole day by the water.

15. Host an at-home film festival.

Invite friends over to screen a few great flicks in one sitting. You can pick a theme based on a favorite actor, director, or genre and have your guests rate and discuss each film. If you’re planning a staycation with kids, host a real at-home movie night with a new film and no distractions. Don’t forget the movie theater popcorn and snacks.

16. Reconnect with a friend.

Staycations aren’t only for couples and families. A local getaway with a close friend can be a great way to reconnect—particularly if you weren’t able to spend a lot of time together during quarantine. Propose a few fun staycation ideas you can do together, or plan a surprise.

Ways to Make Your Staycation Feel Extra Special

A staycation won’t feel like getting away unless you’re truly able to break from your everyday routine. So set an out-of-office message on your email, plan to stay up past your bedtime, and treat yourself. Just like you would an out-of-town vacation, allow yourself to challenge the boundaries of your everyday life.

How to Fund Your Staycation

Sticking to a budget can be difficult in any setting, but particularly when you’re trying to make the most of an experience. In almost all cases, early planning can help. With enough notice, you may be able to score discounts by booking reservations in advance, or cut costs by including another family or group. If your work schedule is flexible, it might be cheaper to have a staycation during the week rather than a weekend.

Just like you would on an out-of-town vacation, it’s important to plan your staycation around what you can afford. Let your current finances dictate the kind of staycation that’s best for you—whether that be a $30 dollar campsite an hour away, or a weekend filled with close to home excursions.

If you find your finances falling short, don’t worry. With a little planning, you can still make your staycation dreams come true. Personal loans, for example, allow you to borrow the money you may need and then pay it back over time with interest. You can check your rate for free through LendingClub without impacting your credit score.

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