Every now and then, I develop a raging case of vacation jealousy.

I’ll be going about my day, minding my own business, taking a minute to scroll through my social media feed, and BAM! It happens. A friend posts themselves, arms wrapped lovingly around their family members, perched on the edge of a dizzying mountain trail or laughing in the surf.

They’re in vacation mode.
And I’m not. And I’m not going to be for the foreseeable future.

While the world was locked down, my vacation envy stayed at bay. After all, no one was going much of anywhere.

But now, as the world has opened back up, I’ve had lots of people in my world jumping on planes, trains, and automobiles and making up for lost vacation time. And as their photo journals beam back across the interwebs, it’s all too easy to fall into a trap of comparing their moment at an all-inclusive resort shenanigans with my moment in the produce aisle at the grocery store.

But there’s something I learned while the world was in shutdown. It’s just the thing to stave off a bad case of vacation envy. And I want to carry it forward into this new day.

I live in a beautiful part of the world, but I don’t take advantage of it. I tear into my weekdays with scheduled meetings and project deadlines and kid activities to get everyone to. Weekends have been packed with dance competitions and soccer games and church activities and prepping for the upcoming week. Months can go by with me making my usual route of work, grocery store, dance school, gas station on loop, not taking any time to appreciate this place I call home.

It was a particularly powerful case of cabin fever at the height of the lockdown that got me to raise my eyes a bit. I knew we couldn’t really ‘go’ anywhere. But what would it be like to simply take a little time to drive out to some of the places around me, to take a look at what I’d been speeding past all these years?

As it turns out, there is a whole lot to see, right where you are. I’d take a conference call while driving,  heading out past the city limits. I started taking myself to outdoor lunches at a little cafes that had rave reviews. And as my appreciation for the area grew, so did my understanding that there are many things we miss when we become too familiar with our part of the country and assume we’ve seen all there is to see. 

Even with the world opening back up, I’ve started to approach exploring the natural beauty and tourist attractions of my area as opportunities to take a mental break and a few hours off my usual beaten path. And guess what? It works. The beauty of a staycation, beyond the frugality of not dealing with plane tickets, hotel bills, and the like, is that you can take a mini-staycation on a random afternoon of your usual week. You can take the morning off to hike that one trail you’ve been meaning to get to. And if you decide to go all in and do a week-long staycation, there are even more possibilities for enjoying your region and exploring during the day while being able to sleep in your own bed at night.

Think like a tourist.

Years ago, my husband and I were looking for a place to meet our out-of-town friends. We needed a city that was halfway in between us and them. And what was available was not anywhere that would make it to the top of a must-see list. But we took it on with different eyes than we might normally use. We wanted our kids to all think this was a magical trip and so we did some research. We scheduled a special breakfast at a funky waffle place. We went to the local museum and soaked up the history of how this small town was established. We discovered there were bison at a state park on the outskirts of town and made a field trip to see those wooly giants.

And you know what?

For years, our kids talked about that ‘vacation.’ As far as they were concerned, we had this amazing time exploring new things and eating new foods and checking out new sights. Now, I’m sure that there would be people who live in that town who would find it hilarious that we reconfigured it as a vacation destination. But, through the right lens, it really was. We had a great time, made lots of memories, and still talk about it today. The point is, you can choose to look at your town the same way. Look up what parks and museums are within a couple hours drive of you. Do a Google search on the local history and what historical markers are in your area. Approach your area as if you knew nothing about it and wanted to take it all in.

Vacations mean a change of pace, a gentleness with ourselves, a time of rest and renewal, and a time to stretch ourselves and encounter new people, new lands, new ways, and new options.

Anne Wilson Schaef

Embrace the morning or the afternoon, otherwise known as the day-staycation.

If you’re needing a break but don’t have scads of vacation time to take, consider what you could do in a morning or an afternoon. I recently took one of my daughters on an afternoon excursion to a geological site a little over an hour from our home. We headed out after lunch, made the drive, hiked for a couple of hours, and headed home. It was amazing how much of a difference that little break made. It’s helpful to research staycation ideas that don’t require a whole set of days, but rather short half-day experiences that can recharge you.

Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.

Maya Angelou

Follow travel social accounts for your area to find attractions you might not know about.

Social media can drag you down when it comes to your comparison muscle. Or it can be a force for good. I’ve recently started following some travel social media influencers who have content specific to my area of the country and those accounts have been a tremendous resource. It’s eye opening to see where you live through someone’s eyes and photography skills. And these influencers’ abilities to find little hole-in-the-wall places I didn’t know about is remarkable. 

Create a list

As you begin to identify attractions and restaurants and other things you’d like to visit in your area, keep a list. For me, it’s all too easy to see something that seems interesting, to tell myself I’ll make a mental note, and then to promptly forget. Keep a running list on your phone of the places you’d like to visit so that you have it at the ready for your staycation planning. 

If you go full staycation, really do it. 

A few years ago, out of an abundance of practicality and a deficit of time, my husband and I planned a full week’s staycation in our city. There were plenty of great things about the experience, but here’s where we blew it; we also crammed in some house chores and a few work items and a couple of regularly scheduled meetings. While it seemed to make sense at the time, I can look back and see that we really should have gone all in and treated it like a ‘true’ vacation, since that is what it really was. We needed the break from typical work flows. We should have taken the pause from any of the daily routines. 

Research shows that 55% of Americans do not take their available vacation time.1 And even though many of us have just come through a long season of remote work (and therefore might feel a little guilty taking vacation days for a staycation), here’s something sobering to think about. A study published by the medical journal The Lancet in 2018 shows a strong correlation between not taking a break from work and cardiovascular and stroke risk. It’s not just about getting those Instagrammable pictures; time away from work and school schedules is important for your physical and mental wellbeing. 

If a full-on touristy vacation isn’t in the budget or on the books for this year, think outside of the box and consider a well-planned, intentional staycation. It could be just the low pressure, budget friendly option you’re looking for.

Julie Lyles Carr is a best-selling author, podcaster, and entrepreneur living in Austin, Texas, with her husband Mike Carr. They have eight kids, two unfriendly cats, and an antique dachshund.