Staycation Vs Vacation

By Susan Hunt-Bradford,
Healthy Planet Publisher

This summer a lot of people are opting for a staycation instead of a vacation. I spoke with a family who recently went on a staycation.

Carolyn O’Laughlin — just finished her Ph.D. at SLU
Rebecca O’Laughlin — works as an academic advisor at Wash U
The kids are Caleb (12) and Avery (15)
They live in Rock Hill. Their kids go to Webster schools.

What is your definition of a staycation?

A staycation is a mindset. 😉 We’re a pretty driven family with jobs and side jobs and volunteer/ youth sports/ extended family responsibilities—sometimes, it is hard to distance ourselves from those things for any extended time. But we still enjoy spending time as a family, the “break” from all those responsibilities. St. Louis and surrounding areas have various fun and free leisure activities. When we are in “staycation” mode, we take advantage of those things similarly to how we would if traveling. Within St. Louis, that might mean we use metro transit to go to an event, grab donuts on the way for breakfast, or even stay in a hotel overnight for access to a pool, etc. It may also mean eating “vacation” food (like take-out or easy non-cook meals) at home on paper plates.

I am NOT A CAMPER. But during the pandemic, we bought a used pop-up camper (we named her “screentime”) and went to several campgrounds and state parts within about 90 minutes of St. Louis. This allowed us to get out of our house/off screens and our usual routine and enjoy nature without much time on the road. Both the camper and the minivan we pull it with are reliably unreliable, so it isn’t without risk of some inconvenience. Still, by sticking close to home, we’ve been able to adapt with humor when needed. We’ve had a blast exploring nature in our backyard—we’ve ridden bikes, rented kayaks, used paddle boards, built fires, read in hammocks, and had terrific late-night conversations with our two boys (currently 12 and 15). We’ve also been chased by bees and hidden from a bold raccoon family!

Why did you choose a staycation vs a vacation?

Airfare and hotel costs are quite prohibitive! My wife and I are both educators, and I’ve been a full-time student for the past two years, so the costs are a significant component. Additionally, we sometimes have one thing in a weekend that we don’t want to miss—so while going away is not tenable, a staycation does allow us to get the kid’s ballgame, work event, or family dinner (even if we’re camping!)

Typically, when we attend events or “tourist” things in St. Louis, we do so in the most economical way. But in “staycation” mode, we might spring for better tickets, the extra experience, or make a full day of it.

How long was your staycation?

When camping, we usually go for three nights—it’s a lot of work to set up the camper for less than three nights, but we’re generally pretty physically exhausted (although mentally revived) then!

A non-camping “staycation” isn’t typically “consecutive” for us. We might do “staycation Fridays” or something similar. First, we identify and “reserve” the days that we are available. Then we list goals/activities we’d like to do/neighborhoods we’d like to explore. As the day arrives, we select one of those activities depending on weather, interest, and energy. If there are ticketed events, we adjust appropriately.

What types of activities did you do?

Hikes with picnics, museums, and neighborhood explorations (stopping for many treats). Six flags, arch grounds, etc. We’ve done an escape room, gone to movies, bike rides, etc.

Katy Trail bike ride, Six Flags, Cardinals Game, Meramec Caverns, Tubing, float trip, etc.

Another great place for a family fun “staycation” is Trout Lodge in Potosi! I am certain that our experiences at trout lodge with fishing, boating, kayaks, pontoon boats, campfires, etc allowed us to develop the confidence we needed to camp with kids. The cost is all-inclusive for meals and many activities.

Were you alone or with family and/or friends? If family and friends, gender and ages.

We are a two-mom family with two boys aged 12 and 15. As a two-mom family, we feel less comfortable in some places. But, unfortunately, as recent Missouri politics illustrate, “family-friendly” does not always include our family. We do have to be on alert for our own safety. Some things labeled “family friendly” signal that our family is unwelcome.

How much money did you spend vs a typical vacation?

This is difficult to answer—but here’s how it makes sense in my brain:

Flights: $300×4= $1200

Modest Hotel/AirBnB: $200×3= $600

I’m $1800 ahead right off the top on staycation. This leaves room for me to upgrade our staycation experiences—rent the kayak, better tickets, amusement park, etc.

Do you normally take a vacation or do you always do a staycation?

Our family also takes an annual vacation to Ocracoke, North Carolina, each year. We meet with another family, share a house, and cook meals. While there, we mostly go to the beach and ride bikes—but we usually do two other costly activities, like rent a boat or parasail. Honestly, this also has a “staycation” feel in how laid-back and economical we are! But it takes an 18-hour drive and a 3-hour ferry to get there!

Did you enjoy the staycation? Would you do it again?

It’s an excellent opportunity to take a break from our regular responsibilities. We get to know St. Louis and the nearby areas. We’ve gone back to Lake Carlyle several times. We made a winter hiking trip to Mark Twain National Forest in southern Il and planned to return.

What advice do you have for others considering a staycation?

Don’t put additional pressure on yourself to make it a VACATION—the point of a staycation is to be low-key and relax without the distance provided by travel. Paper plates are fine! Eating all meals out is fine! Getting bored is fine! Hit up a drive-thru and eat at a park. The best thing I’ve found about traveling is “discovering” things—and I sometimes forget that there are things to discover right here.

What tips/tricks did you learn about going on a staycation?

There are no staycation police. You can’t do it wrong! Don’t feel weird about doing a walking tour or “tourist stuff.” You’re entitled to have fun in your town, too! If you have to take a call, take the call and let yourself off the hook! I haven’t done this—but I’d love to hire a cleaning service for my house while we’re out. I LOVE returning to a clean house (that I didn’t clean!) That’ll be next for me.

If you would do it again, where would you like to go on your next staycation?

I’m disillusioned with Missouri politics at the moment, so I think our next rural excursions will be Illinois-based—Pere Marquette State Park, Lake Carlyle, Garden of Gods in southern Illinois, etc. Also, my wife loves hiking, so that will be on the agenda more this year.

Were there any downsides of a staycation vs a vacation?

I enjoy learning about other cities, cultures, and ways of life. There are certainly opportunities to do that here, but it’s not quite the same. And try as I may- I do have to actively turn off my work/student brain more intentionally than I do when we travel a distance. (It’s hard to walk past my work-at-home desk and not quickly check an email, finish that paper, etc).