7 vacations you can have without leaving the neighborhood

Until we’re able to drop the “new” from “new normal,” here’s help turning your home base into a retreat.

Donna Heiderstadt
Mature Black woman using a tablet.

After months of being cooped up inside, it’s natural to want to escape the daily routines imposed by the pandemic. But heading somewhere relaxing in another state or country isn’t advisable (or maybe even possible) right now. 

Amazing vacation opportunities will return, but as the world awaits a COVID-19 vaccine and the travel industry works to enhance health and safety protocols, enjoying mini “staycations” can offer a much-needed morale boost. By following recommended guidelines for social distancing and wearing a mask, you can experience many of the best activities your neighborhood or region has to offer. 

Susan Moynihan, a travel advisor, says her 65-plus and multigenerational clients are skipping international travel and even plane travel for local road trips. “It’s a win-win — they get to go on vacation and make lasting memories while also supporting regional businesses in need of revenue,” she says.

Moynihan says that the key to having an exciting home-based retreat is to approach it as you would a dream getaway. That means doing your homework. “You’ll be amazed at the experiences you can find when you do some deeper research, even in your own backyard,” she says.

The only “requirement” for your staycation planning is to clear the day or weekend: No telemedicine appointments, grocery deliveries or bill paying allowed. Even better, no social media or news watching. This is time you’re setting aside to relax and recharge.

To get started planning your dream staycation, use these seven ideas for inspiration. 

Staycation #1: Surround Yourself With Nature

Walking in the fresh air amid the beauty and serenity of nature is one of the best ways to help enhance your mood. Numerous studies have connected spending time outside with better emotional and physical health outcomes.

One large review of the published data, which appeared in the Annual Review of Public Health, showed that any time spent engaging with nature helps people “meet the demands of life.” The study’s authors found that putting some space between you and your daily stressors helps lower the risk of health conditions that are tied to chronic stress (think heart disease and anxiety).

You probably know your nearest park by heart. So consider expanding your horizons by looking for botanical gardens, arboretums, nature preserves or even state parks or historic estates with public gardens within easy driving distance. 

Check your state or county website for ideas — or do a quick internet search. Type the above terms plus “near me” in the search bar.

Staycation #2: Get Your Culture Fix Virtually

If you love art and history, you’re in luck. When “safer-at-home” orders went into place, museums, art galleries and other cultural institutions around the world closed their ticket windows and opened their doors for virtual tours. 

And we’ve all benefitted. No more standing in line for hours for your two minutes in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. Even penguins from the Kansas City Zoo, who had the halls of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art all to themselves last May, have enjoyed the change.

Set aside a day or two to go online and virtually browse the exhibits of your favorite museum or one you’ve been wanting to see. The Google Arts & Culture Street View includes curated exhibitions from 10 top museums, including New York’s Guggenheim Museum, Paris’s Musée d’Orsay, London’s British Museum and Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. There’s even something for sports fans, who might enjoy browsing Australia’s National Surfing Museum. 

Depending on the reopening status of your town or state, some local museums and galleries may be open again. If so, it’s a pretty safe bet that crowds will be thin. That’s because many institutions will have switched to reservation-only time slots to honor social distancing guidelines. Just be sure to call ahead and ask about their current policies and safety guidelines.

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Staycation #3: Discover Local Trails

Trails are meant to be explored — you just need to know they exist. These might be scenic walking trails around a golf course or reservoir, or drivable food trails highlighting local specialties. 

What’s your passion? Many areas have history trails marking vintage buildings or a literary trail celebrating native-born writers. Chances are there’s a mural or sculpture walk in a nearby city.

Check state, county and local chamber of commerce websites to find them, or search and create your own local trail for anything from roadside farm stands to public art. Again, in your internet search bar you can look up any of these terms and add the words “near me” to see what pops up.

Staycation #4: Dine Out with a View

Dining on a charming outdoor patio or cafe is one of the most enjoyable aspects of travel. So as your favorite local eateries reopen, a fun and safer way to support them — and take a break from home cooking — is to order takeout. 

Then, rather than heading home, drive to a nearby park, beach, lake or river and set up your own tailgate “table for two.” Bring your own folding chairs, plates and utensils and preferred beverage. (Remember, if you and your dining partner don’t live together, you’ll want to keep at least 6 feet of space between the two of you and have your masks on when you’re not eating.)

Staycation #5: Take Up Bird Watching 

People travel the globe to spy on some of nature’s most fascinating winged creatures. But 1,000-plus species inhabit the United States or pass through during seasonal migrations. To start, all you need is a field guide, binoculars and some intel from local birders. Luckily, the Audubon Society has more than 450 local chapters.

Staycation #6: Photograph Your Town Like You’re on Vacation

Taking photos — something you probably do more when traveling — helps you focus on beautiful details. “See” your hometown in this same way by strolling its most historic neighborhood and looking for architecture, gardens and signage that mirror a faraway place. 

For example, you can be on the lookout for a Tudor-style home that reminds you of the English countryside, a shady porch with rockers that screams Vermont or a covered bridge or pink sunset that reminds you of a movie scene. Snapping photos will help you realize just how many “places” can be enjoyed in your own ZIP code.

Later on, print them out and find one or two to frame, and put the rest in a “travel” photo book. You can even turn some of your better shots into postcards and send “Wish you were here” greetings to friends and family who live out of town.

Staycation #7: Create a Spa-like Backyard Retreat 

Our private spaces are even more important now. With just a few decorating changes, it’s easy to create a resort-like oasis right outside your back door. 

Find a cozy spot for your outdoor furniture and add a big, fluffy cushion. Open up a shady umbrella and pull a leafy potted plant next to your seat. If you have a music app on your smartphone, you may also want to turn on some water sounds — the sound of flowing water is transportive. Mix up some lemonade or iced tea, open a good book and you’re all set. 

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During the pandemic, Renew’s health tools are a valuable resource. Use them to help you manage stress, eat well and keep your mind and body active while at home. To learn more , sign in to your plan website and go to Health & Wellness. Not a member? Learn more here.

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