Summer is here, but this year it doesn’t come with a trip abroad. When you love to travel, staying home can feel like a huge disappointment. Like many of you, this year I’m swapping my vacation for a staycation. Fortunately, we all have more in our backyards than we usually appreciate. With these tips and examples from my own plans in my small Virginia hometown, you can make sure your time off is fun and relaxing — even if it doesn’t require a passport and a 10-hour flight.
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Rely on your local knowledge
You have a unique advantage in your hometown. You already know the best spots and the hidden gems — everything a visitor would want to know! Lean into your local knowledge as you plan time off at home. Make social distancing easy by enjoying more off-the-beaten-path spots.
Set boundaries so you don’t slip into work mode
It can be hard to give yourself a mental break when you’re in the same place you live and work every day. Set up an out of office reply on your email and turn off notifications on your phone. You might even consider giving yourself some personal ground rules about how much screen time you’ll allow yourself to make the most of your staycation.
Ensure max relaxing time
Do a marathon cooking and cleaning session before your time off begins so you don’t have to spend your staycation doing chores.
Pick out some great beach reads
You may not have an oceanfront view, but you can still enjoy all the dishy romances and page-turner mysteries you’d read on a proper beach getaway. If your local library isn’t open, call a local bookstore to see if they are taking orders or place an order with a major chain online. Stock up on fun, easy reads for your time off. A few of the books on my list this summer are Crazy Rich Asians, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, Pretty Things, The Jane Austen Society, Daisy Jones & the Six, and an old favorite guilty pleasure: the Stephanie Plum series.
Get a room
Your local hotels are hurting without tourist traffic. Even if it’s for just one night, staying in a hotel can help you feel like you’re getting the escape you need.
Put on a pretty maxi dress
Say goodbye to those work from home leggings you’ve been wearing every day. Celebrate the nice weather by dressing up in a vacay-worthy outfit.
Focus on outdoor spaces
You’ll see a lot of outdoorsy activities on this list, but even in a large city, you can find green spaces in hidden corners. We’ll need these more than ever to maintain social distancing on a staycation. Start making a list of your favorite nearby parks, gardens and outdoor spaces. In Charlottesville, we have a pedestrian mall downtown perfect for summer strolls.
Take a hike
Day hikes are the perfect way to spend a morning or afternoon close to home. It can be a challenging summit in a national park, or a simple trail walk in a nearby neighborhood. Lace up a sturdy pair of sneakers, slap on plenty of sunscreen and enjoy the great outdoors.
Hit up all your favorite area restaurants
You’ve missed going out and they’ve missed having you. Look for places with large patios that can space out diners and treat yourself to a lot of al fresco meals.
Go fruit picking
Pick-your-own fruit farms are a great way to spend a summer afternoon. Look for cherry orchards in late May and early June, blueberries and raspberries in June and July, and peaches and blackberries in July and August. Use this National PYO Directory to find a farm near you.
Visit a local attraction you’ve never been to before
Playing tourist in your hometown can encourage you to do things you’ve never bothered trying as a local. I’ve lived in Charlottesville my whole life, and while I’ve been to Monticello many times, I’ve never been to the other presidential homes in the area. A staycation is the perfect time to check out that museum or famous landmark you’ve always written off as too touristy for you.
Put up a tent or a hammock in your backyard
If a national park is too far afield for a big summer camping trip, pitch a tent in the backyard. See how many constellations you can spot or get a fire pit for toasting marshmallows. Another way to make the most of a backyard getaway: hang a hammock. You’ll be dozing off with a book in no time.
Try an online cooking class
I love taking cooking classes when I travel. Food is such a great window into culture. Airbnb has moved a bunch of its Airbnb Experiences to an online format. Learn how to make Spanish tapas, Moroccan tagine, Japanese mochi, and so so much more from your own kitchen.
Pack a picnic for the park
If you don’t have the budget to eat out for your entire staycation, a picnic is the best way to make cooking for yourself feel a little more special. You could go all out and make a heap of focaccia sandwiches, but I won’t judge if you just throw some fruit and cheese in your bag with a bottle of bubbly. It feels like a fabulously French thing to do, non?
Splurge on a spa day
Pamper yourself with a massage or a facial. Make sure you call ahead so you know the spa’s pandemic regulations. A spa in my hometown is limiting appointments and having guests submit paperwork online instead of filling it out at the visit. You can also DIY a spa day at home if funds are tight. I’m a huge fan of the Say Yes To line, which is easy to find in supermarkets and drugstores.
Look for public art near you
We may not be packing into museums soon, but in many cities and even some small towns you can find murals and sculpture parks that bring together art and the great outdoors. I am a huge public art fan (in fact, it’s my day job) and being surrounded by people’s creativity for an afternoon is a great lift. You might even discover a talented local artist.
Shop a local farmers market
Local artists and craftsmen also frequently populate outdoor markets. If it’s not already part of your weekend routine, give yourself a leisurely start one morning strolling the market stalls. Far more than your typical produce, you might stumble upon a unique heirloom vegetable you never knew, a talented local chef who doesn’t have a brick and mortar restaurant, and all manner of locally produced goods from jam and honey to bread and cheese to pottery and handblown glass.
Seek out a drive-in movie theater
Movies are an easy enough way to pass the time, but an old-school drive-in feels like so much more of an event. Outdoor theaters like the Goochland Drive-In Theater near Richmond are more popular than ever, with shows selling out quickly so you should plan on buying tickets in advance.
Lounge by the pool
If you’re lucky enough to have a backyard pool (even if it’s the inflatable kiddie variety), make use of it! Many public swimming pools will be closed this summer, but with your own outdoor space, you can still work on your tan, read a book in a lounge chair and luxuriate in that summer feeling.
Tackle a project at home
Take that thing you’ve been putting off — framing photos, tackling the KonMari method, planting a garden for the first time — and get it done. It may not feel super vacation-y, but for some people the time to do something special for their homes is what sets a staycation apart from a regular summer getaway.
Head to a lake or river for the day
Beaches are quickly getting overrun and coastal crowds are leading to new spikes in our rate of infection. As much as time outdoors feels safer right now, the most important thing is to spread out. In pursuit of that, don’t discount spaces like state parks and county lakes. In my neck of the woods, tubing on the James River is a popular summer activity and is requiring advance reservations to help with social distancing.
Take a virtual museum tour
Maybe your hometown doesn’t have a Met or a Louvre. If you’re an avid museum hopper, many attractions around the world have created virtual tours. Of course, nothing can fully replace the experience of seeing great works in person, but you can get a little vicarious living done in the meantime. Pour a glass of wine and cozy up for one of these 12 virtual museum tours one evening.
Go kayaking or paddleboarding
Find a rental office near a local lake or river and get out on the open water. For now, it may be wise to only try this if you are an experienced paddler as many outfitters are operating with limited services in the interest of their staff’s health.
Go wine or beer tasting
Maybe you’ve been dreaming of Napa or Bordeaux or Tuscany for years. While it may not fit the romantic visions of rolling vine-clad hills, you can find wine produced in all 50 states. Personally, I think Virginia’s budding wine country is a hidden gem. In Virginia, particularly, many wineries also serve food and have outdoor patios, so even under our current tight restrictions, there are a few places to enjoy wine tasting. The same is true for some breweries if you prefer hops to tannins. Look around and see what great craft beverages have been under your nose all this time.
Wake up with outdoor yoga
One of the best parts of any staycation is waking up in your own bed, but with no rush to get going. Allow yourself some leisurely mornings and get a relaxing start to the day with yoga in the backyard or on a rooftop patio.
Indulge in a lunchtime cocktail
Whether you’re enjoying a solo meal at home or lounging on a restaurant’s patio, treat yourself. Have a margarita with your tacos. Who’s counting?
Enjoy a scenic drive
If you really need to get out of town, stay behind the wheel. Scenic routes like Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway have beautiful views to enjoy.
Explore a neighborhood you’re not familiar with
In our hometowns, we tend to stick to daily routines. During your time off, mix it up and find a pretty neighborhood or historic area to walk around. To really channel your inner traveler, bring along your camera and take lots of pictures!
Between your favorite places and things you’ve never tried, your staycation is bound to show you a new side of the place you call home. We’re all counting down the days until we can hit the road again, but in the meantime we can still look at the world like travelers.