I’ll never forget the time a friend was telling me about their summer trip. They had gone abroad with their family and visited multiple European countries in just one week. They had also done all of the excursions, seen the sights, and taken the tours. They packed their days with foreign adventure. From sun up to sun down, they were on the go.
“I need a vacation from my vacation!” My friend told me after recapping the trip. I felt like I needed a vacation just from hearing about it. Never before had time off work sounded so exhausting. It was a short and seemingly casual conversation, but it made a lasting impact on me. I began thinking about how I spend my own vacation time and whether I return to work feeling rested or more exhausted.
Later that year, I did something I’d never done before: I took a vacation but didn’t go anywhere. This was a change for me because, growing up, my family always traveled somewhere whenever my parents had time off work, or we kids were on school break for the summer. Our very definition of vacation included travel. We didn’t go abroad or on expensive trips (I didn’t fly until I was a teenager), but instead we camped in the mountains or visited my grandparents' house in the city. It didn’t matter where we went as long as we packed our suitcases and went somewhere. Vacation didn’t officially start until we had left home.
So when I decided to take a week-long staycation from my nine to five job a few years ago, I was rightly a bit nervous about it. What would I do? Would I be bored? How does one rest if not at a beach or reading a book in a cabin in the woods? I realized how much I’d equated leaving home with relaxation, as well as adventure. I wanted to shift that way of thinking—to focus instead on vacation as a mindset, not as a physical place. I was also curious: how does one find pleasure in exploring their own backyard? There were still so many places in my city that I’d not yet seen, because whenever I’d had time off in the past, I’d chosen to go elsewhere.
It’s probably evident at this point in the story, but that week was monumental. My staycation wasn’t busy and packed with faraway adventures, but neither was it boring. Instead, I discovered meaningful ways to spend my hours—ways that were much slower and simpler than if I’d been exploring new cities.
For once, I didn’t have to be anywhere or do anything. This meant I could go anywhere, and I could do anything. Take a long nap? Sure. Spend hours cooking an elaborate meal? Why not. Take a day to explore the hidden corners of my small town? Absolutely. I spent the money I would have spent on travel expenses on morning coffee at the cafe down the street. I got a haircut. I splurged on new books and a cozy blanket for my bed.
When the week was over, I felt refreshed and rested. While my Instagram feed didn’t show photos of Spanish beaches and plates of Italian pasta, my journals were filled with pages of thoughts and reflections. These pages were better than any vacation souvenirs I could have come home with.
I’m not saying traveling can’t be relaxing or that you shouldn’t explore new places if your circumstances and privilege allow for it. I’m compelled by this idea that we don’t need to leave home to have a meaningful or memorable vacation. When we reset and redefine what vacation means, we can all experience our time away from work in a new and possibly more meaningful way.
How to Have a Meaningful Vacation at Home
Set Your Intentions
Anyone who has ever taken a vacation knows this to be true: vacation days pass by too quickly. After weeks of anticipation and dreaming about time away from the daily work grind, the actual vacation period seems to be over almost as soon it begins. The old saying holds ground here: time flies when you’re having fun.
One way I like to combat this feeling is by setting an intention for the length of my vacation, as well as for each specific day. Not only do these mini-goals give my day structure (this can be important when vacationing at home), but they ensure I choose and engage in activities that will feed my soul. I have nothing against binge-watching Netflix for a week, but you may not want to spend your entire vacation in front of a screen.
You may be choosing a staycation because finances are tight. Choosing to relax at home rather than travel is definitely the best way to save money. Even if you’re working with a strict budget, you should treat yourself during your vacation. Our editor Emily talks about this in her essay on debt, describing the importance of paying yourself a small allowance, and I can’t think of a better time than during a staycation to spend a few dollars treating yourself.
Don’t Judge Yourself for Not Doing Anything
Finally, don’t judge yourself for resting. It’s easy to feel like you need to fill your schedule with activities and adventures and all the things you don’t have time to do during a typical work week. Especially when you’re staying at home, chores and household projects suddenly seem glaring. Don’t do them though—unless, of course, yard work is your idea of rest.
Instead, listen to your body. If you want to nap, take a nap. You have permission to spend the entire day sleeping or curled up on the couch with a book if that’s what you need. Honor your body and don’t force yourself to do things because you feel like you’re supposed to do them. There is no standard for how to do a vacation, or a staycation. Equal parts rest and play are essential for health and balance—no matter if you’re traveling or enjoying your days off at home.
A quick and final note: paid vacations are a privilege that, unfortunately, not everyone has access to, especially in the United States. There is also a serious culture of shame that comes with taking time off from work. It’s a problem, and it’s leading to burnout in the workplace. This is particularly true for women and minorities.
You can learn more about equality in the workplace and support organizations fighting for fair wages and benefits packages here.
Kayti Christian, a staff writer for The Good Trade, is a storyteller, creator, activist, and avid traveler hailing from Colorado, now living in London. With 30+ stamps in her passport, she is passionate about responsible tourism and is always looking for new ways to be a more conscious traveler. She is currently pursuing her MA in Creative Nonfiction Writing at City, University of London.