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Maximize your staycation with preschoolers

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About Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and lives in Bend, Oregon with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

It’s good to be back to a regular routine starting today, though we really did have a great family vacation and staycation. We went to the beach for a few days, and hit up the nearby water park, but other than that, we stayed home.

Staycation is the latest buzzword – it basically means what it sounds like, a vacation you take at home. In order to deal with increasing gas prices, staycations have become a great alternative for those families who would otherwise not take time away from real life at all. And since gas is nearing $14 where we live, a staycation was a must this summer.

The problem with staycations, however, is that it’s tough to leave your real life. While it’s nice not to have to pack, deal with traffic, or juggle kids in the airport, it’s a challenge to pretend like you’re away, when really, you’re not. You can see the dishes in the sink, the incoming bills, and the remnants of usual day-to-day life, so it does take some effort to get into vacation mode.

It’s worth it, though. When we priced transportation, hotels, and food even just a few hours away, we figure we saved almost $1,000 staying in our own place and vacationing in town.

I want to share a few tips I learned this past week about how to have a successful staycation, especially with small children.

Staycationing with preschoolers: Yes, it can be fun

Write a list of things you want to do, and decide on a general schedule of when to do them. It’s easy to let time get sucked away when you’re on familiar territory. Cleaning out the closet can still happen when your vacation is over – don’t let that take priority over truly relaxing with your family (unless, of course, that’s really something you want to do – I can completely understand that!).

Make sure that list has at least one thing everyone would enjoy doing. If you’re like us, the things the adults want to do (read at Starbucks, sleep in) are not the same things the preschoolers want to do (play at the park, watch Ratatouille eleven times). But it’s everyone’s vacation, so it’s best if everyone gets to do at least one thing they’d enjoy.

You and your spouse take sleeping in shifts. Sure, in an ideal world, you both could sleep in until 10 a.m. and read the paper in your bathrobes while munching on breakfast in bed. In the real world, your baby is ready to go at 7 a.m., and the three-year-old will pour herself apple juice over chocolate chips for breakfast unsupervised. My husband and I flip-flopped the morning shifts, so we both got to sleep in at least a few days.

Have plenty of snacks and easy meals on hand. I took the week off of menu planning, but if we weren’t careful, it would be too easy to eat out way more than was necessary. Having bread and sandwich makings in the fridge was so helpful, so that we could easily pack lunches when we left, and have an easy lunch at home when we stayed. Plenty of fruit, crackers, carrot sticks, raisins, and peanut butter made the perfect healthy snacks, for the 30-year-olds and the 3-year-olds.

Stay flexible. This is one of the beauties of a staycation. If you wake up and decide you’d rather rent a movie and do a craft together in your pajamas, you can! The local museum will still be there tomorrow, or next month, really.

You’re on vacation, but still keep somewhat up to speed on dishes and laundry. There’s no need to scrub the house top to bottom, but still wash your clothes and clean the dishes as you go. It’s a bummer to take a break from the fun in order to catch up. If everyone pitches in a little each day, these things shouldn’t be too cumbersome.

• Be brave. Even though you’re in the city where you live, do something out of the ordinary. It’s easy with small children to rule out a lot of options, chalking it up to nap or bedtimes. On a staycation, it’s okay for your kids to stay up late for the sake of something special every now and then. Do that thing in your town you’ve always heard was fun. If your kids are a basket case by the end, make the next day a Recovery Day.

And speaking of which, schedule in some Recovery Days. Don’t plan too much, and for those all-day events, spread them out for the sake of the little ones. If they’re sunburned, exhausted, and whiny, the odds are, you’re not going to have as much fun. Take a day to chill, head to the library, play in the sprinkler in the backyard, and make a fun dessert.

We are so glad we took a break from our usual life to spend some unique time together. Do you have a vacation planned for the last half of the summer? What are you doing to prepare? If not, have you considered a staycation? What are some of your tips for having fun with preschoolers? I encourage you to take a few days off together as a family, even if you can’t afford to go somewhere.

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  1. Oh we’re definitely planning a staycation. We went back to the US in the Spring to see our family, so the week that my husband is taking off from work in August is going to be spent relaxing here at home. I’m most looking forward to spending time together as a family, although I’ve managed to find a few fun (and relatively frugal) activities for the kids that we wouldn’t normally do. For example, we’re going to go ride ponies one afternoon in the nearby mountains and then we’re going to take the kids to one of those tree climbing places. I probably won’t be able to watch, but they’ll have fun!

  2. Angel and I have taken a few short staycations already this year already… and with the cost of gas, a few more may transpire.

    PS:

    And since gas is nearing $14 where we live, a staycation was a must this summer.

    Did you mean to type $4?

    Marc and Angel Hack Lifes last blog post..Warning: Selling “Hours for Dollars” CAN Be “Bad Business”–Are You Good?

  3. Oh, we often have a staycation. :) I like to visit the local tourist information booth and find out what’s going on, then play tourist in my own town.

  4. We live in a pretty fun cluster of medium cities, so there is lots to do here if we drive just a handful of miles–under 15– out of our way. Though my husband won’t take time off “just to stay home,” (typical American work-work mindset!) we have done a lot of fun things on the weekends, like going to museum exhibits, taking a day trip to the beach, and trying out a few new restaurants as a family. During the week, we’ve explored new-to-us playgrounds, gone to special events at the library and science museum geared toward young and school-age children, and spent a lot of fun time outside in our own yard. We’ll go to a minor-league baseball game right here in town before summer is out, visit our pool often, and have lots more fun before school looms again!

    I am guessing your $14 was not a typo!

  5. I’m planning a staycation in September to work on my “honey-do” list around the house when the kids are back in school, and attempt to lay out some book ideas. We didn’t go anywhere this year because my wife’s cast and bum ankle makes it tough to get around. If she heals up by Fall we make take a short trip to the mountains for a long weekend get-away.

  6. Whenever we’re going to be away from home for more than a few days, I have the post office hold our mail. But who says you have to leave home to do that? Have them hold your mail for the duration of your “staycation,” and you can avoid those incoming bills! For a little while, at least. :)

  7. My son’s favorite thing to do while visiting his grandparents last week was to sit in a little one-person boat with a couple of inches of water in it and splash around. It’s certainly not the little ones who “need” the expensive things in order to be entertained!

  8. This is exactly what we are planning to do this year. We live in a vacation area (the Outer Banks in NC) but we don’t do all the ‘tourist’ stuff, so we have lots to do and can limit our spending to just the gas money we would have spent driving to Grandma’s and still have a great time.

    Thanks for all the fun and helpful tips!

  9. @Kelly – Tree climbing places? Sounds adventurous.

    @Marc and Angel – Nope, it really is $14.

    @Amy – Sounds like you have lots of fun ideas for your family!

    @Frugal Dad – Oh, I think a honey-do list tackling week sounds like a fabulous staycation idea! :)

    @Nichole – Ooh, fun idea!

    @Princess Leia – That’s true with little ones – my daughter loves her blow-up pool, almost as though we were at some great olympic-sized pool! Gotta love simple pleasures.

  10. Some great tips for the staycation. In this time of economic hardship and high gas prices, we seem to get more creative on things to do and how to survive. Thanks for sharing!

  11. We had a backyard campout this year, and I have to say, it was the best camping experience I’ve ever had! No coolers, bug spray, packing, yucky toilets, and a hot bath. It was great! I don’t think I’ll want to go camping for real again anytime soon.

  12. $14.00? I’m about to go throw up. Your staycation sounds fabulous. My husband and I are actually taking an 800 mile road trip to see family (and the beach) this summer. I was already wanting to cry about our gas prices nearing $5.00

    thrilled by the thoughts last blog post..Artist of the Week- Chagall (again)

  13. i’m so glad we’re not the only ones enjoying the pleasures of home!

    thanks for the post, it helped a lot!

    karis last blog post..how would we manage without our……

  14. avatar
    1hot&tiredmama says:

    We planned our trip for a place 2 hours away. Just far enough to feel away, but not such a gas-guzzling trip.

    One thing we do is have a “food vacation” with our regular vacation. I am pretty picky about what my kids eat — no sugary cereal, no high fructose corn syrup, no processed foods. During our vacation I let my kids make my grocery list and choose whatever they want (within reason). They get to eat whatever cereal they want, frozen chicken nuggets that I would not ordinarily buy, oreos, etc. They spend weeks planning what they’re going to have me buy and no one complains about what’s for supper. After that week of junk, they’re pretty ready to return to our normal eating habits!

  15. What part of the world are you in that gas is $14????

    Ambers last blog post..Cruel and Unusual

  16. @Amber – Let’s just say that 1. I’m not in the U.S., and 2. this country has one of the highest gas prices in the world. :)

  17. This definitely falls into the “I wish I had thought of that” category. It’s been a long time since we’ve been on a real vacation, so this idea is refreshing. When I take a few days off, I usually end up working anyway. I really have to learn to turn off “work” mode and go into “vacation” mode — hard to do when you work from home anyway. Thanks for the great post! I hope you got caught up on all your rest!

    Jennae @ Green Your Decors last blog post..Green Rooms in a Box Series: Dining Room Under $2500

  18. These sound like great ideas. We have mostly been staying home too. In two weeks some of the kids and I will actually be staying outside in our camping trailer for an added mirage of an actual vacation.

    The Link Love looks great too. T~

  19. Here’s another idea to spice things up a little: how about a switchcation?

    You find another family similar to yours, also wanting to do a staycation, and then just switch homes for a week or two. ;)

    Francoiss last blog post..Financial Freedom Quick Tip #9: Stick with your investments

  20. My sister is coming to spend a week with me for Lil Sugar’s 1st birthday – that will be all the “staycationing” I’ll get until Christmas when the whole family comes (it’s our year to host)

    My hubby will take a few days off this fall to hunt but that’s about it for us this year.

    A Frugal Housewifes last blog post..Contest Ends Tonight

  21. Staycations aren’t great for us – my husband has too much on his to-do list and he hates feeling idle. But I can see the appeal – travelling with three preschoolers means I’m busier than I am at home since they need more assistance with minor tasks when they are in unfamiliar places (help finding the bathroom, no self-serve snacking, etc.)
    I do go into vacation mode during the summer and try to plan more outings with the kids, and maintain a more flexible schedule anyhow. We swim at least once a week, eat outdoors more often, picnic in the park, etc.

    Angela Fehrs last blog post..Painting Inspiration: Delphiniums in Bloom

  22. I’m planning a Staycation to build my son a treehouse in a few weeks. After our 12 day trip to Wyoming, Montana, and South Dakota, I need some down time!

  23. Staycations are my favorite. The last time we went out of town, I mistakenly let the kids 13, 11, and 9 pack for themselves. I was so busy finishing a free-lance job before departure I didn’t do a comprehensive final check. My youngest, packed 23 stuffed Pokemon’s but no underwear of socks. Yes, I know, it’s my fault. Good thing we were at the beach. Socks not necessary and underwear optional.

    Amys last blog post..Friend Food

  24. Came across your blog through 5 minutes with mom. What a wondeful idea! Thanks for sharing it!

    Vickis last blog post.."Yemonade" For Sale!

  25. Our last vacation was a Staycation-except I didn’t know that’s what it was called! Thank you for informing me!
    It turned out to be quite nice. We have 3 kids 5 and under, and my husband and I went out on 3 dates that week. We also planned some kid-centered fun activities.
    Would definitely do it again, but I hope our next one is at the beach!

    Mama Cs last blog post..From Chaos to Order: At Least For Now

  26. I haven’t done a staycation yet, but the idea is very appealing, especially because we live so close to NYC.

    If I were to do it though, I would seriously consider having my mail held, just as if I was on vacation. A small break from reality even though I’m at home!

    Lisas last blog post..Oh. Oh, my.

  27. I am a vegetarian and I have found tons of easy meals but what about quick easy meals for vegetarians? Email me if you would at guywithhats@yahoo.com

    Davids last blog post..Natural Ways to Flawless Skin

  28. $14?!?! OMG! And I thought we were rough in Michigan at $4!!!!! Where in the HECK are you???

  29. This is a really neat concept! I think we will try this for sure!

  30. I loved this post! We aren’t planning a long staycation this year, but we have gravitated toward spending Saturdays at home rather than being out and about as in previous years. This has given me some great ideas to try! Thank you.

  31. Love this post. I just did one about staycations as well. I will link over to you!

    RookieMom Whitney’s last blog post…Declare yourself a rookie mom

  32. Great ideas!! We’ve had basically a staycation for the last month. Sort of. More of a home improvemacation. With a few fun outtings, lots of movie days, and whatever we feel like in between. But next week we start our actual trips away from home, three in a row, with a couple days to do laundry and repack in between. That’s not how I expected to do things, but now that we’ve planned it that way, I think it’ll actually be fun. Camping at the beach, then sightseeing in San Francisco, then down to Orange County to stay with friends and swim in their pool. It’ll be a vacation from our staycation. :)

    Amanda´s last blog post…In the garden: Harvest time already?

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