Monday, August 17, 2009

Here's your $19 room ... and tent

I've always thought that staying at a local hotel for a couple of night is a good idea for a staycation. Here's an inexpensive, and kind of strange, offering from a resort in San Diego:
Called the "Survivor Package," the hotel's deeply discounted promotion lets patrons trim its standard $219-per-night rate on a sliding scale of deprivation, lowering charges with each amenity stripped from the room.

The most basic version: a room for $19 with no bed, toilet paper, towels, air-conditioning or "honor bar," and only a single light bulb in the bathroom for safety. The next level up adds in a bed -- sans sheets -- for $39 a night. For a bed plus toiletries and toilet paper, the rate is $59.
Actually sounds kind of fun, and most certainly memorable. I know my kids would think it was cool.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Community theatre production links

Here are some links to the theaters in the Dallas area related to this week's appearance on "Good Morning Texas" on WFAA Channel 8. Community theaters -- or theatres, because the spelling varies -- are fun ideas for staycations.

For a national list of community theatres, search the database at, which is the Internet home of the American Association of Community Theatre.

Duncanville Community Theater
"The Odd Couple" (female version)
Now through July 25

End of the Runway Theatre in Grapevine
"Lucky Stiff"
Now through Aug. 2

Amphibian Stage Productions in Fort Worth
"Gutenberg! The Musical"
Now through Aug. 26

Contemporary Theatre of Dallas
Neil Simon's "Chapter 2"
Now through Sunday

Rover Dramawerks in Plano (yes, that’s how they spell Dramawerks)
"Epic Proportions"
Now through Aug. 8

Denton Community Theater
Now through Sunday

Rockwall Community Playhouse
"Get Smart"
July 24-Aug. 2

You could also check out

"Captain Blood: The Pirate Melodrama" at Pocket Sandwich Theatre in Dallas. That's a comedy that encourages audience members to participate by throwing popcorn at the actors. Pocket Sandwich Theatre calls it one of their "infamous popcorn-tossing comedy spoofs"

Info at

Monday, July 13, 2009

Staycation idea: Community theater

In college, I took a class called “theater appreciation.”

Was I interested in a career in theater? Not really. Did I think I could be an actor? No way. I was pretty sure that the only role I would ever play in Hollywood would be that of a tourist on the Walk of Fame asking aloud, “Are you kidding? Wink Martindale has a star on the Walk of Fame?”

The real reason I took theater appreciation was because I heard that it was an easy class to ace. That’s also why I took a class in paranormal anthropology, which included guest speakers such as a palm reader and a person who told me I had a green aura.

Well, the people who told me theater appreciation was an easy class were right. But I did learn a lot, and the highlight of the class was an assignment that I wasn't thrilled about: I had to work for a week as a stagehand during a community theater production.

It turned out to be really exciting, and a lot of fun, as I helped move sets between scenes and place props where they needed to be. That’s also when I first realized just how talented people involved in community theater can be.

Fifteen years later, I’m a huge fan of community theater. It's also great for staycations because community theater is inexpensive, it’s nearby, and it’s something that’s often overlooked.

I feel the same way after watching productions at smaller theaters. They certainly provide more bang for the buck. At a smaller theater, I can actually see the actors and singers instead of thirty rows of heads between me and the stage.

But don’t get me wrong. Broadway productions are fantastic. Touring Broadway-like productions are also terrific, so if you can make those part of a staycation, go for it. But don’t brush off community theaters, or other small stages, because they’re not as polished. It’s not like the actors are going to forget their lines or start laughing in the middle of the play. It’s not like a third-grader Christmas play with shepherds dressed in bed sheets and carrying hockey sticks.

You can find a community theater near you, and its production schedule, in the database at, which is the Internet home of the American Association of Community Theatre (yes, they spell it theatre.)

If you live in a large metro area, there are probably several community theaters presenting shows. Smaller stages, some with professional actors, some with amateurs, are also great destinations. See four shows in four nights, even if it’s a dinner theater, and you’ll still spend less than on a typical Broadway show.

Many community theaters also offer acting classes during the summer, which can be fun. Theaters are also searching for volunteers to help with productions, and it can be a lot of fun.

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Staycation day trip ideas, links

For staycationers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, I talked about several day trips during this week's appearance on "Good Morning Texas" on WFAA Channel 8. Here are links and info for those trips:


Davis, Oklahoma
Turner Falls Park has a 77 foot waterfall, picnic sites, concessions, hiking trails, natural caves, wading areas, sandy beaches
Arbuckle Wilderness Safari is a drive-thru safari

Broken Bow, Okla.
Beavers Bend Resort has camping in tents or cabins, swimming, golfing, Forest Heritage Center Museum, hiking and biking, train rides for kids
Great fishing in Broken Bow Lake


Whitney, Texas
Calls itself the “Getaway Capital of Texas”
Lake Whitney State Park has nearly 1,000 acres of area for picnics, swimming, fishing, camping, scuba diving

Glen Rose, Texas
Dinosaur Valley State Park has preserved dinosaur tracks in the riverbed
Fossil Rim Wildlife Center is a scenic wildlife safari in your car


Jacksboro, Texas
Jacksboro Fort Richardson State Historical Park has old restored buildings and a pair of replicas of a 19th century fort. It has tours, camping, hiking, wading in a creek.

Dublin, Texas
Dublin Dr Pepper Bottling Center
The only Dr Pepper plant using the original cane-sugar formula. Tours, soda fountain, gift shop
(There's also a Dr Pepper Museum in Waco.)


Athens, Texas
Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center
Aquariums with Texas fish, wetlands trail, hatchery, fishing
Also a company offering zipline rides

Kilgore, Texas
East Texas Oil Museum
Includes Boomtown, USA, –a full-scale town full of stores, people, animals, and machinery depicting the activity of a town booming in oil.

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Special treatment at sporting events

Sporting events are great ways to spend staycation time. And if you plan ahead, you might be able to make a trip to the ballpark extra special.

You can contact a team’s front office or community-relations department and ask for VIP treatment. No, they won’t send a limo to pick you up or roll out a red carpet, but you can get special treatment. This is especially true in the minor leagues, whether its baseball, hockey, football or basketball. Minor league teams are very eager to please.

So take advantage of that. Before you go to a game, contact the team’s front office or community-relations department. Tell them you’re coming out to a game and you want to know how you can make it more special. If you’re bringing kids to the game, definitely tell the team that.

You and your family could be part of a promotion or skit. The team might allow your kids to get on the field for part of batting practice or give them a chance to run the bases between innings or after the game. (I’ve covered minor-league baseball, so I’ve seen this firsthand). Maybe you can get your kids a chance to sit in the dugout for a few minutes before the game. Maybe they can meet a few of the players, get autographs and take pictures with them. Whether a pro athlete is destined for the Hall of Fame or the end of the bench, meeting him or her is a thrill for kids.

A team might not be able to set something up for that night, so again, planning ahead is valuable. But it’s hard to imagine many teams saying, “Sorry, we can’t do anything for you.” That would be like saying, “Why don’t you just go find somewhere else to spend your money.”

That’s why it never hurts to ask.

One last thing, as we finish discussing how someone else can make a sporting event more special. You can do it, too, especially if you have young kids. If you’re going to a minor-league game, make it a major-league event by immersing yourself in it. Stop by the team shop and can get a team shirt and a team hat. If your kids want to make signs for the game, encourage them (and help with spelling). Take pictures during the game of the kids in their seats, with their sports garb on, and as they eat treats from the concession stand.

It will make a great souvenir. My wife made a scrapbook page of my trip to the RoughRiders game with my oldest son, and the best picture is a close-up of him licking a plastic spoon with the last drops of ice cream on it and chocolate all over his face. Great, messy fun.

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Staycation idea: Comedy clubs, open mikes

The best comedians I’ve seen live are Jerry Seinfeld, who is as polished as an adored sports car, and Ellen DeGeneres, who is so nice that she actually takes requests from the audience. But I saw them at huge venues, which aren’t the best settings for comedy.

So I think I’ve had more fun during trips to smaller comedy clubs. Some of the performers I remember by name, as in the well-known comedienne Kathleen Madigan. But others are just a blur of faces who delivered one-liners and entertained the crowd for a night. Some are great, some aren’t so great, but they are always interesting. And it’s a fun change of pace from a night at the movies or a nightclub. If you don’t know where or if there’s a comedy club in your area, you can find a list of clubs at

Open-mike nights are also fun, and less expensive, at comedy clubs. Open-mike is often during the middle of the week and serves as an audition for a spot in the weekend lineup of comics that warm up the stage for a headliner. It’s fun to watch, but if you’re talented, and brave, you can get up on stage for a few minutes. Many comedy clubs also offer comedy workshops that give people lessons in performing stand-up comedy, so maybe your staycation could be the first step toward getting discovered.

Or you can just watch. That’s much more relaxing.

Open-mike nights aren’t just at comedy clubs. Other bars and clubs open up the microphone to wannabe singers, storytellers and poets. You’ll see some people with real talent who you’re surprised haven’t been discovered. You’ll also see some people of the character Phoebe on Friends who clumsily strummed a guitar while singing “Smelly Cat.” Either way, very entertaining.

You can find an open-mike night near you at A list of poetry slams, a competition where authors read their works and judges vote for their favorite, is at

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Staycation idea: Great Wolf Lodge

The check-in line at Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine has a sign that says, “Start your adventure here.”

What kind of adventure?

Well, about 50 feet from the sign are two animatronic trees that will be harmonizing with a pretend raccoon before the day is done. It’s that kind of adventure.

It’s kind of like being immersed in a Disney movie about kids taking over a hotel and building an enormous water park inside. Unlike a movie, however, Great Wolf Lodge offers the added bonus of a chance to spend $25 on a magi wand or $50 on a stuffed animal with your child’s wish sealed inside.

Bring the whole family and your credit cards. It’s that kind of adventure.

But wait … this is actually a positive review of Great Wolf. The biggest reason is that the water park, which is huge, great for all ages and kept at 84 degrees year-round, has pretty much ruined every other water park for me.

Great slides for kids and adults. Very short lines. No sweltering heat or need for me to slather SPF 150 sunblock on my pale skin. It’s so different from the experience at most water parks, where you bake in long lines while trying not to notice aging back tattoos.

(TATTOO SIDEBAR: Have you ever noticed that tattoos -- while they are pretty cool, edgy, sexy, all that on young skin – give off a very different vibe on older skin? It’s kind of like seeing a mom drive by in a minivan that’s blasting death metal. And an elderly person who is heavily tattooed? He or she looks like a dented UPS package that fell off the conveyor belt and got stamped dozens of times as it traveled the world.)

Anyway, the Great Wolf water park is definitely a winner. The staff is also pretty cheerful and helpful. Not so helpful during my visit were the elevators, which broke down in the morning as we were trying to get a stroller to our room on the fourth floor. Also not helpful was the person who swiped my wife’s sandals off the deck of the outdoor pool, leaving Janell with no shoes as we were leaving the resort.

Janell had to walk to the car in a pair of sandals normally worn by our 6-year-old son, Ryan. Janell was pretty ticked off as she walked to the car with her toes hanging out over the end of Nerf pool sandals, which looked ridiculous enough to become the next fashion trend. But upon further review, we decided that her sandals were probably picked up by mistake and not actually stolen. That could certainly happen in the rush to pack up a family’s pool paraphernalia. Also, although the economy has caused us all some pain, I find it unlikely that anyone would stoop so low as to swipe a pair of $8 Wal-Mart flip flops.

My wife did manage to avoid the greatest adventure of our trip to Great Wolf: staying overnight in the hotel with our two oldest sons. That was a very exciting part of the trip for Ryan and Cooper, and for me, uh … it was memorable. Here’s how it went:

After a long day of water-park fun, my wife drove home at about 8:30 p.m. with our 16-month-old son. We decided that getting Nathan to sleep in a hotel room was more adventure than we wanted. So Janell left, leaving the two double beds for Ryan (age 6), Cooper (age 4) and Dad (age well beyond that at which sleepovers are thrilling).

After a trip to the arcade and some of Cooper’s leftover birthday cake, it was time to go to sleep. Or at least it was time to discuss the sleeping situation.

First, Ryan showed me several options that would create lighting conditions like those at home. Ryan flicked lights on and off throughout the room and brought up other creative ideas. My favorite was his idea to leave the door open on the microwave because that was like having a night light in the room. We finally decided to leave the bathroom light on and crack the door.

After a bedtime story, Cooper and I climbed into one bed and Ryan got into the other. But then Ryan decided that he wanted to sleep in our bed, too, giving us three people in one double bed. Then Ryan changed his mind because it was too hot and went back to the other bed. Thank goodness.

He fell asleep pretty quickly. Cooper, on the other hand, decided that he needed to touch my arm every 30 seconds to make sure that I was still there. I’m not sure how long it took him to fall asleep, but it took me even longer. Part of the reason was a tremendously overstuffed pillow.

(PILLOW SIDEBAR: Do hotels generally use overstuffed pillows because they seem more fresh or upscale than an average pillow? I can understand that a flat, mushy pillow can seem like it’s worn out, but that’s the kind of pillow I prefer. The pillows at Great Wolf were like completed Jiffy Pop bags. They were so plump that my head felt like it was nearly at a 90-degree angle as I tried to fall asleep.)

The next morning, Ryan and Cooper both agreed that it was the best sleepover ever and that they slept really well. Apparently, they slept well despite waking up several times to go to the bathroom and get drinks of water. Each time, Ryan would tap me on the shoulder to let me know what was going on. Cooper also would tap me on the shoulder, but not to tell me he needed a drink or needed to go to the bathroom. Cooper just wanted to make sure that I hadn’t died or been replaced by a mannequin in the 10 minutes since he had last checked.

The most interesting part of the night was when I noticed Ryan sit up in the bed for a minute or so and “sleep sit.” At least that’s what I think he was doing. I said, “Ryan, are you OK?” and he just kept sitting there, looking straight ahead, his eyes opening and closing as he nodded off. He looked like my dad trying to fight off sleep in the middle of a church service or me battling the sleep monster in one of my political-science classes in college.

The day we returned from Great Wolf, I felt a lot like I did in those political science classes. I was tired, hungry and a little confused. How could the trip to Great Wolf be so much hassle – going anywhere with three kids always is -- and yet so much fun?

At this point in my life, I guess seeing my kids have fun trumps just about everything else. And I know I should enjoy any experience in which my kids still want to have fun with me because I know that won’t always be the case. The “parents are a total embarrassment” stage will be here before long.

That will be a very different kind of adventure.

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Staycation idea: The Backyard Theater

Drive-in theaters peaked before I was born, but my family took at least a few trips to drive-in movies in the Seventies. I don’t remember the films, but I vaguely remember lying in the back of the station wagon with my pajamas on.

Drive-ins couldn’t compete with movie theaters and their better images, sound and climate control. That’s made drive-ins very rare, so if you can find one in your area, it’s a cool nostalgia trip for a staycation. You can search for one near you at And if there isn’t a drive-in nearby, you can create one within walking distance ... in your backyard.

It won’t be as cheap, but it can be even more fun. All you need is a computer with a DVD player, a white wall or bed sheet to use as the movie screen, and a projector, which you can find by doing an Internet search for “projector rental” and your city. Stores that rent audio-visual equipment for business meetings will have basic projectors for about $100 a day or weekend. If you tell them what your plans are, they can make sure it will work. They also rent projection screens if you want one.

Then plug in some small speakers to your computer, get out some folding chairs, and enjoy a classic double feature in your backyard. If you have a pool to float around in while you watch, rent Jaws.

The movie won’t be high-definition, but the backyard drive-in will fit the definition of a good staycation. There’s no doubt it’s far from ordinary. You can even make it part of a backyard camping experience.

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Staycation fun: Water parks

If you haven’t been on a water slide in a few years, you should give it a try. Chances are it’s more thrilling than dropping a swimsuit size.

Seriously, water parks are a great low-cost, high-excitement destination for people of all ages. And they’re not like 25 years ago, when a metro area might only have one or two monstrous parks, which then catered mostly to young adults seeking big water rides and teenagers wearing Ocean Pacific corduroy shorts.

Make it special by finding a hotel near the water park, checking in for a couple of nights and having food delivered to the hotel room. The bang for the buck will be immense if you have young kids, who will remember the experience long after your next big vacation. And for families with teenagers, getting one hotel room for the parents and another for the kids can be a worthy upgrade.

Important note: If you do embrace the thrill of a big slide and you’ve dropped a few pounds since your swimsuit purchase, you might want to shop for a new one. If your bikini is a little loose or the drawstring on your trunks isn’t pulled tight, it could be the most talked-about staycation ever.

You can find links to water parks at The Water Park Review.

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Staycation idea: Virtual vacation

Virtual worlds are becoming more and more popular on the Internet. Web sites such as Second Life allow you to customize an avatar and interact with others in a “massively multiplayer online role-playing game.” If that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. The sites actually allow you to shop, with real money, for virtual items. I’m just not into spending real money for a virtual pair of jeans. I don’t care how good the jeans look on the virtual me.

That’s not what I mean by virtual vacation. I’m referring to creating a trip overseas by immersing yourself in a different culture through cuisine, language lessons, and films. The Wall Street Journal had a story about a woman in New York who did that. She viewed Japanese films, shopped at traditional Japanese markets, and bought souvenirs there. She ordered in Japanese at the restaurant and partook in traditional activities such as running down a road screaming, “No! No! It’s Godzilla!”

OK, not that last part. I apologize for comparing modern Japanese culture with its well-known cinematic export.

Back to seriousness. If there’s a country, or area of the U.S., that you want to visit or know more about, you can take a virtual vacation there. With a library and the Internet, it’s easier than ever to find information about customs, clothing, food, films, music, and the history of an area.

You can also take advantage of Google Earth (, a free Internet application that provides satellite images, maps, terrain, and 3-D views of buildings from all over the world. A few years ago a global poll decided the new “Seven Wonders of the World.” With Google Earth and other Web sites on the Internet, you can virtually visit the Great Wall of China, the Colosseum in Rome, the Taj Mahal in India, and the other new wonders of the world.

You can also look at stars and galaxies with Google Earth. It’s a great educational tool for you and your kids, and can be combined with a trip to an observatory or stargazing during a camping trip. And here’s another free Google treat to check out:

Google maps ( offers street-level pictures for areas all over the U.S., as well as in several other countries. Google sends out teams of people with cameras mounted on dashboards to take photos all over the country. The result is a massive collection of photos of downtown areas, tourist spots, and residential areas that you can find on a map. It’s fun to look at different areas of the country, especially if you’ve lived in several areas and want to see your old stomping grounds. It’s addicting, but even if you waste time, you won’t waste money. Virtual jeans are not for sale.

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Staycation: Pros and cons

To staycation or not to staycation. Hmm ...

Well, since I've written a book on staycations, my position is obvious. But I want to take traditional vacations, too. It's just that when conditions are better for a staycation, I don't mind getting creative in my hometown.

But a staycation is not for everyone. A brief look at some pros and cons:

A staycation allows a family to save money while spending more quality time together and help a local economy. It's also more environmentally friendly than a traditional vacation, although I admit that I'm not eco-conscious enough to say that I choose to staycation to "go green." I've been known to waste gas to drive to the supermarket for the sole purpose of purchasing cookies.

But back to upside:

Avoiding the hassle of travel is another big benefit. You’ll be in control of the itinerary instead of an airline that is rarely on time. You won’t worry about what luggage you need to check and whether it will make it to your destination with you. There will be no waiting in lines at the airport, no questions such as “have you had control of your bag since you packed it?” and no chance you’ll be randomly selected for a baggage inspection or body search.

We’ve all heard someone say, “I need a vacation to recover from my vacation.” The hassle of travel is the reason.


A staycation is certainly not as glamorous as a traditional trip. It can't match the excitement, although some creativity can add to a staycation's sizzle. Another potential downside is that people can be tempted to check their work e-mails and phone messages or lose their vacation time in a sea of chores and everyday errands.

Threre’s definitely a danger of that with a staycation. That’s why it’s so important to treat the staycation as much like a traditional vacation as possible. It’s a good idea to give the staycation a start and end date and devote as much of the time in between to relaxing, having fun and breaking out of a rut.

For any vacation, staycation or traditional, you have to unplug. Unplug from work, from your chores, from the daily compulsion to get things done.

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Great American Staycation gets a look

A few recent mentions of The Great American Staycation ...

From a story in The (Penn.) Sentinel:
A staycation? Sounds a little lame, doesn’t it? But that’s just what Matt Wixon is trying to prove is NOT the case with his guide “The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family.”

First, Wixon attempts to explain exactly what a staycation is — and comes up with this definition: “A vacation in which the vactioner stays at home, or near home, while creating the environment of a traditional vacation. He also sets the No. 1 rule for staycations — near home means any location within 100 miles “because a 200-mile round trip seems to be a reasonable upper limit for a destination that can be traveled to and enjoyed in one day. Unless you routinely drive at more than 100 miles per hour, in which case you should proceed directly to the chapter on thrill rides. Or to jail.”

Oh, Wixon. You just crack me up. Actually, Wixon provides a great sense of humor throughout the book, serving up his own personal anecdotes as well (including a horrible “fake-cation” involving attempted sleep in a rented conversion van while staring at a neon McDonald’s sign).

After defining a staycation, Wixon proceeds to outline the basic rules of staycations — a staycation must be treated as a real vacation, create mental distance, treat yourself, etc. These are the basic guidelines he provides that will ensure a successful staycation.

Then we get to the good parts — lots of ideas for fun things to do without traveling far from home or spending a ton of money. Each chapter is broken into a category of vacations, including theme parks and thrill rides, educational, the pampered life, romantic and especially for kids. The chapters are also preceded by a fun little quiz to see if this kind of staycation is the best for you.
From the blog of Jim Byers, travel writer for The Star in Toronto:
Staycation, all I ever wanted
My apologies to the Go Go's for stealing their lyrics, but everyone's bombarding yours truly with stay-at-home vacation ideas. I even received a book today called The Great American Staycation by a cat called Matt Wixon. Not a bad idea, actually, as the author points out everything from how to plan ahead and how to maximize your home town (easier in some cities than others, of course). He also has useful chapters on theme parks and thrill rides, outdoor adventures, sports staycations, romantic staycations and educational staycations.
The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family is a great book put together by Matt Wixon that is full of ideas on how to make the most out of vacationing at or near home. This is a great little book this summer for families looking to stay home.

Staycation favorites

During a recent interview for the Candy & Potter radio show in North Carolina, I was asked about my favorite staycation activities. After that, I decided to put a together a quick list. Every staycationer's preference will be different, but here's my list.

For families:

Behind-the-scenes tours
Formal ones are available at company museums and factories, as well as at fire stations and police stations. But if parents ask nicely, they can also get their kids a tour of a movie theater projection room, the pinsetters at a bowling alley or other places kids are curious about. Television stations, radio stations and newspaper production facilities also offer tours.

Museums, observatories, planetariums
Art, science, children’s, aviation, history … there are lots to choose from, and most have areas dedicated to kids. My kids spent nearly two hours at just one exhibit involving golf balls rolling up and down hills to show the science of rollercoasters. A new trend is the museum sleepover, a program aimed at preteens and teenagers.

Scenic train rides
Ranging from about 30 minutes long to day trips, they can be a romantic idea for adults but they also often cater to kids. Some have pretend “train robberies” and other shows.

Water parks
They’re easier to find now than they used to be, because many cities have built them as part of their recreation centers and natatoriums. Community swimming pools are another option.

Zoos and aquariums
Young kids love the zoo, of course, and there are some very good aquariums around the country. Many zoos also offer behind-the-scenes “VIP” tours and have special camp programs for kids.

The next five:
Sporting events (as well as stadium tours)
Camping (as well as hiking, biking, wilderness viewing areas, state parks)
Regional amusement parks
City festivals
Family fun centers (with bowling, miniature golf, go karts, laser tag, that sort of thing).

Especially for adults:

Sunset cruises on lakes (usually with dinner)
Wine-tasting and winery tours
Community theater and touring Broadway productions
Historic home tours
Ski-lift rides in offseason
Staying at a local resort for a few days
In-town Bed and Breakfasts

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Staycation tip: Treat yourself

Your reason for a staycation is probably budget-related, but it still needs to be a vacation. You don’t have to be frivolous, but don’t skimp, either. You’ll still save money.

That’s why you should eat at restaurants as much as possible during your staycation. Your budget might determine how frequently you do this, but fixing a meal, cleaning up the table and doing the dishes is a big part of the daily grind. Of course, if you enjoy cooking, a staycation is a great time to indulge in it. Try new recipes, try new styles of food, and if you’re pretty good at it, try to make it to my house during your staycation. Anyone who wants to cook is always welcome.

As for eating out, it doesn’t have to be fine dining. It can be hitting a sandwich shop for lunch and an inexpensive casual restaurant for dinner. Any place where you can relax for a few minutes and leave the dirty dishes when you’re finished.

Treating yourself also means staying away from diet foods. In fact, don’t even think about a diet during your staycation. After all, eating without guilt is part of the fun of a vacation. Imagine going on a cruise where you’re surrounded by fine dining, 24-hour bistros, and those midnight buffets so elaborate that cruisers take photographs of the spread before eating. The food is one of the highlights on a cruise. If you stayed true to your diet, it would be more like torture than fun.

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Staycation idea: Special museum programs

You can probably spend an entire staycation at museums. During my family’s last staycation, we went to the Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas and it was hard to drag my kids out of there. They spent an hour in just one small area of the museum, rolling balls down ramps and trying to launch them into buckets.

There was one exhibit that had balls rolling around like a roller coaster, and my kids were so fascinated with it, they probably would’ve spent an entire day watching it. I had to encourage Ryan and Cooper to move on so they could dig in the sand for dinosaur bones before we ran out of time. Everything seemed to grab their attention.

Yes, museums are great. And they can be even better if you look into the special programs offered and their special events calendars online. Science and nature museums often have classes in gardening or “green” living, and art museums have wine-tasting nights that include food and live music. At the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Ariz., the annual Spanish Market includes furniture, jewelry, tilework, paintings, carvings, pottery, and strolling musicians. Most museums also offer lectures that are more interesting than the lectures from your college professors. (Well, at least more interesting than the ones from my professors).

The important thing is to plan ahead. If you sign up for e-mail newsletters and alerts from a museum, which you can usually do at its Web site, you’ll know what exhibits, touring shows, and programs are coming up. That will give you an important head start because many popular museum programs have limited space and fill up quickly. That’s certainly the case for the new trend of “museum sleepovers,” which allows camping inside a museum.

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Signing day at Barnes & Noble

So I was sitting there at the front of a Barnes & Noble, parked behind a table loaded up with my books. Lots of my books. More than I could ever imagine selling in one hour without appearing on Oprah or changing the title from The Great American Staycation to How to Achieve Financial Freedom and Have the Best Sex Ever.

(Although my book doesn’t directly address achieving financial freedom or having the best sex ever, those things could possibly be achieved by reading it. Reading the book might even help people solve their problem thighs. Please feel free to spread wild rumors about the book’s magical properties.)

Back to the signing day:

At Barnes & Noble, I was sitting directly in the line of sight of people walking into the store. That made sense, because it allowed everyone to see me, and when somebody was talking to me, it was great. But when I was finished talking with a potential staycationer, book-buyer, curious passerby or a lonely person looking for conversation, I was sitting at a table looking straight at the store’s entry.

When people walked in, I didn’t want to stare right into their eyes. If I was a customer, that would definitely scare me away. But I also didn’t want to be looking down, and thus appear to be disinterested, rude or a slightly overdressed member of the shoplifting-prevention team. I needed to give out a vibe somewhere between uncomfortably aloof and borderline stalker.

I’m not sure how successful I was at that, but at least I looked legit. Next to me was a sign with a picture of the book (good!), a picture of me (ugh) and an announcement that this was a Barnes & Noble “event.”

Hmm … I’m not sure I would’ve called it an “event.” Sounds a little grandiose. Sure, some people who had bought the book came out for the signing. And I met some other nice people who asked about the book and then bought it. But the book signing, the first of two this month, was kind of awkward.

Other authors had prepared me for that. If you’re not a well-known author, they said, expect some slow times. And don’t expect to sell a lot of books, either. People walking into a bookstore probably aren’t going to impulse buy a book they haven’t seen before. And how many people in this world want to start up a conversation with someone they don’t know?

The real value of a signing is that the “event” is promoted in a store for several weeks, which means potential buyers walk into the store seeing a display for your book. This is a good thing, of course, because there are currently 14 quadrillion books sitting on shelves, lost in the masses, gathering dust and getting overlooked for something like A Mother’s Gift, the novel written in 2001 by noted author Britney Spears and her mom.

Among the customer reviews for that book:

“A part of me has died after reading this book.”

Perhaps it wasn’t the best book. But I can only hope that my book will earn the sizzling sales of Spears’ novel, or perhaps sell as well as Terrell Owens’ Little T Learns to Share (surprisingly unavailable is "Little T Learns to Throw a Tantrum"). Spears and Owens would bring in some big crowds for a signing.

As I looked around me during a break in the storm of people trying to talk to me –- two at one time can count as a storm, right? -– I noticed some other books that would pack the house for a signing. Next to racks of magazines were books such as Tori Spelling’s Mommywood, James Patterson’s 8th Confession and another titled Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven. Yes, that title will sell. Maybe what I need is a title like that and one of those romance-novel covers featuring a slightly modernized Tarzan and Jane preparing to get it on.

I had lots of time to think about these things because I’m not a well-known author. But I did learn a few things from the book signing.

1. Patience pays off. After waiting through some slow times, I sold a few books when people approached me after I had found the comfy space between being uncomfortably aloof and a potential stalker.

2. When the sirens go off for a tornado warning in the area, the book signing is officially over. (I was packing up a few moments after the Cowboys’ practice facility was demolished by high winds).

3. There is a magazine called Glutes. Yes, seriously. I could see the current issue from where I was sitting, and the cover included a headline “Your Best Butt Ever!”

Coincidentally, that headline is also part of the title of my next book:

How to Get Your Best Butt Ever While Achieving Financial Freedom and Having the Best Sex Ever.

As seen on Oprah, I hope.

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Staycation idea: Movie marathons

Twenty years ago, when VHS was wiping out Betamax in the videotape format war, movies weren’t that easy to rent. Small, independent video stores were everywhere, Blockbuster was just starting to grow, and there were long waiting lists to rent movies. I remember my family was on a waiting list for several weeks to rent Revenge of the Nerds. (I acknowledge our very questionable taste in movies.)

Now, video stores are everywhere, it’s cheap to buy videos, and Netflix ( and Blockbuster ( offer services that mail movie rentals directly to your home. Memberships are as low as five bucks per month. Video kiosks can also be found in grocery stores with the latest releases, making renting a movie as easy as getting a snack from a vending machine. Even easier, in fact, because the movies never get stuck coming out like candy bars sometimes do. (When the candy bar isn’t fully released, and it’s left dangling there, I always feel like the vending machine is taunting me. Come on, put some more money in … maybe you’ll get the Snickers this time!)

So renting movies is more convenient than ever. It’s so convenient that watching a movie, once a special experience, has become commonplace. Kind of mundane.

But simply catching up on movies you missed over the last year might be a fun way to spend your staycation. Or getting into one of the television series you missed, because Netflix and Blockbuster allow you to rent a season’s worth of episodes, and they give you access to movies that are often hard to find in stores, such as old classics, independent films and documentaries. You can also find movies that will help you feel like you’re traveling. Search “scenic travel movies” and you’ll find several lists of top travel movies with selections such as Lawrence of Arabia and Under the Tuscan Sun.

I know some people who, in the weeks before the Academy Awards, rent all the best-picture nominees so they can decide for themselves. They don’t do it as part of a staycation, but it would seem to fit. You can reserve the films nominated for best picture, or pick a category such as best actor or actress, and then be a critic. You’ve created your own Academy Awards, and perhaps a lively discussion with your staycation partner. Especially if your choice for best picture stars Adam Sandler or has a character named Borat.

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Staycation idea: Trains

Trains might be the most romantic way to travel. Lots of history, lots of scenery, and lots of time to spend together. There are also scenic train trips all over the country that make a staycation day feel like a vacation day.

In the Dallas-area, we have the Grapevine Vintage Railroad, but there are scenic train rides all over the country.

In Arizona, there is the Grand Canyon Railroad that takes passengers from Flagstaff, a city 100 miles north of Phoenix, for a scenic ride to the Canyon and back. On the West Coast, the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad has vintage trains that travel along a former logging run through the Sierra National Forest in California. And on the East Coast, the Scenic Western Maryland Railroad travels through rugged mountains, over a truss bridge, and completes a hairpin curve. Then it finishes on a railroad turntable that most people only see while helping their kids put together wooden tracks for Thomas the Tank Engine.

Most of the train rides will feature great scenery and offer both climate-controlled and open-air coaches. Tour guides will tell you about the history of the railroad and the surrounding areas, so you can also learn something. But what really makes a train ride perfect for a staycation is that it’s so relaxing. The pace is slow, the mood is laid back, and it’s a wonderfully mellow experience.

You can find a national directory of scenic train rides, sorted by state, at Check for special packages, too, that include dinner and live music. Some also have Sunday champagne brunches and murder mystery shows that take place during the ride. The Sacramento RiverTrain in California even has a Great Train Robbery ride on Saturdays, which features characters entertaining the passengers and an Old West gunfight. (Great for kids, obviously, but also fun for adults).

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Another staycationer found

Here's someone who, I believe, has the right idea about staycations. This is pretty much the way I felt before I started taking staycations with my kids:
I had never been one for the idea of a “staycation”. In fact, my ideal of a vacation usually involves getting my passport stamped and drinking coke out of bottles in a place where you can’t drink the water. I like my vacations exotic and culturally challenging. So to think of staying here in the OC was an interesting twist. However, it turned out to be such a good solution for a short getaway. We were able to prepare and pack very casually. And I can't tell you how great it was to arrive at our destination without once being asked "how long 'till we get there".
You can read more details about her staycation at Mama Manifesto.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Book signing for Great American Staycation

If you’re looking for something to do this weekend, my first book signing is Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Barnes and Noble in Plano at Preston and Park. I assume there will be a huge crowd if by chance I'm accidentally mistaken for movie director Ron Howard. Here's the exact address for anyone who wants to come out and chat, check out some books (buying is VERY optional) and make the crowd look bigger:

Preston & Park
2201 Preston Rd. Suite E
Plano, TX 75093

Thanks everyone!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Staycation tip: Let’s talk About food

Talking about food is easy for me. Unless the talk is about how I shouldn’t be eating as much of it.

Anyway, food is a staple of the vacation experience. No matter how far away you go, or how close to home you stay, it should be a highlight. It was for Melissa in Massachusetts, who I interviewed for the book. She said the favorite part of her staycation was discovering that local food that was as good as anything she’s had on vacation. She didn’t have to “make a monster carbon footprint and break the bank” to experience great food and service.

You undoubtedly have your favorite local restaurant. It’s the place where you have a favorite spot to sit and don’t need to see the menu before ordering. That restaurant has a place in your staycation, but to create the vacation environment, why not try something new?

Consider another staycationer's tip to a successful staycation:

“It’s about pushing yourself to do something you wouldn’t normally do,” she said. “Force yourself out of your comfort zone.”

Here’s your chance to break your staycation out of the ordinary. Spend a week sampling international foods. Visit a Thai restaurant one night, a Mexican one the next, and finish with Italian, French, or German food. You can get recommendations on all types of food from sites such as and, which have user reviews of restaurants across the country.

If you like to cook or bake, try experimenting with something new. If it doesn’t work out, you can just laugh it off and head to a restaurant.

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Staycation idea: Hobby time

For Christmas, my 3-year-old got a guitar from his grandparents. Not a full size guitar, but one big enough that he can strum it, sing Wiggles songs, and accidentally bang it into his bedroom wall. When he’s a few years older, I’m going to take guitar lessons with him.

Maybe we’ll take the lessons during a staycation, because that’s a great time to start learning an instrument. You’ll have time to take professional lessons, practice, and decide whether you want to continue. Links to instructors for instruments, as well as voice lessons, can be found for your hometown at Group music lessons are also offered through city recreation departments and as continuing education courses at community colleges. Music stores –- the ones that sell instruments, not CDs –- also have bulletin boards with music teachers seeking students.

Other popular hobbies include photography, sewing, pottery-making, and painting, and you can find classes and clubs to get you started in any of them. Another easy hobby to get into is video editing. Camcorders are all digital now, so any video you shoot can be edited on a computer. It allows you to cut out the boring, jiggly, hard-to-watch stretches of video, leaving you with a shorter video you’ll actually have time to watch. Even better, editing allows you to add text to your videos, graphics, special effects, narration and music. You can feel like your making a movie, or at least a music video.

It’s also cheap and easy. Personal computers come loaded with Windows Movie Maker, and if you’re a Mac user, you’ve got iMovie on your computer. It’s easy to learn, and the results are very rewarding. If you shoot an hour’s worth of staycation footage, you can save all the raw video and also create a five- or ten-minute montage of the best moments. Add in some still photos and some background music – “Our House” by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, perhaps – and you’ll have a great memento of your staycation. It can also be e-mailed out to friends or posted on a video sharing site such as YouTube.

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Staycation idea: Observatories and planetariums

Much like museums, observatories and planetariums offer tours, exhibits, and special programs. Unlike museums, however, there’s probably a lot of people who don’t know the difference. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, unlike the Americans who think that New Mexico is a foreign country and that Condoleeza Rice is a side dish at Chili’s.

An observatory is a location equipped with telescopes for observing the planets, stars, and other heavenly bodies (insert your inappropriate “heavenly bodies” remark here). A planetarium is a theater with a large dome-shaped projection screen that is often used for presenting shows about astronomy. Both are great to visit, and you can find a list of them at

Most public observatories allow visitors to look through their huge, powerful telescopes. They also schedule “star parties” that include an observatory staff member explaining what you’re looking at through the telescope. The site includes links to observatory Web sites, so you can check out their calendars for special events. Some observatories even offer private star parties in which a staff member will bring a telescope to your backyard and direct your viewing into the sky. Expect to pay some real money for that, however.

Planetariums also have great special programs and shows. Some are for kids, such as “The Sky Above Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” which has played at many planetariums. For adults, there are laser light shows synchronized to music. Pink Floyd was the big laser show at the University of Arizona’s planetarium when I went to school there, but now I see shows for Dave Matthews Band, Bob Marley, the Beatles, Aerosmith, and more. I’ve even read about a show called “Laser ’80s” that has to be worth the drive for anyone who owns as much ’80s music as me (too much). As you might expect, the show includes Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science.”

My sixth-grade teacher was right. Science can be fun.

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My CNN interview on staycations

It started with an e-mail that had “CNN Interview Request” in the subject field. Sent to me by an associate producer for CNN, the e-mail started like this:
“Hey Matt,

I’m writing to find out if you can join Fredricka Whitfield during CNN Newsroom Saturday at 3PM CT/4PM ET, to discuss your book The Great American Staycation.”
I received this e-mail on April 1, so I was suspicious. But no fooling … none of my old college buddies were involved and it was not a prank. It was truly a golden opportunity to get some national publicity for my book -- or perhaps pass out or throw up on live television and became a YouTube legend.

Thinking about it now, maybe I should have done something outrageous during my interview. A million hits on YouTube would undoubtedly translate into some book sales, if only from people who felt sorry for someone who was humiliated in front of a national audience.

But the interview went pretty well, or so I’m told. I’m too embarrassed to watch myself on television so I still haven’t seen the whole thing. But I do remember, and I will always remember, the way I felt as a CNN producer told me, “After this segment, we’re coming to you.”

I was sitting in a chair in a Dallas studio, with a microphone clipped to my jacket and a backdrop of the Dallas skyline behind me. I was staring into a camera, listening to the show through an earpiece, wondering what question Whitfield would start with and how shiny my head looked under lights nearly as bright as the sun.

(Column continues below video)

Some makeup would’ve mellowed that shine. And 30 minutes earlier, when I had arrived at the studio, the makeup room was pointed out to me. But yeah, like I’m going to put on makeup. It’s not that I’m too manly to allow some makeup touch-ups, it’s that I have no idea how to use makeup. So what if my head would be shiny and my skin a little blotchy? Better that than my amateur makeup application turning CNN Newsroom Saturday into a freak show.

Anyway, back to the interview. I was sitting in my chair, listening to the earpiece, and I heard the intro. “So Matt Wixon wrote a book on staycations …”

Oh man, they really are coming to me.

I hadn’t felt incredibly nervous until that moment, when I realized my national television debut was just seconds away. My heart began pounding so hard that I wondered if it could be seen under my jacket. Any kind of television interview can cause anxiety, including the one I did last week on Good Morning Texas. But the CNN one was more stressful because I had never met the person I was about to talk to, I had no idea what question she would ask, and I was looking into the lens of a camera instead of the eyes of another person.

Finally, Whitfield asked her first question. And …

Seriously, I don’t remember much of the interview. But you can see the video above. What I do remember is that the interview was much faster-paced than I expected, and I didn’t feel I had enough time to answer a question fully.

When I was done with my interview at the start of the show, I was asked to stick around so they could talk to me some more. So for the next 30 minutes, I sat in the chair, waiting for the producer to again say, “we’re coming to you.”

In the meantime, I tried to follow the show in my earpiece, but it was sometimes difficult. I couldn’t see a monitor and the audio sounded like muffled AM radio. I stayed alert, however, to the possibility that I could be back on at any moment. My nose itched at one point, but I didn’t want to scratch it because I thought that would be the moment when CNN would put me back on the screen and the scratch could be mistaken as a pick, like in a memorable episode of Seinfeld. (Hmm … a nose-picking author on YouTube … another way to get a million hits!)

Finally, Whitfield came back to me. A few more questions, a little more discussion, and then the show was over. I was relieved as I walked out of the studio, but also a little disappointed that I didn’t get to mention some of my best staycation ideas and strategies. (Start subliminal message … For lots of great ideas, buy The Great American Staycation … end subliminal message).

So the CNN interview wasn’t perfect. But I can’t complain. I got the chance to go on a national show, and I didn’t throw up, pass out, fall off the chair or get frozen in fear and stare blankly into the camera.

Well, I don’t think I did any of those things. Like I said, I haven’t watched the interview that closely.

And if any of those things did happen, it’s probably better that I don’t know.

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Splurging on staycation

During a recent interview for a magazine, I was asked:

What ideas do you have for really indulging, but still saving money, such as a day at a spa instead of a week at a resort, a really fancy dinner out instead of a week of hotel accommodations, etc.?

Good question (is that obvious pandering to the reporter?)

I have a section in the book devoted to that. Most people probably choose a vacation in their hometown for budgetary reasons, but you don’t want to be cheap on any kind of vacation. If you think about being on a budget with any vacation, whether it’s in Hawaii or your hometown, you’re probably not going to have much fun.

My idea is to have a “Staycation Reward,” which is one splurge item during the vacation. If you calculate how much you’ll save by foregoing the traditional vacation, you can take half of that or a third of that, depending on your budget, and then apply it to your vacation. It could be used for new clothes, new TV or maybe saved for the next traditional vacation.

One splurge item popular with the people I talked to for the book is spending two or three days at a local resort. You save on travel costs, but can still take advantage of the resort’s spa, restaurants and other amenities.

A stay at any type of hotel, other than a flea-bagger, is a splurge to consider for anyone taking a staycation. Staying at a hotel in your hometown might not seem like a great financial decision, but a few days at a hotel allows you to create mental distance from your daily routine and provides a good launching point for a day’s activities.

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Getting the right staycation attitude

Norma L., who lives in the Dallas area like me, had planned a honeymoon trip to Cancun. Unfortunately, her wedding date was Sept. 29, 2001, less than three weeks after the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil. After the 9/11 attacks, thousands of flights were cancelled and Norma and her fiancĂ© didn’t feel safe flying.

A huge downer during one of the most memorable times of their lives. But by keeping a positive attitude, they created a memorable honeymoon at home. They went to the enormous State Fair of Texas and went into every building, museum, aquarium and exhibit.

“Living in Dallas all my life and having gone to the fair multiple times every year since I can remember, I had never been into every building at the fair,” Norma said. “It was great to know that the fair offered so many things to see and do that we had never taken advantage of.”

Norma and her fiancĂ© also visited Dallas-area attractions such as Louis Tussaud’s Palace of Wax, the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum, the movie studios at Las Colinas, the Fort Worth Stockyards and Six Flags Over Texas amusement park.

“Basically, we became tourists in our own city,” she said. “It was a lot of fun.”

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

My staycation talk on Good Morning Texas

I was on CNN on Saturday for an interview about staycations, and I should be able to upload that video in the next few days. But today I was on "Good Morning Texas" to talk about staycations, and it's much easier to get that video.

Good news: Although I was nervous, I didn't suffer an attack of flop sweat.

Bad news: Well, I'm not sure if there is any. But I don't like to watch myself on television, so I didn't look at the video too closely.

Here's the clip:

Friday, April 3, 2009

Staycation tip: Plan ahead

Yes, if you wing it on a vacation, you'll probably fly into a wall.

Remember the classic movie, National Lampoon’s Vacation? Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) took his family on a road trip that included asking for directions in a rough part of town, getting ripped off by mechanics and visiting hick relatives who stirred Kool-Aid with their hands. I've watched it at least a dozen times over the years.

Anyway, it was a rough trip for the Griswolds. But it all seemed worth it when the family reached its destination, Walley World. Unfortunately, when the family got to the entrance, a statue of Marty Moose announced this:

“Sorry folks! We’re closed for two weeks to clean and repair America’s favorite family fun park.”

Clark still got his family into the park by buying a BB gun and kidnapping a security guard, but you probably don’t want to go that far. Plan ahead and you won’t be disappointed, embarrassed in front of your kids or led away in handcuffs.

For example, many art museums are closed on Mondays and so are some restaurants. Factory tours, which are a fun idea, usually aren’t available every day. Same goes for a sunset cruise you want to take. If you want to attend some sporting events during your staycation, and then realize too late that the team is on a two-week road trip, you’re out of luck.

Before the vacation begins, have each member of the family make a list of what he or she wants to do during the staycation. Then sketch out what you want to do on each of your vacation days. That allows you to prioritize and see how everything will fit together. You can always make changes later.

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Staycation idea: Vertical wind tunnels

Want to get the feeling of jumping out of a plane, but without the fear or the expensive cost?

Try a vertical wind tunnel. It's a fun way to make a day of your staycation stand out from your everyday routine.

A vertical wind tunnel is a wind tunnel that moves air up in a vertical column and is sometimes referred to as “indoor skydiving.” You fly a few feet off the ground in a stream of air with a net below you. Some of the wind tunnels are indoor, some outdoor. Skydivers often use the tunnels for training, but the tunnels are also open for the average Joe or Joan. And although most skydiving companies won’t allow kids under age 16 to jump, kids as young as age 3 can jump into the wind-tunnel experience.

There are more than a dozen of these wind tunnels in the U.S. and more are in the works as they gain popularity. You can find links and more information for them at It’s less expensive than you might expect. A two- or three-minute ride, giving you the chance to float like you drank the bubble soda in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, is generally less than fifty bucks.

The tunnels don’t take up much room, and it’s probably only a matter of time before they begin appearing at amusement parks. For now, the drive might be too far for some.

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Green Staycation

Tourism is the ultimate exercise in environmental inefficiency. That’s what my friend says, and many people cite the eco-friendliness of a staycation as one of its big selling points. No flight or long road trip means burning less fuel.

I’d like to say that my desire to be green is what led me to a staycation. But although I think about the future of the Earth, I do a lot more thinking about the muddy footprints of my kids than my carbon footprint. Still, a staycation is a great opportunity to take steps toward a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle.

During your time at home, consider creating a compost bin in your backyard (find out how at You can also begin bringing reusable bags to the grocery store, replace traditional incandescent light bulbs in your home with compact flourescent light bulbs, and even shop for eco-chic clothing. If you have yard lighting, you can change it out with solar-powered lighting, and you can visit a farmers market to find fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables. If that gets you motivated, try volunteering with a local environmental organization, which can be found through

So where is the fun in all that environmental friendliness?

Well, the whole vacation doesn’t have to be dedicated to Mother Earth. But mix in a few green ideas and you’ll know that your staycation is helping the planet. Or at least you’ll feel better about driving the car to the grocery store for the sole purpose of satisfying a craving for chocolate chip cookies.

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Staycation idea: Winery tours

Napa Valley in California is America’s most well-known area of wine production, but every state in the country has at least one winery. Yes, even Alaska, America’s icebox. Yes, even Rhode Island, which is only slightly larger than me.

At least one winery in every state, and in most cases, many more. So for wine lovers, it’s a great staycation destination, but consider visiting a winery even if you’re not a connoisseur of fine wine. You might like it even if you don’t know if Pinot Grigio is a wine or Italy’s best hope for an Olympic medal in gymnastics. You can find a comprehensive list of Texas wineries at

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Monday, March 23, 2009

What is a staycation? defines “staycation” as “A vacation that is spent at one’s home enjoying all that home and one’s home environs have to offer.”

That definition seems about right. Spending a vacation at home or close to home. But I think the best way to define a staycation is this:

A vacation in which the vacationer stays at home, or near home, while creating the environment of a traditional vacation.
But what does “creating the environment of a traditional vacation” mean?

It’s pretty simple, really. It means getting out of the rut of your daily life. It means not planning a stay-at-home vacation that combines leisure time with cleaning out the garage, building bookshelves, and a trip to get the car repaired. That’s not a vacation at all.

People have been spending their vacation days that way for years. Every now and then you need a few vacation days just to catch up on everything, or at least not fall further behind. I guess you could call that an “efficiency vacation,” but it’s probably better not to call it a vacation at all.

So just as with a traditional vacation, create a start and end date for your staycation. Then try to keep as much of that time reserved for fun, relaxation and activities that don't include a household cleaner.

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

The Great American Staycation

"The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available at and it will be in stores March 18. It has ideas, strategies, and tips from people who haven taken staycations for years, along with a few stories of the strange vacations my family took when I was a kid.

The description of the book is here. The story behind the book is below.


Twenty-five years before “staycation” became a buzzword, my parents packed their three kids into a rented van for an overnight “fake-cation.”

Yes, a fake-cation. As in fake vacation.

After all, the van wasn’t really rented. My parents got it at a reduced rate, or maybe even free, in exchange for listening to a sales pitch on conversion vans. When the sales pitch was over, the van was all ours for the next 24 hours.

And what a 24 hours it was.

To escape the summer heat in Phoenix, Ariz., we drove 75 miles north to higher elevation. We swam in a creek, ate dinner somewhere, and then slept in the van in a grocery-store parking lot. One bench seat folded flat into a bed, and my parents slept there. My brother slept on the floor, and my sister and I each slept in a captain’s chair.

The captain’s chairs reclined less than an airplane seat, making sleep almost impossible. I remember struggling to get comfortable as I watched cars zoom by on a freeway next to us. The next morning, with our 24 hours nearly complete, we headed home.

It was one of several fake-cations my family took when I was a kid. One time, my family spent a weekend at an RV park that was mostly populated by retirees. The park had a small, deteriorating miniature-golf course that was fun for an hour or two. But after that, my brother, sister, and I had nothing to do but play cards in the RV and walk over to the shuffleboard courts and sling around the sliding discs. I remember I ate an entire box of Cheez-Its in one day during that trip. Not because I was hungry, just because it was something to pass the time.

The most memorable moment of that weekend was when my brother and I, tired of watching the three channels available on our portable five-inch, black-and-white TV, walked to the RV park’s community center. We found a television there to watch, but that only lasted a few minutes. We got yelled at for turning up the volume because it was interfering with the man calling out the Bingo numbers.

Very memorable, but not the greatest vacation. Truly a fake-cation.

But I don’t blame my parents. Three kids were expensive to fly anywhere. And the emotional cost was probably higher, given that my brother, sister, and I could get into an argument in the middle of church. On Christmas Eve.

Money was tight, and so was time. My dad, an insurance salesman, switched companies so often that he didn’t accumulate a lot of vacation days. He did accumulate a lot of business cards, however, and we used the backs of the outdated ones to write down phone messages.

Obviously, the seven-day family vacation to Walt Disney World wasn’t an option for my family. But now that I’ve taken some jabs at my parents, I’ll give them some credit. Even without much money or time, they still wanted to put some kind of vacation together.

That’s exactly what millions of Americans, including me, are thinking right now. How are we going to spend our next vacation?

We’d all love to really go all out. We’d love to jet away for a fourteen-day trip to somewhere exotic. We’d love to lounge on an exclusive beach and snap our fingers to have someone deliver us food, drinks, and in my case, SPF 140 sunblock.

But for many of us, reality is cramping vacation fantasies. The economy is in a downturn, home values are sinking, salaries are stagnant, and somewhere in this great country, a father-of-the bride is breaking the heart of his daughter:
Honey, you know how much I love you, but the economic conditions right now just aren’t conducive to having a five-foot ice swan at your wedding reception.
Tears will follow, but hopefully, so will an acceptance of the current economic conditions. Because most Americans –- young, old, single, married, with or without kids –- are feeling the pinch.

That brings us to the staycation. The stay-at-home vacation. The kind of vacation nobody really talked about until it became a product of necessity. The kind of vacation that my parents tried to pull off back when the economy was in another mighty swan dive.

But those were fake-cations. A staycation doesn’t have to be that way.

I know this because I’m now in the position my parents were in 25 years ago. I’m not an insurance agent, money is probably not as tight, and I’ve never planned a vacation that includes a three-hour sales pitch and a free set of steak knives. But like my parents, my wife and I have three kids. And since we started having our kids, and heard “it’s a boy!” three times, we’ve spent many vacations at home.

"The Great American Staycation" has some of our ideas and strategies for a vacation in your hometown or nearby. But more importantly, the book has the ideas and experiences from more than 20 other "staycationers" who are a lot smarter than me.

It's not like a typical travel guidebook. Those are loaded with useful information such as maps, detailed descriptions of towns, attractions to see, and where to eat. But sometimes the guidebooks read like the instruction booklet to George Foreman’s Lean Mean Grilling Machine.

I hope my book does a little better than that. It’s kind of an “anti-travel” book, so it won’t read like a travel guidebook. I’ve written humor columns for more than 10 years, and I think that tone fits staycations well. Because to take a staycation, you need to have a sense of humor. You need to have a positive attitude, an open mind, and a willingness to try something new. You can’t take yourself too seriously.

If you read the book, I hope it will help you be ready to plan a staycation that doesn’t feel like a fake-cation.

You can make it real, you can make it special, and you can make it memorable.

Final thought ... if you use Facebook, you can also find the book by searching "staycation." I just created that Facebook page for the book, which includes links to the book on Amazon and allows you to sign up as a "fan." That helps market the book, and it also allows me to give you any updates on the book.