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.