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.