Home is Where the Vacation is
Photo by Forrest Anderson
Summer vacation during a pandemic requires a whole new paradigm. The reality is that while wearing masks and social distancing can lower your risk of getting or spreading COVID-19, the safest way to vacation is still to stay home.
It also may be the most enjoyable, given that travel is nerve-wracking right now and there is a limit to how much you can mitigate your risk of getting or transmitting the virus while on the road.
Home isn’t a bad place to be if you really want to relax for your vacation this year. You have it set up the way you want it, you can’t beat the price, and you can pursue a lot of what you are interested in at or near your home with minimal risk from the virus.
Before you roll your eyes and launch into how you’ve already sheltered at home for months and you are sick of it, let’s take a look at what vacation travel is. Studies show that most people travel for new, enriching experiences, to pursue their interests, and to relax and to share experiences with friends and family. It’s possible to follow this path in your own home, and in the process to enrich your home life long term.
Psychologists studying people sheltering and working at home during the pandemic have said that taking time off work is an important way for them to reclaim the boundaries between work and home. This in turn keeps down their stress levels and prevents burn out.
Vacations were endangered even before the pandemic, with more than half of workers not using their alloted time off in 2018. This equaled about $65.6 billion in lost benefits and it may increase in 2020. More than half of U.S. workers in 2019 felt guilty about taking vacation time, a survey showed.
Many companies have reduced their budgets and imposed hiring freezes during the pandemic, which is increasing the workload on their employees. More people are worried about job security, which can make it difficult for them to ask for time off for a vacation.
At the same time, however, people are reporting higher levels of stress fatigue. They are overworked, underpaid, worried about catching COVID-19 and exhausted with child care. For some, weekends are blending into their workdays as they work at home. To avoid burnout, it’s important to take the time to have regular vacations. However, the pandemic means that vacationing at home will be what tourism and travel are like for many people over the next couple of years.
So how can we make our home vacations satisfying and enjoyable? The average traveler follows a path of planning, booking, experiencing, and sharing their vacation. Many travelers revel in each of these stages, enjoying not just the trip itself but all of the preparations before it as well as sharing it afterward. How can you go through this enjoyable process while staying at home? To figure this out, consider what makes a great vacation. Here are some characteristics of one:
- We get a break from our normal hectic routine.
- We get to see and learn new things.
- Getting away helps us to simplify our lives. We are living out of a suitcase, camping or otherwise doing without all of our gear and normal activities. This simplification is refreshing. We get away from the clutter of our lives and reconsider our goals and the way we want to live. We come home renewed.
How can we get this kind of experience while staying at home? It’s worth considering that while we normally go somewhere else on vacation, other tourists pay to come to our location so there must be a reason why they come. Here are some strategies for several types of great vacations at home:
A luxury tropical island vacation
Planning. We all have a fantasy of enjoying an effortless vacation, but that isn’t what we actually do. Most people research no fewer than 38 websites while planning a vacation. This process helps them to understand what they will see and map out an itinerary, decide what they want to do, eat and learn, check prices and plan their budget and other aspects of their journey. We can put that effort into planning a vacation at home instead.
Start by figuring out what you want to do on your tropical island vacation. If you would rather be in Hawaii or the Caribbean than at home, this says something about your interests. Consider spending a day boating on a nearby lake, having a Hawaiian-style luau in your backyard with family members you live with or learning to dance the hulu via Youtube classes. Go for a hike at a park or botanical garden where there are beautiful flowers and safe distancing rules or plan to buy some flowers at a nursery. Purchase some Hawaiian perfume on-line. Plan to binge-watch Hawaiian movies and documentaries about volcanoes and Pearl Harbor in a flowered shirt that you purchased on-line. Plan to make delicious fruit drinks and sit outside drinking them in a lawn chair while you read a vacation novel. If you love going to spas on vacation, organize a spa on a tray with scented bath salts and candles and some spa music to listen to while you take a long soak in the tub, paint your nails and have a facial.
Booking. Now instead of booking your flight, hotel room and rental car, order on-line what you need to turn your home into a tropical resort for a few days. Because you are saving a lot of money on transportation and accommodations, you can splurge a little on a Hawaiian cookbook and ingredients, flip flops, your flowered shirt, flowers and a few items to turn your bedroom into a luxury hotel room. You can book a kayak or other boat rental for your day on the lake. Book or order what you need to make a great vacation at home. Make an itinerary of what you are going to do just as you would if you were traveling. If you're looking for international foods and decor, World Market may have what you need. Some resorts have on-line ideas for stay-at-home vacations and chefs’ services to help you plan food. Some resorts, museums and other organizations have on-line sections on their websites with crafts and other vacation activities and easy recipes for kids.
One of the funnest parts of travel is staying at a nice hotel, so don’t scrimp on preparing your home to be like one. A number of years ago while staying in a hotel room in Singapore that was our idea of an ideal bedroom, we decided to recreate it at home. We were overdue for a new bed anyway, so we got the same kind of mattress and box springs that the hotel room had and made a wooden headboard and bed frame out of wood scraps in our workshop that was similar to the furniture in the hotel room. We supplemented it with a few inexpensive items we had picked up in Asia or inherited and a table that we made of logs. We purchased white cotton sheets on sale and a pretty white bedspread. We put simple soothing pictures on the wall. We have enjoyed this room immensely ever since. Every time we walk into it, it is like being in a nice hotel even though it was inexpensive to furnish.
Some hotel chains cater to this desire to have a hotel room at home by selling the same brand of their mattresses, bedding sets and pillows that they use in their hotel rooms, but you often can get similar items on sale for a more affordable price elsewhere.
Most hotels use white bedding for a crisp, clean look, and it really works. Look for high-thread-count white sheets for that soft feeling.
Blackout curtains and blinds can both block light and insulate rooms against the outside in winter, heat in summer and light if you live in an area with lots of outdoor lighting.
The secret is to only keep items in your bedroom that contribute to the room’s function and calm atmosphere, and to remove things that don’t fit and are clutter. Make sure you have a convenient place to put your dirty laundry and purge your closet of unnecessary items so there is a place for everything.
I keep a dish of scented French soap on a table which helps the room to always smell fresh and clean and reminds me of the scented soaps my grandmother placed in her bedroom. Scent has tremendous power to transport you to an imaginary vacation location. There are scented candles that can transport you to Hawaii, and ones that smell exactly like the incense in European churches, the wood in French castles or the incense in a Japanese temple. Some candles smell like the beach, while others have a scent like a redwood forest. For a modest investment, you can close your eyes and instantly be in your favorite vacation spot.
One of the treats of staying in a hotel is room service. It’s so much fun to relax in your bathrobe or jammies while eating dinner on a tray or small portable table. This is easy to replicate at home. Put a placemat on a tray or baking sheet and place a simple, delicious breakfast or dinner on it. Then slip into your jammies and eat it sitting in bed while watching your favorite movie.
Stock a tray with drinks and snacks for your vacation. The good side of this is you can enjoy the snacks without worrying about overindulging and getting an expensive add-on to your hotel bill.
In the bathroom, put away everything except what you need and place needed items neatly in a drawer or on a nice tray. And don’t skimp on towels. This is a great time to buy yourself a stack of big fluffy white hotel towels on sale. Most people have colored towels in their bathrooms, which is fine, but nothing says luxurious vacation like large white hotel towels.
This also might be a good time to upgrade your hand soap and body wash to something with a lovely Hawaiian scent and container.
While you’re at your “luxury resort,” take the time to lay on your backyard lawn on a towel or have a picnic there. Order a great vacation book in advance and read it in a reclining lawn chair with a tropical beverage nearby.
For a relaxing experience with nature, go for a bike ride on a nature trail.
The beach is pretty hard to replicate, but even it can be faked at a lake. Here's a picture of the Great Salt Lake that looks surprisingly like a mini-version of some parts of the Central Coast of California.
A Culture Vacation
Many people travel to learn about other cultures. One of my favorite cities to vacation in is Paris because I love to learn about French history, culture, food and great art. If I look at Paris in terms of what I enjoy doing there, I can do some of those activities at home.
Many museums and historical sites have beautiful art books about their history and collections. Order one or two before your vacation, and then spend an afternoon reading them. Then if you have been to the location before and have photographs, spend some time organizing them while you listen to music typical of the destination.
Paris bakeries are one of my favorite places to eat. There are wonderful cookbooks published by some of the most famous ones. Order a couple of them and spend some time in the kitchen concocting home versions of some of their best breads and pastries.
I love Paris’s sidewalk cafes. It's easy to set up a small table in the back yard and have a French dinner there complete with a delicious pastry dessert. Voila!
Then curl up with some good books about Paris or spend some time writing about your past experiences in France.
Paris is a great place to explore niche interests. One of mine is fabrics. I enjoy browsing in the city’s fabric stores. Many beautiful French fabrics also are for sale on-line, so I can spend a fun couple of hours doing the same on the Internet and then order a few pieces. When they arrive, I can enjoy making items with them just as I would if I had brought home fabric from Paris. One of my favorite stores in Paris is Sajou, which sells quaint sewing craft projects and materials based on the style of items the store owner's grandmother once made. My grandmother did the same kind of sewing, so I love everything about Sajou. The owner sources materials from various towns in France. I like this shop's many drawers and charming wooden containers so much that I set up a mini-version similar to it in my basement sewing area. I'm so glad now that I did. Sajou has a on-line website that I can browse, and my sewing area is a weekly refuge for an hour or so.
Paris’s flower stands are among my favorite features of the city. It doesn’t cost much to drive by a local nursery that has potted flowering plants and bring some home to make my own similar flower display in the yard.
Consider a Round the World in 80 Days vacation that lasts off and on all summer, using virtual tours and documentaries available online. Disney+ and other movie-streaming services have National Geographic documentaries you can use. Other great resources are Google Arts and Culture and and National Geographic’s tablet app, which provides interactive and video features that enhance National Geographic magazine’s articles.
A number of musums, such as the Vatican Museums, Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg in Russia, Louvre in Paris, National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, NASA via their app, Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Smithsonian, some U.S. national parks, and some zoos and aquariums have virtual tours of varying quality on-line as well. You can virtually tour the Acropolis in Athens and wander through Pompeii using Google Street View. Federica Provolenti’s website A Stroll around the world has virtual tours in Italy.
On-line videos can teach you how to do origami and make ramen if you want to take a virtual trip to Japan. Or make ratatouille and then watch the movie with your children.
You can host a Great British Bakeoff in your kitchen.
If you and members of your family speak another language, having a Speak Off for a few days during which you try to use only that language can help you keep up your language skills. You can combine this with foods and activities from the same culture.
If you want to include cooking in your 80 days world tour, the cookbook Around the World in 80 Dishes: Classic Recipes from the World’s Favourite Chefs is a good resource.
Camping and nature
Home can be a great place to go camping, but why not step it up a notch to add glamour and go glamping instead?
We took a recent up-scale camping trip at home over the Memorial Day weekend. We started our weekend trip with a hike on a nature trail near our home. Then we went home and built a campfire in the firepit in the backyard. We grilled shrimp and steak kabobs, pineapple and vegetables, and then enjoyed sitting outside at night and looking at the stars. It was one of the best camping trips we’ve ever had, especially the part where we got to sleep in comfortable beds that night.
Relatives with kids have enjoyed similar camping at home by sleeping in a tent or their treehouse in the back yard.
You can flesh it out with a variety of campfire cooking experiments, fishing at a river or pond in your area where you can socially distance, riding bikes, swimming and kayaking at a local lake or river where you can socially distance, and picnicking.
Sing camp songs and tell ghost stories around a campfire, toast marshmallows and make s’mores.
If you want to see wildlife, there can be plenty of opportunities close to home. You don't have to head for Yellowstone. The photos below are of buffalo at an island preserve on the Great Salt Lake near us, a yak farm in a town nearby, a turtle crossing a nature trail, and a butterfly.
If you are worried about going on vacation for a week or two because of job pressures, here are some ideas for mini-vacations. These can range from a weekend to an hour or two long. Incorporate these activities into your life to give yourself some unstructured time off. You don’t have to go on vacation for a week or two or get a vacation-style break.
- Ice cream. From sundaes at Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco to a tour of gourmet ice cream factories, dairies and creameries in almost every tourist area in the United States, ice cream is one of the most popular tourist foods. Splurging on a sundae or a multi-flavored masterpiece in a waffle cone is one of the great pleasures of vacationing. It’s one you can do at home with your favorite brands of ice cream, some toppings and gourmet cones.
- Have a long nap. One of the pleasures of vacationing is getting enough sleep.
- Hire someone to clean your house during your designated vacation time to give yourself a bit of a break.
- Have a jammie day on a Saturday where you get up late, have a leisurely breakfast and putter around in your jammies. There’s no better time to do it, because you don’t have to worry about someone dropping by unexpectedly during the pandemic.
- Have dinner delivered.
- Play music typical of a place you would like to visit.
- Make a water park with a kiddie pool and perhaps a slide, the sprinkler and hose, spray bottles and water pistols. Get everyone into swimming suits and play in the water while you cool off.
- Fill a pretty pitcher with ice water and lemon, orange or strawberry slices for a quick break.
- If you enjoy shopping at tourist locations, splurge on buying a souvenir online from a favorite destination. You may be able to get it less expensively than you would at many tourist sites.
- Order takeout from a restaurant you haven’t been to before.
- Take dance lessons or learn to play an instrument using on-line videos.
- Watch a concert or play online. Enjoy a live Metropolitan Opera performance on streaming. The Philharmonic Berlin’s Digital Concert Hall offers more than 600 performances through the Digital Concert Hall. You can listen to free selections as well as buy a subscription or tickets to livestreamed performances. Some classical music organizations also have made their streamed archive free for anyone.
- Many people enjoy taking classes on vacation. You can do the same by taking an online art or crafts class or spending time working on a hobby or skill you’ve always wanted to learn. Make jewelry, sew, do woodworking, garden, draw or paint, etc. If you have chosen a destination to emphasize for your home vacation, you can choose something characteristic of that place. Skillshare, Teachable, Masterclass and Udemy have online tutorial classes from $.99 to $15 per month, and there are thousands of free tutorials on YouTube and IGTV.
- Listen to travel podcasts while doing other activities. This is a great way to explore new places from home.
- Plan your next trip by reading in depth about the places you want to visit, planning your itinerary, budget, where you want to stay and the transportation you will use.
Part of the fun of vacationing is sharing your experiences with family members and friends, either those who are vacationing with you or via social media. Just because you are vacationing at home doesn’t mean you can’t share your activities on social media.
You also can get together with friends and family on Zoom for an on-line cooking night or other activities that are part of your vacation. Let everyone know in advance what recipe they will be using, and they can all cook it in their own kitchen. Then you can eat together. An on-line exercise or craft class can be done the same way.
Close to home
No one wants to be home every minute of their vacation. Here are some relatively safe ways to have an outing near home.
Identify places where you can socially distance, such as a historic neighborhood that isn’t crowded, and go on a walking tour of your hometown or a nearby town. Make your daily walks an adventure by exploring places you aren’t familiar with. Walking is an important part of the slow travel movement, in which travelers venture off the beaten path and explore local cultures at a slow pace. Walking is often a more enriching experience than rushing along in a tourist bus, and it is easy to do at home.
Some outdoor farmers’ markets are safe as long as people wear a mask and social distance. Check out what’s available in your area.
Find out what farms in your area are selling to the public. Many farms have started produce pickup services, and going to one to purchase organic foods can be fun and relatively safe as well as helping them stay in business.
Travel experts think the pandemic-era increase in staying at home vacations will further a longer term trend of blurring lines between home and vacations. For a number of years, travel has been morphing from the once-in-a-lifetime package tour into a frequent activity that people incorporate into their regular lives. Before the pandemic, many people were constantly in travel mode. When they weren’t on the road, they were reading about or planning their next trip or going on short weekend and day trips. Many travelers are avid learners who learn things on their trips that they incorporate into their lives at home, from new ways of cooking and eating to new crafts to new forms of music, art and sports.
Ironically, the pandemic probably will accelerate this trend as more people find that both home and travel destinations are environments in which they can pursue their interests, goals and education, while getting a break from their routines.
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