When it comes to planning vacations, budget and time are two important factors many families have to consider. With school back in full swing and calendars filling up, exotic getaways to the Caribbean, road trips across the U.S. or forays to Europe aren't exactly viable options. That's why many people are opting for a staycation instead because they offer the benefits of a relaxing getaway without the stress (or expense) of traveling far.
In 2014, Google reported a 10 percent bump in users searching the term "staycation," and the trend only seems to be growing in popularity. Not only does a staycation eliminate travel and lodging costs, it also gives people the opportunity to really explore the city or town they live in. So start using those hard-earned vacation days, grab your family and explore the world right outside your door. These tips will help you create the perfect staycation, no matter where you live (and no matter what your budget).
You'd set an out-of-office message if you left the country, why not do the same even if you're just at home? The last thing you want to do is work through your time off, so be sure your colleagues know you'll be out of reach. Disconnect entirely by turning your smartphone off during activities and keep the TV off so you can truly unwind without interruption.
Visit local museums
Pretend to be a tourist and visit your city's local museums. From art and history to botanical gardens and zoos, there are plenty of ways to get cultured in your hometown. Plus, many national museums (like the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.) are free.
Turn your backyard into a resort
Bring the resort to you by creating your own beautiful outdoor oasis. If your budget is low -- don't fret, there are plenty of ways you can create the perfect patio for relatively cheap. Items like string bulb lights, hammocks, rustic beach decor and bright throw pillows can add a vacation vibe to your backyard space without breaking the bank. For the ultimate in backyard entertainment, create an outdoor movie theater with a sheet, a projector and some cozy beanbag chairs.
Go for a bike ride
Savor the longer summer days and opt for a bike ride by yourself or with your family. If you're an avid cyclist, choose a trail you've never been on to make the experience more unique. For added fun, rent some bicycles with baskets so you can bring a picnic to enjoy in a nearby park.
Take a tour
If your budget allows, consider signing up for a specialty tour in your city. Many U.S. cities boast a wide range of tour offerings, from culinary to home to architecture that can pique almost anyone's interest. Choose one you normally wouldn't do to step outside of your comfort zone.
Schedule a spa day
Take one day completely to yourself and visit a local spa for a day of pampering. If you don't have the budget for a full day, opt for a massage, manicure and pedicure, or facial. You can also bring the experience home by creating a luxury aromatherapy spa in your own bathroom with essential oils, scented candles and plenty of champagne.
Embark on a dinner cruise
If you're on the coast or near a lake, research dinner, cocktail or sunset cruises in your area. Most of these are reasonably priced, include all food and drinks and expose you to a part of your city you might not have seen before. Plus, it gives you a reason to get dolled up for a night out.
Forget the chores and housework
This may sound counterproductive, but think about it -- would you make the bed or clean the kitchen if you were staying at a hotel or bed-and-breakfast? Treat your staycation just as you would any other getaway and skip the housework. If you can't stand the thought of a messy home, hire a maid for the day to avoid any extra stress.
Cater dinner in
One of the benefits of vacation is the opportunity to try new and exciting foods (that you don't have to cook) that are unique to the destination you're visiting. Bring that experience home by ordering dinner in during your staycation. Simulate a trip to the coast by ordering a direct-from-Maryland blue crab dinner ($110 for two) or recreate a south-of-the-border experience with a fully catered Mexican feast. If you can, hire servers and clean up-crews for the true restaurant experience.
Ask anyone -- the best part about vacation (aside from the travel) is sleeping in. With no work, school or meetings to attend, there's no reason to have that alarm clock on. Give yourself a few days of uninterrupted snoozing so you awake more refreshed, relaxed and rejuvenated.
Claire Volkman is a social media journalist with a passion for food and travel. She's spent time in more than 30 countries and hundreds of cities writing, photographing and immersing herself in all things food, wine and culture. You can find her favorite recipes on her blog, The Realistic Nutritionist. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+ to keep up with her adventures.