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Staycations: Alternative to pricey, stressful travel

  • Story Highlights
  • AAA: Some vacationers are choosing to stay home
  • "Staycationers" use time off to enjoy homelife or hometown
  • Travel alternative eliminates stress, can refresh
  • Experts: Keys to fun include planning, swearing off e-mail
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By Debra Alban
CNN
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(CNN) -- It might seem unusual that oil businessman David Mitchell would give up vacations for so-called staycations: taking time off from work to enjoy life at home.

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For David Mitchell, one of the perks of staycations is "no [airport] security checkpoints in my yard."

But Mitchell, 42, has spent more than six years and $30,000 to develop his South Windsor, Connecticut, backyard into a custom-designed personal sanctuary, which includes a pool with a water slide, a lush flower garden and entertainment areas for dozens of visitors.

In contrast to destination vacations, Mitchell feels like he gets "the most bang for my buck" staying home.

He enjoys "the freedom of choice" to do whatever he pleases. During past travels, "I had to feel like I got my money's worth so it was go, go, go all the time to see all the sites," Mitchell said.

Sarah Outland's weeklong "staycation" gave her a chance to explore her new surroundings after moving to Chicago, Illinois.

A day after moving to the Windy City last year, Outland, 24, started a new job and never got a chance to explore her new surroundings. After nine months as a resident, she finally took a week off work to visit famous landmarks, museums and shopping centers that were right under her nose.

But it took some initiative to make herself a tourist where she lives. Photo See photos of a Texas staycationer's week off »

Staycation Tips

Enjoy your "staycation" by becoming a tourist inside or near your own home. Pauline Frommer of Pauline Frommer's Travel Guides advises:

  • Stay in a nearby hotel. Tell them you're a local, and they may give you a discount so that you'll recommend them to visiting friends or relatives
  • Consult guidebooks such as Frommers.com, Fodors.com and LonelyPlanet.com to find nearby hot spots
  • Check out Web sites like Chowhound.com or Roadfood.com to find the best local eateries
  • Join your local museum to get on lists to identify when the best cultural opportunities are happening

"It's so easy in the morning when I wake up and I make my coffee and I start to watch [TV] ... I [would] think, 'Well, what's on after this?' ... I just had to force myself to get out. And once I got out, I didn't want to go back in."

Without the logistical worries of travel, both Mitchell and Outland say they returned to work refreshed and with a positive outlook. However, experts warn that convenient modern technology poses dangers that may ruin a good idea. Video Watch travel expert Pauline Frommer give tips on staycationing »

About 1.3 percent fewer Americans are expected to fly this summer than last summer, according to the Air Transport Association.

And for the first time since the economic shock after the September 11 attacks, Americans were projected to drive less over Memorial Day weekend, the traditional kickoff of the summer travel season.

AAA Vice President Mark Brown says the slowing economy and high fuel prices "have pushed some Americans to what we call the traveling tipping point. It's clear that a small number of us may choose to stay home ... and relax with friends and family rather than take a vacation."

Gas prices appear to "have nowhere to go but up, and consumers and airlines in the United States are being dragged along for a very uncomfortable ride," Brown said.

Economics aside, "staying at home for a vacation can be enormously restorative and transformative and fits much, much better into a lot of people's schedules and logistics," said Kristie McLean, a life coach in Seattle, Washington.

If you do decide to skip travel for a staycation, it's easy to fall into sloth mode. So experts advise treating it similarly to a regular vacation, and that includes making plans.

"Decide up front what you want to have at the end of the vacation," said Diane Brennan, life coach and president of the International Coach Federation.

That means setting guidelines or boundaries for yourself; if you want to do nothing for a week, that's OK, but it should be a choice, Brennan says.

Staying productive can help you refresh and recharge yourself, says Dr. Ilene Serlin of the San Francisco Psychological Association. She warns that too much downtime can actually drain energy.

Don't Miss

Being close to home probably means you'll have e-mail access and you're physically close to work. But just because you can check your e-mail or scroll through your BlackBerry doesn't mean you should.

The technology that allows people to be available all the time can cause "terrible stress ... and there's no respite from it," Serlin said.

When you take your work home with you, it will defeat the purpose of making your home a refreshing oasis, which is why many people feel the need to travel to recharge, Serlin says.

Still, it's hard to prescribe "unplugging," she says.

Over the course of a week, Outland couldn't resist checking her work e-mail daily, knowing that it was a potentially unhealthy habit.

"I think it's pretty ridiculous, because I have a personal e-mail account and a work e-mail account. So it's not as if, by checking my work, I was seeing if my mom had e-mailed me," she says.

Brennan recommends completely swearing off e-mail and letting co-workers know that you'll get back to them when you return from staycation, just as you would if you were removed from the technology.

"Where the obstacle comes in ... is we think, because we're at home ... we have this sense of obligation to work or maybe even think that the boss thinks we ought to give a call or do something," she says. "The reality is that may not at all be what the boss is thinking."

The staycation alternative also can be a welcome relief from travel stress.

Airports can be dehumanizing, Serlin says.

"It's very disorienting to be in those tunnels, indoors, breathing packaged air, seeing nothing identifying, there's no neighborhood there," she said. "The landmarks that usually cue us in about who we are [are absent]."

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For others, the strangeness of different cultures or languages, figuring out foreign currencies or worrying about lost luggage can take a toll, McLean says.

Nevertheless, she says, there is still a very strong case for achieving balance through travel. Nothing replaces the renewal, she said, "that comes from going physically away from our daily life."

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