Hometown advantage: Staycation

To make it work, you need to unplug from your regular routine.

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From the June 2014 issue of the magazine.

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Photo Illustration by Gerrit de Jonge and brett Ramsay; Source images: Shutterstock; iStock

Photo Illustration by Gerrit de Jonge and brett Ramsay; Source images: Shutterstock; iStock

Work has been frantic, the boss is on your back, and the relentless march of deadlines is slowly grinding you down. Time for a badly needed vacation.

Only what if you took a vacation and didn’t go anywhere? With the economy slow and Canadian dollar dropping, more people are opting for so-called staycations, booking time off work but avoiding the costs and hassles associated with travel.

Just staying home, however, presents its own set of problems. How do you make a staycation feel like a real vacation, instead of simply killing time before returning to work? More to the point, how do you “turn off” work when you’re still in physical proximity to the office, and connected by phone, email and all manner of electronic devices? Turns out there’s an art to pulling off a successful staycation, maximizing relaxation and fun while minimizing costs and stress. Here’s how.

It’s hard enough for most people to shut out office distractions while vacationing at home; imagine how much more difficult it is when your office is your home. Such is the case with certified financial planner Augie Lucas, who works out of his Ottawa-based home office, yet manages to take a month-long staycation every second year. “The idea is to take a break and relieve some stress, and you can’t do that if you’re worrying about work,” he says. Accordingly, Lucas informs his clients of his pending vacation a month in advance, then gives them a second heads-up a week ahead. Once his vacation starts, he’s for all intents and purposes incommunicado with work clients. “I’ll review my emails and listen to voice messages every once in a while, but won’t respond unless something is a real panic.”

Of course, disconnecting from the office completely is sometimes impractical or impossible—the key is to minimize work-world interactions as much as possible. Calgary writer Scott Haggett, who took a week’s staycation this year to coincide with his 11-year-old son’s spring break from school, says he has to spend a few minutes each day deleting work emails, “or I’ll have 10,000 waiting for me when I get back.”

Home away from home

If you want to feel like you’re on vacation, you have to act like you’re on vacation. “Try sleeping in your spare room or the kids’ room,” advises Jantine van Kregten, director of communications with Ottawa Tourism. “The light will be different, the sounds will be different, the pillow will be different. Those things are all part of the travel experience, getting out of your rut and comfort zone.”

In order to promulgate the illusion of being away from home, try to take care of routine household chores and jobs before the staycation starts, says Lucas. “We do our grocery shopping before and after, and we order meals in a lot. My wife Jane does most of the cooking during the year, so when we’re on staycation I try to make sure she doesn’t cook at all.”

Tourist in your own town

When it comes to staycation activities, stop doing the things you normally do, and start doing what tourists do. “Look at your local visitors bureau websites and see how the professionals are marketing your region to real tourists,” suggests van Kregten.

Another trick is to go to a neighbourhood where you don’t ordinarily spend a lot of time, and spend the day exploring. “Walk into stores you normally wouldn’t go into,” says van Kregten. “Buy a coffee at a shop you’ve never been in. That’s what you do on vacation, so why not do it in your own town?”

And since you’re not tied into a 9 to 5 work routine, you can save money by taking advantage of all those mid-week specials. “Restaurants and bars often have deals like half-priced tapas on Mondays, or 50 cent wing nights on Tuesdays,” notes Van Kregten. “You’re not working, so you can treat the weekdays like weekends.”

Finally, if you have kids, spending time with them during the day is often all it takes to make them feel like they’re on a real vacation. “I’ve been wanting to teach my son to ski, and the staycation seemed like a good opportunity, so we went skiing for a couple days,” says Haggett. “He loved it, and because it was during the week instead of on the weekend, the lines were much, much shorter.”

Ultimately, the key to a successful staycation comes down to mindset: you have to be able to mentally switch into holiday mode, even if you’re in familiar surroundings. Done right, the staycation delivers the same relaxing, rejuvenating benefits as a travel holiday—and for a fraction of the cost. “It’s a true vacation,” says Lucas. “When I’m on staycation I’m able to mentally flip the switch from work to holiday mode and relax completely. In fact, it’s less stressful than travelling, and just as refreshing.”

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