Like so many other families, this economy has us sticking to a pretty tight budget. As much as we love going to see extended family, this year, we opted not to travel this summer, and are staying home. Still, my husband and I want to take time away from work and routine to have some sort of family vacation. Any creative ideas for a “stay-cation?”
Budget-Conscious and Needing a Break
Dear Budget-Conscious and Needing-a-Break:
Wow! Your question is a wake-up call for me and perhaps many other wives and mothers and grandmothers! Summer is still here with lots of time before the regimen of school and structure of the fall move in to get us on a hard-and-fast schedule.
First, remember what a vacation is all about: A break from the monotony of life—not to be reserved for summers alone; An enrichment time for the family, especially your immediate family circle but reaching out to your extended family as well; The creation of memories that strengthen family traditions and legacy—photographs, journal entries, extended times for conversation—laughing and sharing as a family those “stones of help” described by the prophet Samuel; Leisurely hours and days that provide genuine relaxation—no schedule or commitments, just hanging out and enjoying one another and pursuing your own life passions, refueling your energies and creativity; and Renewing your spiritual commitments—not squeezed-out minutes for God but stretched-out hours to saturate yourself with His Word, meditating and memorizing and setting spiritual goals.
With foundations set and a reason for the importance of “vacation,” let’s move to determine how to plan a frugal but fun, cheap but enriched, ordinary becoming extraordinary, routine to memorable “stay-cation”! Begin planning right now. Look for a week on the family calendar, but take whatever you can get. Don’t ditch your plan just because the summer is already booked with being busy here and there, or as the servant discovered, the opportunity will be gone (1 Kg 20:40). If you can’t find a week, look for 2 or 3 days—perhaps several “get away from the drudgery” days taken here and there. Once the time is blocked, start making plans to clear everything just as you would if you were traveling elsewhere. Enlist the family to contribute ideas of “low” or “no” cost options of things to do in your city. Here are some of my favorites:
- Picnics in the park.
- Backyard cook-outs with themes creatively selected, such as “Out of Africa” or “Mexican Fiesta” or “Texas Steak Out” or “Chuckwagon Supper.” You would be amazed at the creative ideas of even your children!
- Movie night—perhaps a marathon for which each family member picks a favorite and Mom prepares popcorn and other theater snacks with soda and Dad makes the family room a comfortable theater.
- Game day in which each family member selects a favorite game for all to play (indoor and outdoor).
- The family eating area as a restaurant with children preparing menus after the resident “chef” gives them options for the day—especially good when you come down to left-overs or when you have prepared double batches of favorite dishes in preceding weeks, frozen in individual containers and ready to be used in the “family restaurant.” Assign meals to different family members appropriately. Alternate in food preparation and clean-up. Use disposable serving ware but perhaps plan one “fancy” meal with all the family best. Check your budget for possible take-out or restaurant meal as a bonus.
- A summer family book club in which you each read a book and then discuss together as a family, beginning with a trip to the local library or second-hand book store. Consider planning a murder mystery evening with each family member playing a character in the adventure.
- Visiting area museums, historical sites, zoo, botanical garden, concerts, amusement options, using on-line resources for information. If you are in major city, go to local bookstore and look at guidebook for the city. You would be amazed at how many activities are virtually free for families, especially during the summer months.
- Excursions within an hour or two—perhaps selecting one special outing during your “stay-cation” Are you close to the mountains or the beach? Consider hiking or flying kites or doing a scavenger hunt.
Don’t forget about these important cautions/warnings:
- Electronics, especially mobile phones and ipads/ipods should not interfere with your vacation time. Make and enforce rules for entire family to turn off at least during meals and activities and to confine to brief periods. You need an escape from routines. If parents are bound by these gadgets, then they can expect teens and even children to be engrossed in them as well.
- Just as when you are traveling away from home on vacation, leave the office and other mundane responsibilities—even home projects—behind and divest yourself of these distractions to focus on your own renewal and reviving of family ties.
- Include family devotional time—even if you do not observe family worship routinely at home. Initiate spiritual discussions. You will be amazed at the questions your children will throw out. You are not looking for an “around-the-clock” worship service but simply giving God some special moments together as a family.
- Don’t over-schedule even fun activities. Allow time to “smell the roses” and “drink in the beauty of nature.”
- Eat properly; sleep enough; focus on the joys of living life and being with family.
The ultimate charm of the “stay-cation” is that you are the planner. You enjoy the comforts of home linked to the adventure of seeing sites and having fun and all without breaking the family bank!
Devotedly yours in the journey,