How a Staycation Cut our Travel Spending by $1,500

The feet of two men rest on Kayaks on a lake.
Timothy Moore and his partner Nick took advantage of their kayaks and a nearby river they hadn't yet explored on one of their staycation days. Timothy Moore for The Penny Hoarder

My partner Nick and I love to travel, so we prioritize vacations in our budget. But when we felt like we needed an unplanned vacation earlier this year and saw that we were just on track to hit our vacation-saving goals — a trip out West in 2019 and a European adventure in 2020 — we had to improvise.

For months, Nick had been renovating the house we bought earlier this year and managing his own small business. I’d been juggling a full-time job and my own freelance writing gig.

It was so tempting to book a $2,000 trip to Myrtle Beach.

We both needed a break. And we had the money elsewhere in savings, just not earmarked for a trip.

But instead, we agreed to save the $2,000 and allow ourselves $500 for five days at home — a staycation to explore our hometown (Dayton, Ohio), ease our stress and just enjoy one another.

Sure, a few days at the beach would have recharged us brilliantly. But when you have other savings goals — be they paying off student loan debt, putting a down payment on a house or even just funding a more extravagant vacation down the road — a staycation can work miracles.

Even experts agree. Nick Hatter, an accredited life coach in the U.K., told me about what happens in our brains when we create positive staycation memories.

“A staycation enables you to create positive neuro-associations between your home and fun, relaxation and unwinding,” Hatter says. “Often, we are so busy with other things that we don’t take time to enjoy ourselves in our homes. By taking a staycation, we can begin to change what feelings and interpretations we associate with our home.”

Not only do staycations allow us to create these positive neuro-associations with our homes and communities, but they also eliminate much of the stress associated with regular vacations. There is no need to book flights (and deal with airports), pack your bags or find a dog sitter. You’ll also eliminate many of the financial stresses of a vacation by sleeping in your own bed and skipping the flights and rental cars.

Are you working with a limited vacation budget? Plan a staycation instead. Here’s what we did with our $500 staycation budget.

Day 1: First Dates

A big dish of ice cream.
Tim and Nick’s staycation day of fun first-date-themed activities included playing mini golf and eating ice cream. Timothy Moore for The Penny Hoarder

On the first day of our staycation, Nick and I re-entered the honeymoon phase of dating and combined a few first-date activities into one fun day. Together, we saw a movie at the theater (we went early enough so that I wouldn’t fall asleep), played a couple rounds of mini golf, went bowling and enjoyed several scoops of ice cream.

Nick has celiac disease, so it is challenging for him to dine out without getting sick from gluten cross-contamination. We know of a few gluten-free restaurants in the area, but they are somewhat pricy, which added to our expenses.

Total cost for the day: $115

Day 2: Kayaking and Hiking

two men sit in their kayaks on a lake.
Tim, left, and Nick took to their kayaks on the second day of their staycation and explored a river near their hometown of Dayton, Ohio. Timothy Moore for The Penny Hoarder

Nick and I like to enjoy the outdoors together, so we woke up early for day two of our staycation to kayak down a nearby river that we hadn’t yet explored. Because we had bought our own kayaks when we lived by a large lake in Tennessee, there was no cost other than a bottle of sunscreen. Even if you don’t own equipment, you can typically rent kayaks, canoes or rafts at low rates along any sizable river.

After a quick lunch at home, we grabbed our dogs (a greyhound-Weimaraner mix and a Great Dane) and headed out for an eight-mile hike. Again, no cost.

Though we were exhausted by the time we got home, we spent $20 on groceries and baked a delicious (and gluten-free) meal of salmon, rice and veggies in our own kitchen.

Total cost for the day: $20

Day 3: Day in Bed

After kayaking and hiking for an entire day, Nick and I were exhausted. We spent the third day of our staycation really emphasizing the staying part. Other than trips to the bathroom (or to let the dogs out to do the same) and the kitchen to grab food, we spent most of the day in bed watching movies, playing video games and reconnecting. If you are feeling drained from your daily life, this is the task I most recommend for your staycation.

Nick and I are antsy by nature, so in the late afternoon, we left our bed to go antiquing, but we returned quickly, made another $20 dinner and got back in bed.

Total cost for the day: $20

Day 4: Art Museum and Cooking Class

For our fourth day vacationing at home, Nick and I went out in search of culture in our hometown. We grabbed lunch at a cafe, toured a local art museum and finished things off with a special gluten-free cooking class, which was admittedly pricey — but hey, at least it included dinner.

Total cost for the day: $140

Day 5: Water Park and Laser Tag

Though we had greatly enjoyed our staycation, we still wanted a taste of the beach. So we left our city and drove half an hour to a water park with towering slides, a lazy river and, my favorite: beers on a makeshift beach, complete with reggae music. On the way home, we even squeezed in another extreme activity: laser tag. (For the record: I won.)

We dined out one last time and reminisced about how we’d spent the last five days.

Total cost for the day: $170

A man and two dogs stand on the shore of a lake.
Nick enjoys a scenic view on the second day of his and Tim’s staycation.      Timothy Moore for The Penny Hoarder

Our total cost for the whole five-day staycation came in under our budget: $465. That meant we were even less off track for our big upcoming vacations than we’d planned, and we returned to chaotic life feeling relaxed and refreshed… albeit a little sunburnt.

Timothy Moore is an editor, freelance writer and part-time adventurer. His favorite trips have included the Scottish Highlands, the beaches of Mexico, the roller coaster capital of the world, the California coast and, now, his own backyard.