If you’ve ever come home from a trip and thought, I need a vacation, then you know that traveling can sometimes be less than relaxing. And that’s where a staycation — a vacation without travel — can help. Staycations may have gained popularity during the recession and slow recovery, but there are reasons other than financial to consider a few days off at home: Your flight won’t be canceled; you don’t need a phrase book; and you can’t leave your toothbrush behind. So save some stress, and some cash, by enjoying a vacation close to home. Here’s how.
1. MAKE PLANS
Don’t just wing it. Choose, then read up on day-trip destinations and make an itinerary for the weekend or week. To make it feel special for kids, take a drive before you “check in” at home.
2. KEEP EVERYDAY LIFE OUT
It’s a simple formula: Treat your time off at home like a vacation and it will feel like a vacation. Ban housework, set an out-of-office alert on your personal e-mail account, even stop your mail for the week. If you don’t create some separation, your staycation can end up feeling like a really long chore-laden Saturday afternoon.
3. SET A BUDGET — THEN SPEND IT
Spend a little more than usual, budgeting for meals, entertainment, and souvenirs. Look at it this way: 79 percent of vacationers surveyed by Newton-based TripAdvisor said they planned to spend $3,000 on vacations in 2012. So go ahead and buy that “I [shamrock] Boston” T-shirt. You’ll still be $2,990 ahead.
4. ACT LIKE A TOURIST
Why stop with a shirt? Do all the silly stuff you’ve never gotten around to. Go on a duck boat tour or an Upper Deck Trolley tour (both run year-round, and the latter is offering off-season extras through February 28). On a clear day, shell out the $14 to go to the top of the Pru. Window-shop on Newbury, and end the day with cannoli in the North End. There’s a reason tourists do these things: They’re wicked fun.
5. GET TAKEN FOR A RIDE
Save on parking and avoid traffic by taking the T (just plan around busy commuting times — you’re on vacation, remember). You can also hail a cab or use your smartphone to summon a livery service such as Uber (uber.com) or Hailo (hailocab.com/boston).
6. LEARN SOMETHING
You can never go wrong visiting one of Boston’s big five museums — the Museum of Fine Arts, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the Children’s Museum, the Museum of Science, and the New England Aquarium. But you’ll find fun off the beaten path, too.
> Nichols House Museum
Go inside a Beacon Hill mansion at this former home of the well-to-do Nichols family. It’s stuffed with original furnishings, art, and Chinese porcelain. 55 Mt. Vernon Street, Boston, 617-227-6993, nicholshousemuseum.org
The indoor-outdoor attraction is part science museum, part nature center, and part park. The playground, nature trails, and model steam engine are open year-round. Come on a snowy day for sledding (you can borrow a sled) and to watch river otters frolic in the snow. 222 Harrington Way, Worcester, 508-929-2700, ecotarium.org
> Fuller Craft Museum
If “craft” makes you think “Pinterest,’’ think again. This museum features amazing handmade work, including jewelry, ceramics, and wooden sculpture. Don’t miss the March 9 Appraisal Day, where, for a $5-per-piece contribution to the museum (in addition to the $5 admission), experts will tell you if your family heirloom is trash or treasure. “It’s not as glamorous as Antiques Roadshow,” says museum director Jonathan Fairbanks, “but you have a greater opportunity to discuss the objects.” 455 Oak Street, Brockton, 508-588-6000, fullercraft.org
> Museum of African American History
Located at the end of the 1.6-mile Black Heritage Trail, this Beacon Hill museum just started a 10-month celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. To arrange a guided tour of the Trail (even in winter), call 617-742-5415. 46 Joy Street, Boston, 617-720-2991, maahmuseum.org
> American Textile History Museum
This museum, housed in an old mill and affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, affords a hands-on experience with all things fabric. Its current exhibition, “Suited for Space” (through March 3), details the evolution of the spacesuit. 491 Dutton Street, Lowell, 978-441-0400, athm.org
7. PLAY CAR GAMES
If you plan to drive for a day-trip, make getting there fun. Forget those expensive travel games with the teeny-tiny magnetic pieces. I Spy and License Plate Bingo require little more than a few players and an open road. Continued...