We all know that time off is good for us, but Americans have fewer paid vacation days than other developed countries. Add to that, nearly 75% of us who do vacation put that trip on the credit card and can’t immediately pay it off. We’re under-rested and over-spent.

I’m a huge proponent of time away from work as being integral to self care. I’m also all about financial self care. While it may feel good at the time to take that vacation, going into debt can quickly snowball. One way I’ve learned to take time off inexpensively — whether a few days or a couple of weeks — is the “staycation.”

By staycation, I do not necessarily mean checking into a hotel within easy driving distance from home, although that can be a good value, particularly during the off-season. With some planning and discipline, a quality staycation can be had right at home.

Here are some tips for thinking through your staycation:

  1. Plan and prepare your staycation just as you might a regular vacation. I recommend setting a cash budget. That way, you’ll know exactly what you can afford and decide how to make the best use of that money. As a defense against money anxiety, a lot of people keep themselves ignorant about what they truly have to spend. Using your credit card when you know you shouldn’t can ruin a good dinner out or cause you to worry over — rather than enjoy — your time off.
  2. Make a list of places you’ve been meaning to go. A good resource can be your local travel guide. Add a bunch of movies to your Netflix queue. See if there are any special events happening. One of the most enjoyable parts of a vacation is the planning and anticipation.
  3. In addition, plan to make your household run as smoothly as possible so you’re not stuck doing all the usual household chores. Clean the house before your staycation, or have someone else clean, if you can afford it. Cook and freeze some favorite meals. This can be done a month or six weeks ahead of time. Do grocery shopping, laundry, and yard work before your time off.
  4. Come up with some staycation “rules” to make sure your time at home is restful. For example, make a pact to not check work (or any!) email or voicemail messages. Let people know that you will be “away” and stick to it. Another good rule: Do not sneak in home improvement or other projects just because you will be at home. Any chore that can be put off while you are on staycation (such as laundry) should be left. There are no to-do lists on vacation! This can be the most challenging part of a staycation. Have your family keep one another accountable.
  5. For the things that must be done around the house during your staycation, make sure that no single person is carrying the burden. Ladies, this often (though not always) means you. Do not become staycation “housekeeping” for the family.
  6. Especially at the beginning of your staycation, take the time to rest. It may take a few days to wind down from work-mode. Sleep in, or take a long nap. Try not to treat your time-off activities like a to-do list. If possible, check in with what you feel like doing that day and push away the “shoulds.” If you’re not enjoying the movie or the book you’re reading, switch to something more fun. You would be surprised how often people feel guilty for not “accomplishing” more on time off.
  7. If you can afford it, treat yourself to things you might normally do at an away vacation. Get a spa treatment. Buy an outfit that makes you feel like you’re on vacation. Try new restaurants. Go to the museum or theme park. Learn something new, like golf or how to knit.
  8. Time in nature can be extremely rejuvenating and is often budget-friendly. Go to a local park for a picnic and frisbee. State and national parks offer some amazing low-cost activities. Take the pooch to the dog park.
  9. If you’re taking staycation during warmer months, some hotels offer day passes to their swimming pools. Rent a cabana for the day and feel as though you’re vacationing away, without the cost or stress of packing and travel.
  10. Try to stay off your electronic devices. I know, this is a tough one. Yet, the temptation to check email will be right there, as will the pull to interact in the everyday ways on social media. This not only takes you emotionally outside the special “non-ordinary life” zone of vacation, it takes you away from the present moment of what you’re doing and the people you’re with. If you must, take a photo or two and post them at the end of your staycation.

Amra Stafford, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist who writes about self care for women. #selfcare #staycation