Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Great American Staycation

"The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available at amazon.com and it will be in stores March 18. It has ideas, strategies, and tips from people who haven taken staycations for years, along with a few stories of the strange vacations my family took when I was a kid.

The description of the book is here. The story behind the book is below.

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Twenty-five years before “staycation” became a buzzword, my parents packed their three kids into a rented van for an overnight “fake-cation.”

Yes, a fake-cation. As in fake vacation.

After all, the van wasn’t really rented. My parents got it at a reduced rate, or maybe even free, in exchange for listening to a sales pitch on conversion vans. When the sales pitch was over, the van was all ours for the next 24 hours.

And what a 24 hours it was.

To escape the summer heat in Phoenix, Ariz., we drove 75 miles north to higher elevation. We swam in a creek, ate dinner somewhere, and then slept in the van in a grocery-store parking lot. One bench seat folded flat into a bed, and my parents slept there. My brother slept on the floor, and my sister and I each slept in a captain’s chair.

The captain’s chairs reclined less than an airplane seat, making sleep almost impossible. I remember struggling to get comfortable as I watched cars zoom by on a freeway next to us. The next morning, with our 24 hours nearly complete, we headed home.

It was one of several fake-cations my family took when I was a kid. One time, my family spent a weekend at an RV park that was mostly populated by retirees. The park had a small, deteriorating miniature-golf course that was fun for an hour or two. But after that, my brother, sister, and I had nothing to do but play cards in the RV and walk over to the shuffleboard courts and sling around the sliding discs. I remember I ate an entire box of Cheez-Its in one day during that trip. Not because I was hungry, just because it was something to pass the time.

The most memorable moment of that weekend was when my brother and I, tired of watching the three channels available on our portable five-inch, black-and-white TV, walked to the RV park’s community center. We found a television there to watch, but that only lasted a few minutes. We got yelled at for turning up the volume because it was interfering with the man calling out the Bingo numbers.

Very memorable, but not the greatest vacation. Truly a fake-cation.

But I don’t blame my parents. Three kids were expensive to fly anywhere. And the emotional cost was probably higher, given that my brother, sister, and I could get into an argument in the middle of church. On Christmas Eve.

Money was tight, and so was time. My dad, an insurance salesman, switched companies so often that he didn’t accumulate a lot of vacation days. He did accumulate a lot of business cards, however, and we used the backs of the outdated ones to write down phone messages.

Obviously, the seven-day family vacation to Walt Disney World wasn’t an option for my family. But now that I’ve taken some jabs at my parents, I’ll give them some credit. Even without much money or time, they still wanted to put some kind of vacation together.

That’s exactly what millions of Americans, including me, are thinking right now. How are we going to spend our next vacation?

We’d all love to really go all out. We’d love to jet away for a fourteen-day trip to somewhere exotic. We’d love to lounge on an exclusive beach and snap our fingers to have someone deliver us food, drinks, and in my case, SPF 140 sunblock.

But for many of us, reality is cramping vacation fantasies. The economy is in a downturn, home values are sinking, salaries are stagnant, and somewhere in this great country, a father-of-the bride is breaking the heart of his daughter:
Honey, you know how much I love you, but the economic conditions right now just aren’t conducive to having a five-foot ice swan at your wedding reception.
Tears will follow, but hopefully, so will an acceptance of the current economic conditions. Because most Americans –- young, old, single, married, with or without kids –- are feeling the pinch.

That brings us to the staycation. The stay-at-home vacation. The kind of vacation nobody really talked about until it became a product of necessity. The kind of vacation that my parents tried to pull off back when the economy was in another mighty swan dive.

But those were fake-cations. A staycation doesn’t have to be that way.

I know this because I’m now in the position my parents were in 25 years ago. I’m not an insurance agent, money is probably not as tight, and I’ve never planned a vacation that includes a three-hour sales pitch and a free set of steak knives. But like my parents, my wife and I have three kids. And since we started having our kids, and heard “it’s a boy!” three times, we’ve spent many vacations at home.

"The Great American Staycation" has some of our ideas and strategies for a vacation in your hometown or nearby. But more importantly, the book has the ideas and experiences from more than 20 other "staycationers" who are a lot smarter than me.

It's not like a typical travel guidebook. Those are loaded with useful information such as maps, detailed descriptions of towns, attractions to see, and where to eat. But sometimes the guidebooks read like the instruction booklet to George Foreman’s Lean Mean Grilling Machine.

I hope my book does a little better than that. It’s kind of an “anti-travel” book, so it won’t read like a travel guidebook. I’ve written humor columns for more than 10 years, and I think that tone fits staycations well. Because to take a staycation, you need to have a sense of humor. You need to have a positive attitude, an open mind, and a willingness to try something new. You can’t take yourself too seriously.

If you read the book, I hope it will help you be ready to plan a staycation that doesn’t feel like a fake-cation.

You can make it real, you can make it special, and you can make it memorable.

Final thought ... if you use Facebook, you can also find the book by searching "staycation." I just created that Facebook page for the book, which includes links to the book on Amazon and allows you to sign up as a "fan." That helps market the book, and it also allows me to give you any updates on the book.

Thanks to everyone who read this far!