1: In Praise of the Staycation

1: In Praise of the Staycation

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People

In Praise of the Staycation

He is the happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home.

~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The airline information was already spread out on the dining room table. The resort brochures were nuzzling it. All was in readiness... almost.

The only missing piece: our consciences.

My husband and I had been looking forward to travel, especially after long years of paying college and graduate school tuitions for our daughters. We’d vowed that in these, our semi-retirement years, we’d step up to the tarmac and fly—literally and figuratively, too. It was, we told ourselves, our turn.

But sitting at that dining room table on an early summer night last year, we also knew that this trip, an indulgence we’d assumed we deserved, was feeling uncomfortable. While our spirits would have embraced a trip to the American West, a region we’d longed to explore, we were uneasy.

Times were bad. And getting worse.

Hard luck was knocking on too many doors, and we heard its echoes.

And like so many others, we were starting to hear other echoes, these more personal: they were the voices of our parents, the stalwarts who had lived through the Great Depression and never forgot it. As the generation just behind them, we learned a bit about saving, not spending, and repairing not replacing.

Sure, we chafed at the messages. Who wants to hear that “goody-goody” stuff about the virtues of going without? Who wants to celebrate the old car, the old clothes, the simple meals, the birthday gifts more practical than fanciful? Not the young.

But suddenly, the experiences and the advice of our late parents were ringing in our ears. And it was suddenly sounding prudent and wise.

So my husband and I took a major step backward, filed the brochures in a folder marked “Future Travel,” and rethought our plan. And that’s when we took a leap of faith to a far different destination: our home.

We’d do a Staycation.

It was a term—and concept—that had tiptoed into our lives as the economy was beginning its tumble. And while the late-night comedians were already lampooning it, we figured we had little to lose.

Which is how it came to pass that last summer we did not venture more than fifty miles from home, nor did we once spend an overnight away from our own bedroom.

I would love to say that it was the best vacation of our lives, but that would be fudging. Still, I can honestly say that we came to know our town, our region, and yes, ourselves, better in those two weeks than in any other vacation of our lives.

It certainly took some symbolic shifting of gears to set aside any work-related things, from e-mails to paperwork to phone calls, and to establish the clear bottom-line rule that we were simply not available.

Triumph Number 1. On the first several mornings of our staycation, I actually found myself almost sneaking into my home office just to peek at my computer screen for e-mails. But I resisted.

Triumph Number 2. We had determined in advance that we would try to do something each day—even if it was a trip to the town library to browse in the New Books section.

And even on days when the temperature was climbing, and our air conditioned den beckoned, we still followed our self-imposed mandate to wander, at least briefly.

We discovered the New Jersey Pinelands in our own backyard, a pristine area of lush flora and fauna and deep, dense silences.

We took a day trip to the New Jersey shore as we had in our early married days, carrying our lunch in a shoebox, and finding a beach where the sand was soft between our toes. We splashed in the ocean and drove home in damp bathing suits, singing nonsense songs all the way.

One morning, we had breakfast at the little coffee shop less than a mile from our home that we’d always vowed we’d try. Because it was a day with a breeze and comfortable temperatures, we walked both ways, feeling virtuous even after pancakes with extra syrup.

It was liberating to have none of the tension that distant travel sometimes brings. It was wonderful to rediscover neighbors we seldom had time to linger with as we rushed from car to front door. Now there were splendid, lingering conversations.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must note that by the second week, we were a bit restless. We’d been to several museums, an art gallery, and, on one memorable day that was a belated birthday gift to me, an antiquing expedition.

That was when we went on a movie binge, seeing three films on three successive nights.

In some ways, those fourteen days of our staycation flew by. Sometimes, we did feel a bit weird about lolling around in our own digs. But never enough to regret our decision.

We never did get to a couple of the projects we’d outlined because frankly, they felt too much like work. This was, after all, a vacation.

And when it was all over, we both felt refreshed, renewed, and delighted that while we had barely spent any significant money, we didn’t feel the least bit deprived.

Most importantly, we learned that in a long marriage, there are still new discoveries to be made. Who knew that my husband would fall in love with the Pinelands, and that we’d return there several times since our staycation? Who knew that we could go for days without squabbling about the daily irritations that crop up on the domestic landscape when it’s “business as usual?”

This I know: somewhere up in heaven, our parents are smiling down on us.

I believe they’re rejoicing that at last—at long last—those messages they delivered so earnestly about prudence over indulgence really did take!

~Sally Friedman

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