The festive season is fast approaching, but it seems Santa will be the only one circumnavigating the globe this year as travel restrictions tighten and the cost of travel mounts. But fear not! If you’re one of the many people opting to stay home for the holidays this year, this is your opportunity to play tourist in your own town – and you might be surprised by how much there is to do on a staycation.
What’s a staycation?
Whether it’s hiring a fancy hotel room in a skyscraper to indulge in room service and champagne, or finally taking the time to visit that museum you’ve been meaning to check out, playing tourist in your own town is a great way to have a holiday in your own backyard.
According to urban legend, staycations were famously invented by introverts who wanted an excuse to stay home in blanket forts all weekend without being shamed by their friends. This makes a good staycation something akin to Schrodinger’s Holiday: relaxation in the comforts of one’s own home, and a re-injection of wide-eyed wonder into the places we take for granted in our everyday lives. After all, how many of us have been so caught up in our routines (interspersed with the occasional trips somewhere far away, when the chances arise) that we never get around to checking out that new exhibit or having dinner at that amazing restaurant in the place we live?
Simply put, a staycation can be whatever you want it to be – provided you stay in at least the vicinity of where you’re already living. All you need to do is figure out what’s still rattling around on your must-see list. Or, if you don’t have a must-see list already, get inspired by websites like Voordeeluitjes (a great source of ideas for a holiday in the Netherlands), LastMinute (which offers fabulous deals for London and Paris), or Wotif (where you can learn what’s happening in New York). By using resources like these you can see what’s been on the up-and-up while you were daydreaming about your next adventure abroad.
How to be a tourist in your own town
The world may be in a tricky state and we may be limited in where and when we can travel, but we can still get a few cultural kicks out of our own backyards. A lot of museums, theme parks and tourist attractions are yearning for increased traffic to stay afloat, and as a consequence, many are finding creative adaptations to make it safe to visit them.
The chance that special events will take place in your city over the coming weeks and months is high. After all – just as you can’t travel abroad right now, tourists can’t come to where you live. This has led to an exciting new symbiosis between you, the staycationer, and your own city, which is ready to re-enchant you with the charms of your own home turf.
Though illogical, it seems that the more we know a city, the harder it is to figure out how to spend our spare time in it. So if you’re finding yourself anguishing over how to structure your holiday at home, consult local websites for the latest events and happenings, and maybe even discount rates to particular places. No matter where you are, the online world is flush with ideas, offerings and discounts.
Of course, travel is often determined by the company you keep, so your staycation ideas might vary depending on who you’re travelling with. Families will likely want a particular kind of holiday staycation, whilst couples or solo travelers might want something completely different. The best way to work out how to be a tourist in your own town – and who to do it with? Consider all the options.
Top ideas for a family staycation
Visit your favourite friends with feathers, fur or fins at your local zoo
Zoos are a timeless family day out, and for good reason: It’s an extremely rare child, adolescent or adult who doesn’t have a favourite animal.
Though restrictions currently exist in many zoos around the world, the open-air environment means that many are still accepting visitors in some form or other. Stay on the safe side by remembering your mask and pre-booking your ticket, as most zoos are admitting only a limited number of people per day to keep everyone safe. The unexpected advantage of this, however, is that with fewer people around, it will feel like you have the entire place to yourself. And who hasn’t fantasised, at least a little, about owning a zoo so you can be the king or queen of the animal kingdom?
If lockdowns mean you can’t get to the zoo, then bring the zoo to you! San Diego Zoo’s famed wildlife camera feeds broadcast specific animal enclosures at key hours of the day so you can see what they get up to when humans aren’t around. Grab something crunchy to munch along with the pandas, or slap on a mud mask to soak with the hippos. Practice your catwalk scowl with the tigers or see why the movie Dogma famously cited the platypus as “proof that even God has a sense of humour.”
Be a tourist in your own town by getting a little holiday magic at a festive market
When the festive season is upon us, it’s still possible to stop and smell the roses – or the mistletoe, as it were. Usually we’re so preoccupied with wrapping up the year and trying to find the perfect gift for Great Aunt Myrtle that we simply forget to pay any mind to the way our own cities are changing around us. But staycations are a great way to be a tourist in our own town – especially if your town hosts anything akin to holiday markets.
A holiday market is a wonderful way to spend a chilly afternoon or evening with your friends and loved ones, hands wrapped around a hot chocolate or gluhwein (spiced mulled wine, occasionally spiked with spirits to warm up the bones and bring on the headaches), browsing the porcelain creations or buying homemade and handmade gifts for friends and loved ones.
These markets tend to house a fair few amusement rides for children, making them a nice day out for the whole family. Even the dinkiest merry-go-round takes on a magical quality in the wintertime, and as everyone knows, it doesn’t take much to create a precious childhood memory – all you need is to step outside the everyday, and lead the way by demonstrating a sense of wonder. Your child’s imagination will undoubtedly do the rest.
Presumably, the way these markets are set up will be a little different this year. But, because they’re often an outdoor experience, you can expect that they will operate barring serious lockdown measures. Make sure to keep the hand sanitiser nearby (and clap a pair of gloves on your kids whether they want them or not), have a clean mask ready to go, and a keep straw in your pocket for your gluhwein.
Frolic, flip or flop in your favourite park
Take your entire family for a fun day outdoors with a social-distancing compliant day at your preferred park, regardless of whether your favourite park is theme, amusement or green!
As with zoos, many theme parks and amusement parks have implemented new measures to keep patrons safe and the fun still surging, so look into what’s available in your area. A day riding rollercoasters and hurtling down slides is a great way to reconnect with your inner child, but be sure to read the terms and conditions carefully – it’s possible to have fun and be careful at the same time, and many amusement parks are taking no chances with your health (and rightfully so).
If you’d rather avoid the queues and simply enjoy the fresh air, pack up a picnic (or sneakily transport some drive-through junk food into a picnic basket for some convention-bending wow factor) and beeline for your nearest park.
In fact, for many restaurants which are working hard to stay afloat, your support in the form of a take-away meal can make a real difference – so get creative with what you put inside your picnic basket and help a locally-owned business keep their doors open.
Splay on a picnic rug, unleash the kids on the playground armed with a spray bottle of hand sanitiser, and savour the beautiful struggle of introducing your teenagers to the forgotten art of conversation.
Staycation ideas for couples
Go on a domestic getaway
Be a tourist in your own town – right down to the cushy hotel experience!
With fewer people undertaking international – and even interstate – travel worldwide, luxury hotels are slashing their prices to stimulate local spending. The result? It’s possible to live like a millionaire for a fraction of the usual cost.
Have a vacation from the real world with a night or two in one such hotel. Slip into something slinky and sip champagne at the bar, luxuriate in a rose-petal bubble bath, treat yo’self to a Swedish massage and crack a crème brûlée from the comfort of a king-size bed, staring down at the city below.
Deal sites are the best places to find discount rates to premium hotels. Hotels in the Netherlands for example can be pricey, but with the right resources at hand good deals are just a click away. The same goes for hotels around the rest of Europe, get scrolling through social media and clicking through Google for local deals.
If eating chocolate-covered strawberries and watching new releases only consumes a small sliver of your day, become a tourist in your own town in earnest by going on a socially-distanced walking tour through a locally owned tourist operator. Or, if you prefer to go rogue, swing by your city’s tourism office and grab yourself a free map to see your home through fresh eyes, and craft your own itinerary.
Jump on the virtual tourism bandwagon
If Covid restrictions have put the kibosh on your mobility, don’t worry: Playing tourist in your own town can involve museums and attractions beyond your borders. How? There are stacks of virtual tourism opportunities online so you can see the world without even having to leave your home.
Save yourself the cost of the airfare (or the effort of putting on jeans!) by taking a virtual walking tour through a far-flung dreamy destination. There are ample videos online in first-person perspective that amble through bustling markets, serene village side streets, and verdant countryside. Though there are many options on YouTube for free, but consider supporting a locally-owned business (at your destination of choice) that has adapted their offerings to remain open despite the limitations. After all, if it’s possible to see the world from your couch, it’s also possible to keep practicing sustainable tourism from there, too.
If free virtual experiences are all your pocket can muster right now, check out Tiqets’ Awakening Weeks series of virtual tours of museums and attractions around the world. From a virtual gondola ride through Venice to an interview with a guide at Tour de BonTon, Amsterdam’s famous sex club, there are plenty of ways to explore the world that don’t require a long-haul flight, or even putting on a mask.
If you prefer something a little more interactive, consider a virtual travel experience that requires participation. Devour Tours, which offers gastronomic and cultural tours, has responded to rippling lockdowns across Europe by developing a smorgasbord of options for virtual tourists – from online wine tastings to cook-along tapas classes with their very own Cordon Bleu-trained chef.
Staycation ideas for singles
It’s hard to appreciate just how invigorating and enjoyable it is to travel solo until you actually do it. But there’s a reason that those who have solo-travelled in the past tend to enjoy it: There’s no greater freedom in the world than being somewhere new, with complete ownership of every decision of your holiday. And though playing tourist in your own town does present less of an opportunity to go somewhere completely new, it does present an opportunity to have a different kind of journey – one as yourself, as an individual, with the place you call home. Besides that, there are plenty of activities that are best enjoyed alone.
Have yourself a merry little unconventional Christmas (or Hannukah, Thanksgiving, Solstice, whichever!)
Festive seasons can come with mixed emotions. Some people relish the spirit of the occasion, wrap themselves in tinsel from mid-October and change their alarm tune to Jingle Bell Rock, whereas others might find themselves wishing they could do their festive season a little more individualistically. This is where a staycation offers flexibility we didn’t necessarily have before: You can crank the festive cheer up to 110%, or start creating your own traditions.
Forever failing to keep the turkey from going dry? Then teach yourself how to dish up a mean Pad Thai. After all, solo staycationing means no pressure to commit to the usual way of things if the usual way doesn’t work for you.
Substitute picking fallen pine needles from your carpet by buying yourself a plant baby to keep alive long after the festive season ends. Choose something climate-appropriate and not too fussy. Succulents are perfect for a beginner, but if you’re feeling ambitious, check out some of the virtual guides to plant-rearing from our favourite enthusiast and expert, Hilton Carter.
Sick of giving and receiving what are starting to look like the same pair of socks and jocks every year? Treat yourself to the thing you really want – and spend as much time using it as you desire (unless that thing you really want is a Playstation 5, in which case we are mandated to advise you that it’s in your best interests to make time for eating, sleeping and showering.)
See the great works of the art world with a virtual museum tour
Museums are a tricky beast because of the deeply personal nature of art – an art gallery is best enjoyed alone, but most people don’t go alone because half the fun is about reflecting on what they’ve seen and experienced with someone else. But since circumstances have changed and many galleries and museums are no longer open to the general public, it’s possible to beat that paradox altogether by taking a virtual museum tour – with or without company.
Although audiovisual media have played a role in museums since the advent of technology, most museums still required people to queue up at the venue, purchase a ticket and step inside the hallowed halls of the Sistine Chapel or MoMA to experience what is on offer. Nowadays, that limitation no longer exists, as museums have ramped up what can be accessed by staycationers around the world.
The Louvre’s Mona Lisa: Beyond the Glass is a virtual reality exhibit that allows viewers to get up close and personal with da Vinci’s masterpiece, without having to jostle your way past dozens of fellow hungry-eyed museum-goers. Or, if you’d rather go Sphinx hunting (no, not literally), this too is an option thanks to the digitisation of The Louvre’s Egyptian Antiquities collection. Just make sure you’re not exploring through your mobile data – you may click the links intending to just take a quick look, but as anyone who has entered this particular museum can tell you, it’s all-too-easy to lose track of time here… Even virtually. And if a good old fashioned guided museum tour is what you’re after, this one of the Musée d’Orsay’s impressionist collection is a treat.
If you’d rather try something a little more modern, the J. Paul Getty Museum is as much a work of art as the 15,000-strong collection within – and thanks to the 3D Virtual Reality tour available online, you don’t need to hike through the hills of Los Angeles to get there. Enjoy the (virtual) surrounds of this spectacular building, and round out the tour with an at-home movie screening of All The Money In The World, the 2017 thriller starring Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer and Mark Wahlberg that explores the Getty family’s dark and fascinating history.
The U.S. National Women’s History Museum offers a virtual tour through a range of online exhibits that showcase some of America’s greatest women in the realms of politics, sport, and science. Meet the black activist women leaders who have and continue championing movements for equality from the 1950’s to now, the female scientists that helped NASA reach the stars, and the immigrant women who shaped America politically, socially and economically.
Take a gastronomic tour of your own city
Food-lovers – make a holiday experience out of your excellent taste! The hospitality industry has been hit hard the world over, and your city is no exception. Practice the art of sustainable tourism every time you feel peckish by making the most of the special offerings from your favourite locally-owned businesses.
Enjoy a socially-distanced margarita at an open-air bar or order up a feast from your favourite restaurant. Think about all the places you were dying to eat when businesses were shutting temporarily, or you were under lockdown. Not only is it a delicious treat for you – by spending your travel fund in your own backyard, you’re reinjecting it back into your local restaurants, cafes or diners. And we can’t think of a better way to get into the holiday spirit, while playing tourist in your own town, than that!