Plan a staycation and see your city through a new lens

Adventure Travel, Backpacking & Trekking, Budget Travel, City Travel, Solo Travel, Travel Philosophy, Websites and Blogs — By on September 9, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Almost exactly one year after quitting my job to live the lost girl life abroad, I’m finally returning home to the States. For me, the greatest souvenir from my travels will be the pair of tourist eyes I’ve acquired…a way of viewing the world with a fresh, eager-and-awed perspective.

What is it about visiting faraway places that makes us feel more adventurous, more appreciative and more aware? If you go through my photos from the past year, there’s an embarrassing cornucopia of snapshots of large trees, food and tall buildings. Although, since we have these things at home, what compelled me to capture them on film? I’ve never taken a photo of the beautiful cityscape of my hometown or of the scenic views I pass on the way to work everyday.

Now that I’m back, I’m challenging myself to see my old world through a new lens…a vacation at home–my “staycation”. And I challenge you to join me on my mental “staycation” – wherever you are. Maybe I’m naïve to think that we can live our everyday lives seeing everything as a new adventure, but isn’t that clueless naïveté part of the fun of being a tourist?

“No need for anything fancy,” say Drs. Suzanne Saxe-Roux and Jean Roux, life coaches and co-authors of Courage and Croissants, in which they draw on their experience living in France to share how to reclaim the joy too often missing from contemporary lifestyles. “All it takes is paying attention to the simple things that bring you pleasure. A staycation is different than a vacation and can be equally rewarding if planned properly.”

So here’s how you can have your own staycation, and feel that traveling sense of wonder, right where you are now.

1. Eat something new.

The best part of travel is savoring all the new tastes. Search yelp.com or your newspaper’s food pages for a restaurant to try. Head to your grocery store or better yet local farmers’ market to find a product you’ve never noticed before or incorporate something seasonal into a new recipe (I like epicurious.com for recipes). The idea is to experience your surroundings in a fresh way, so stay local with your fruits and veggies. Since eating local is all the foodie rage these days, it shouldn’t be hard to stake out some good finds.

Or if you’re still feeling uninspired, you can bring the world to your kitchen through recipe kits from Destination Dinners. Kits ($20-$30 each for 6-8 servings) have all the exotic spices and sauces you’ll need plus fun trivia about the themed destinations, ranging from Bangladesh to New Orleans.

2. Get outside.

“As little as five minutes engaged in ‘green activity’ was found to lead to significant improvements in both physical and emotional health, especially for younger women (and men),” said Manhattan psychologist Dr. Joseph Cilona, referring to a recent study.

Spend some time wandering around a new neighborhood or park. Or even if you only have 15 minutes, force yourself out of that cube at work and get a breath of fresh air. Try some mindful meditation and really observe, absorb and appreciate everything you see. According to Dr. Cilona, being active in green areas with water or both “green and blue” are associated with even greater health benefits.

And don’t forget the free entertainment all around you. Devote some time looking up, and pay more attention to sunrises, sunsets and stars.

If you have time and some extra cash to get out of the city, REI offers guided Weekend Getaways within driving distance from a variety of U.S. cities. If you’re based in New York, Outdoor Bound, specializes in hosting outdoor activities for singles near the city.

3. Go on an adventure.

I love how travel forces you to get out of your comfort zone and how people are usually so open to trying new activities. Why not muster up that same mentality while at home?

An adventure doesn’t have to be camping in the Sahara or diving in the Philippines – you can learn a lot from little, everyday adventures too. Take up a new hobby, and check out meetup.com to see what’s already going on in your area.

According to Drs. Suzanne Saxe-Roux and Jean Roux, “Staycations are all about finding “newness” in your local environment.” They advise instead of sailing in the Caribbean, take a sailing course at your local lake; instead of visiting museums in Paris, visit your local museum; or drive to a nearby city and take in the sites.

“Hiking is my big tip,” said Andy Hayes, managing editor of Sharing Travel Experiences. “Most people live within driving range of a national park or state park where you can find a hiking trail suitable to your fitness level.”

I also just discovered Passport to Prana, which has been a perfect way to experience new yoga styles at different studios for cheap. You can purchase a pass for only $30 and try one class from every participating studio in your city.

4. Reach out to a stranger.

It’s amazing how much more open we are to meeting new people when we first get to a new place. You can learn a lot about the world just through an impromptu conversation with the person waiting in line with you for coffee or sitting next to you on the train. Maybe you’ll find a new travel mate for your next staycation adventure!

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