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August 9, 2008

'Staycation' was all we ever wanted


This summer, my family traded waves for water slides and lobster for casserole cooked in foil over a campfire.

And, like many other families who decided to "staycation" this year, we gained more than just a little extra cash.

It's not that we wanted to be trendy, or even that we were so concerned about the cost of fueling up the minivan that we were looking to tighten our vacation budget.

No, our decision to staycation came about by accident. We were considering traveling to Hershey Park or visiting friends on Cape Cod when our 4-year-old spotted a water park brochure at a local bank.

On a whim, we kicked off the summer with a weekend camping trip at Enchanted Forest Water Safari in Old Forge, about 100 miles away.

We had so much fun that we went back a month later "" abandoning our other plans and clinching our status as staycationers.

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The word "staycation" means different things to different people. The term has been around at least since 2005, when comedian Brent Butt used it to describe his Canadian TV sitcom character's "vacation" reading comic books in a field across the street from his gas station.

This year, staycation stories started popping up in the media around Memorial Day, as people began scaling back vacation plans in response to rising gas and food prices. Some news outlets defined the "staycation" as an overnight getaway within the region or state. Others included day trips or time spent relaxing at home.

Retailers such as Wal-Mart and Lowe's did their best to capitalize on the hype, launching "staycation" marketing campaigns for barbecue grills, patio furniture and "outdoor living" accessories ranging from garden fountains to tiki torches.

Staycation become an official buzzword in early July, when Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced the launch of "Connecticut "" Your Staycation Destination," a summer program offering discounts for Connecticut residents at more than 300 attractions statewide.

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For me, going on vacation is mostly a mind-set. It doesn't matter where I am, as long as I am somewhere else.

Even if I could create the "backyard paradise" advertised in the home-improvement store fliers, I wouldn't count time relaxing on my own property as a "staycation."

Since I work at home, home is the last place I want to spend my vacation. Besides being stir-crazy, I'd never have the willpower to let the laundry pile up or walk by the computer without checking my e-mail.

In fact, I don't feel like I'm truly on vacation unless I'm completely unplugged, disconnected from my regular life; doing something different, outside of my normal routine.

Vacationing close to home, however, has lots of benefits. It can be a good value "" if you're careful not to blow the money you saved on fuel on extra souvenirs or dinners out.

It can also foster a deeper appreciation of your state or region. I found that I didn't have to get all that far away to savor the experience of "getting away." And, in the process of researching potential staycation spots, I discovered that there are many more interesting destinations than I'll ever have time to visit "" everything from romantic inns to rustic state parks "" within half a tank of gas away.

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For my family, the staycation is just one more piece of a summer with a sustainable living slant.

Is it a coincidence that the summer we started a garden and froze more local blueberries than ever was also the summer that we skipped our annual trip to Cape Cod? Probably not.

What is surprising, though, is that we didn't feel like we missed anything. For the kids, the thrill of careening down a water slide was more exciting than the fun of jumping in the waves at high tide. For me, the quaint little Adirondack towns felt just as fun and different, and every bit as touristy, as a beach boardwalk.

The ocean will still be there next summer, and I hope, by then, my younger daughter will have learned to sleep in the car.

Because one of most underrated parts of taking a staycation is fewer rounds of "Are we there yet??"

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Lisa Miller is a freelance writer who lives in Oneonta. She can be reached at lisamiller44@hotmail.com.