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In the “new economy,” a new word has been coined:  staycation.

First coming into use as oil prices soared, causing airfare and then even a tank of gas too much to bear for a getaway, the concept of taking a vacation at home has lingered and taken hold as unemployment has risen.  Whether you’ve found yourself out of a job or you’re afraid of losing the one you’ve got, people have been cutting back on discretionary spending.

While I might posit arguments about why traveling remains necessary–perhaps more necessary than ever–and doesn’t belong lumped into the same category as “entertainment spending,” the reality is that for most people travel is one of the first things scratched from the list when disposable income becomes minimal or nill.

I’ve been there, and I understand.  Which got me to thinking…

If you’re like me, when you travel–especially internationally–you relax your usual spending rules.  At home, you might never consider spending a couple of hundred dollars for a dinner, or $150+ each on tickets to a concert, or $25 for the use of a chaise lounge on a beach.  And yet, find yourself in Paris or Venice or Sydney and you can rationalize almost any expense.  You turn to your companion and shrug.  You say, “How many years before I’m back here?   For all I know, I may never be back!”

And so you shell out the cash, you hand over your credit card.  And do you wish you’d done otherwise when you come home and open up the bill?  If you’re like me, no, never.  (Actually, my travel partner and I have a rule about this:  no regrets.)

You ask, what does this have to do with the staycation?  The point is that while we are often willing to splurge and even pay more than we feel justified while traveling abroad, at home we tend to be more frugal.

I am fortunate enough to live in New York, a city people from all over the world flock to for its cultural riches.  These tourists eat at the finest restaurants, shop the designer shops along Fifth and Madison Avenues, patronize Broadway and Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. 

How often do I eat and shop and patronize these same places, some of which make my city what it is?  Rarely.  Because they are expensive and I complain I can’t afford them. 

Sounds like I could use a staycation!  A staycation doesn’t need to mean staying home and tacking household projects.  A staycation can give you permission to see your city or town through a tourist’s eyes.  If you’re not paying for the airfare, the transport to and from airports, the hotel, just imagine how far your vacation dollars can go!

The trick , though, is to take yourself out of the feeling of “home” as much as possible.  Leave your cell phone or PDA at home and don’t listen to phone messages or check your email.  Pretend you are out of town, inaccessible.  To take it a step further, chances are you can find a deal on a local hotel and sleep elsewhere–ordering room service and having a maid clean up after you.

Then, all those things you’ve always wanted to do but considered too expensive:  that haute cuisine restaurant?  that award-winning play? that chi-chi jazz club?  Do it all!  And don’t forget the tourist attractions.  You’d be surprised how many New Yorkers have never been to the top of the Empire State Building or to the Statue of Liberty.  A staycation is the excuse you’ve been waiting for.

As much as possible, experience your city or hometown as a tourist.  Be open to the idea that you don’t know it as well as you thought you did and try to see it with fresh eyes.  I can almost guarantee you will not be disappointed.

As a native New Yorker, I have a love-hate relationship with my city.  On a day-to-day basis, the relentless over-stimulation and stress and crowds and absurd cost-of-living can become overwhelming, and yet there are times when I become ultra-aware of my luck in being born here.  Sitting on the Great Lawn of Central Park listening to the Philharmonic (for free!) on a balmy summer night, feasting on hot, garlicky escargot at Balthazar on a cold January night, watching a steamy foreign film in the balcony at the retro Paris Theater or wiling away an afternoon gazing at the photographs at the International Center of Photography…while wrapped up in such moments, a feeling similar to what I experience traveling abroad settles over me.  I am not far away and yet I am transported.

After all, more than anything, travel is a state of mind.

Oldies but Goodies

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