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Oh my friends! I shan’t name names, but some of the airlines are experiencing difficulties, and those difficulties are rolling downhill on travelers.

My sister just flew to Boston from Denver. Imagine her joy on finding that her original flight, complete with extra-long layover, was canceled in favor of a non-stop arriving much earlier. Her phone pinged: Did she want to accept this new, much better itinerary? A moment after she typed YES for this unexpected upgrade, her phone pinged again: FLIGHT DELAYED.

If the pandemic or the pilot shortage or ever-present budget concerns are keeping you close to home this season, we have some low- and no-cost ideas for your staycation.

Luck and determination

Science has determined that lucky people typically change things up. They take a different route to work—just because! And it’s on that random route that they
encounter their true love, or a sign for free kittens, or a Help Wanted notice, or maybe just a penny … that turns out to be lucky.

Vacations put us in the way of new things, fresh vistas, weird encounters and possibly luck. Just figuring out where coffee is gets our brain going in a way it hasn’t before.

And all that novel neurology kicking in makes everything really vivid. You can do this from your home base. Just make a list of day trips! Anything you’d want to show a visitor but somehow never get around to seeing for yourself.

The second research-backed finding is that people enjoy their vacations much, much more when time away includes a mission to accomplish. When I tagged along on my partner’s work trip to Lisbon, my friend asked me to get her a Portuguese olive oil pourer. She drew me a picture, pointing out a little tin crossbar connecting the spout to the body of the container with the note, “This piece is really important! If it doesn’t have a crossbar, I don’t want it.”

I walked all over Lisbon looking for this thing, this supposedly ubiquitous, iconic thing. My mission took me into all kinds of nooks and crannies. On a Sunday morning, at the open-air flea market I found it: a really old, magnificent olive oil pourer. Mission accomplished! It was so much fun.

But we’re not sending you to Portugal! Your hometown has such an item, I bet. (In my town, it’s a special kind of pottery.) It could be a local dish or a natural or cultural site instead. Anything that takes you a little out of your way—which is a way to find your luck.

Decide what your day trip radius is, draw a circle on a map around your location, and start listing areas of interest. You may not cross any borders or change climate zones, but you can get far enough away for a fresh perspective and fire up some curious neurons.

A few more ideas

Hunt for mushrooms. Wherever you live, there’s going to be fungal activity, seen and unseen. It’s not hard to avoid the deadly and the boring, and there’s no better treasure hunt than the hunt for tonight’s dinner. A perfect guide is How to Forage for Mushrooms without Dying: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Identifying 29 Wild, Edible Mushrooms by Frank Hyman.

Have a beach day! You can do it at the actual beach, or in the park, or on your porch—whatever your weather and location permit. Key ingredients are beach reads, knitting, swimsuits and snacks. Personally I would pack a cooler just for the vibe, even if I were only going to the backyard.

Take a class in something you’re interested in just because. Do it with a friend. Be fiercely non-competitive! I’m taking a class in ex voto painting from Morbid Anatomy in August, and I won’t be good at it. I can’t wait!

Go on a picnic. For me, alfresco dining—farther than my backyard—takes me out of my everyday routine. I mean, you’ve got to get away from your kitchen to make it a picnic—and that’s key—because it limits the amount of fussy last-minute improvements an improving sort of person can be tempted to make. You pack, you go, you’re done!

Perhaps I’ve told you about cookbook club? You pick a book, everybody declares for the recipes that most interest them, you make your dishes, have your meal together, and you leave a little time to choose the next book.

My club has been going ten years and I tell you what: we are now at the point of putting some memorably good meals together. These friends make me try harder and attempt cuisines I would be afraid of on my own. There is always a surprise standout, and it is always a great night.

I hope this starts you thinking about how you can spend less, plan less and holiday more often. Put your own suggestions in the comments below, and bon voyage!


Rumspringa for a Day
Self-care: 100 Free or Low-cost Ideas

Image CREDIT:  View of the island of Malang with a church under palm trees and a rising sun, artist unknown, c. 1930–1949, Rijksmuseum. Used with permission.

About The Author

Max Daniels is a research-based life coach whose weekly emails make us laugh with recognition and rethink everything we thought we knew. Her new book is Meals at Mealtimes. What a concept!


  • Perfect. Thank you!
    I often do the “go home by a different way” routine to depattern my brain and see my immediate neighborhood with fresh eyes a few times a week.

  • We moved to a new neighborhood in the same city and it has shaken everything up in all sorts of glorious ways. Cookbook club sounds fascinating. Perhaps you would share some of your recent successful cookbook picks with us?

  • Perfect ideas. I love a good picnic.

  • Thanks for the reminder about visiting places we recommend to visitors. We have quite a list, and though we’ve been to all of them, some were many years ago. Time for a revisit!

  • A cookbook club intrigues me. I live in a townhouse without much green space, but I can already picture us going on a picnic. Of course, everyone would have their knitting with them. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • I’m inspired!! Thanks!

  • Our ideal picnic spot less than a five minute drive from home. We set up our chairs and picnic basket (and totes with books and knitting) under a lovely little pavilion that is along side a small brook. The grounds, over 400 acres, are fascinating, taking one back in time. The place is Albany Rural Cemetery, one of the oldest of its kind in the country. It was designed with the thought in mind that people would in fact come to visit their loved ones in a more leisurely manner, including picnicking.

    So we have a quiet, serene spot to connect with history and nature. We return home totally refreshed.

    • When I was a child our family always drove somewhere for two weeks in the summer. On the way the first meal was a picnic lunch, and we often had it in a cemetary in the town we were passing through. It was always lovely, always quiet and peaceful.

  • Great ideas! Pre-pandemic I packed a picnic most Fri eves in the summer & we went to local outdoor music venues. Always enjoyed that & its finally coming back. Of course my knitting always goes along. We just talked yesterday about taking a daytrip to Luray Caverns. I’m going to make sure that happens.

  • Great ideas! Love the cookbook club. Pre-pandemic I packed a picnic most Fri eves in the summer & we went to local outdoor music venues. Always enjoyed that & its finally coming back. Of course my knitting always goes along. We just talked yesterday about taking a daytrip to Luray Caverns. I’m going to make sure that happens.

  • Love all these ideas! Funny, Hubbo and I were just yesterday working on a little road trip closer to home. We hit upon Columbus, Indiana—a small town with a weirdly huge array of buildings by such folk as Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pie, Richard Maier, and other Modernists. Can’t wait!

    • Be sure to tour the Miller House (great mid-mod needlepoint chairs, among other things). And after you’ve taken the downtown tour, it’s fun to rent bikes and visit some of the more far-flung buildings.

    • “I. M. Pie” — it took me a moment to realize what autocorrect had to done to the name I. M. Pei. 😉

    • Ann, if you haven’t already, see the film “Columbus” by the filmmaker Kogonada; it’s about the town and it’s very good.

      • While you are in Columbus visit Shabby Sheep and You. Great little shop with lots of beautiful yarn and friendly, helpful staff.

        • Thank you for the ideas, Fern and Laura! Will do!

  • Our library has a cookbook club. It meets once a month. They’re doing appetizers tomorrow, but have explored a lot of different regions of the world through cooking!

    • What a great idea for a library to sponsor.

  • We buy annual passes for the Shenandoah National Park and Montpelier, which are both nearby. We’re supporting those places, and when we have a free weekend, we go, because it’s already paid for! Bonus if we have visitors and can take them as well.

  • Maybe I’ll finally get to the Corning Glass Museum, I’ve been thinking about it for ages and it’s just a day trip. Favorite staycation – picnic lunch in the back yard with a fat book and my phone turned off (that last part is essential).

    • If you live close to Corning – not sure how close, but Watkins Glen works – tickers are half price! You’ll need ID with your address, like a driver’s license.
      Also, check out the “Make Your Own Glass” option on their website. the workshops don’t take long, they’re fun, you get a better appreciation for how glass-making works, and the staff helps to ensure your piece will be lovely. If you make reservations even just the day before you likely will have more choices for the slot and the project.

      • How exciting! If only I weren’t 3000 miles away . . .

    • The Corning Museum of Glass is SPECTACULAR. You will not regret going!

    • And I forgot to say thanks for the Morbid Anatomy link, they have some really interesting classes. Eyeing the shroud class this fall….

  • Great article!

    • Ditto, I love it!!!!

  • During the pandemic my husband and I went for day car trips to nearby small towns ( there are a lot of them in North Dakota). We discovered a drive along the James river on a dirt road and found beautiful sites. We did this in other parts of ND also. Even did family research! Found old family graves whose stones were in Norwegian! These day trips cost virtually nothing and freed us from the four walls during the pandemic.

  • Max, this is a brilliant post. I work all of seven minutes from my house (having someone in front of me at the stop sign is the closest I get to hitting traffic) so different routes home and perhaps a stop somewhere is key to drawing the line between work and home. Even working at home, I leave the house when the day is done for a bit.

    I’m also a huge believer in simply leaving my zip code. Doesn’t matter where or when, just get out of the same digits. It’s also a useful idea to offer a friend in crisis. I had a friend suffering terrible grief a few years back and I called her and told her that I was picking her up and to be ready in five minutes. When she asked where we were going, I simply told her “out of your zip code.” We ended up in a restaurant just a few miles away where she didn’t run the risk of running into other people she knew and she could genuinely talk about things that she had been unable to do before.

    I also like “Going on an Adventure.” Doesn’t matter where and it’s best when it’s last minute. A few weeks ago I called two colleagues on a Sunday afternoon and Monday morning we were on an Adventure with a capital A at the New York Botanical Gardens. One of them lived walking distance and I picked the other one up in Washington Heights and we had a ball! We all had nicknames for the day and I picked up some Linden’s Buttercrunch cookies on the like we were on the third grade glass trip. I guess my point is that if I try to plan it, I don’t end up doing it so when it pops into my head, I just go – whether its a two hour drive or a five minute walk away!

    I’ve become such a homebody since lockdown and this was a great reminder to “just go” more often.

    • Do they still make those butter crunch cookies? I haven’t seen them in years. I’d love to get some, once I’m able to go out again.

  • I have always preferred days out to holiday and living in Plymouth UK, I have loads of great places to visit, with or without a picnic, some places have excellent eateries

  • So true, places that are nearby for us are destinations for others. We saw a lot of new things in our own backyard the summer we had a friend from France staying with us.

    Spent Saturday afternoon in a nearby coastal town. Just an hour away. It was like an entire vacation in one day. Found a vintage Laura Ashley dress for my daughter in the back room of an antiques store. (Should have saved mine. Who knew?) Had lunch. Browsed in the art galleries. Drove home via the back roads. Stopped at a large book fair and stocked up on some summer reading.

  • I second the idea of visiting the cemetary and loved ones and just having a wander.
    Also the local war memorial, and finding familiar names.
    Remembering teaching Physical Sciencee and the formula for “work”… Yes, the worth of the penny exceeds the effort of picking it up!

  • I love the take-a-class-just-because idea…I do it regularly! I’m generally the worst in class (because I know the least), but I figure from the beginning I will be. I’ve gotten to learn all kinds of fun things!

    • Tried the links at the bottom but they aren’t working; can you check?

      • Fixed! Good spot and thank you!

  • I love all of this. Visiting art galleries and museums is always good fun- especially when it’s too hot to be outside.
    I also love just walking down a different street on my daily walks. People h@ve the best gardens!
    Thank you for celebrating what I already do- I’m not much for airplanes, and my sweet dog can’t be left with anyone else.

  • Max! Great article and I am also inspired. We just had guests who did a half day trip to Ghost Ranch and went on a horseback ride there. I am going to go up to Ghost Ranch now, too….but drawing that line at getting on a horse!

  • This is for the artists out there. Drive to somewhere interesting – park-beach-marina. Or your own garden. Take a sketchbook, a pan of watercolours and drawing materials. Now go for it!

  • Right now Texas is experiencing an ungodly heat wave about 105 for the next 10 days. Drinking lots of water and I am thanking the person who invented ac. I have a stash of old movies and cold meals.

  • Cookbook club recommendation: Joshua McFadden’s Six Seasons (or his newer Six Seasons Grains). We haven’t yet had a “miss”!

  • My local library hosted a cookbook club and it was such fun. We had some wonderful meals and interesting conversations as we dined together. Unfortunately, the pandemic stopped it but here’s hoping it will begin again.

    We enjoy small trips of a day or two – staying off the major highways is a must. Going through small towns is so interesting.

  • Such great ideas. When the pandemic started, staying home became a treat, as we started exploring all the state parks and Audubon trails near us and there was so much to do. We had not been camping for a few years but used to love it, so got a popup camper and have used it a bunch the last couple summers. I have always felt a drive to go to new far-from-home places, but being forced to stay close to home reminded me of wonderful places in my immediate area.

  • I love your ideas and giving me the enthusiasm to actually put (some) of them into motion!!

  • It’s so horribly hot here in Central Texas that any picnics will be indoors in the a/c. Several years ago a friend and I took a driving trip through Spain and Portugal. We got lost more times than I’d like to admit, but each time we reminded ourselves that if we hadn’t got lost we would have missed seeing the unexpected and wonderful. It always worked out.

  • For me, one of the biggest treats of summer is visiting our downtown Farmer’s Market where small farms and bakeries from around the region come and sell their produce. I bring a basket, talk to vendors, and enjoy planning a meal as I look through the offerings. And if I go on a Saturday, there might be some lovely wool for sale as well. I come home feeling as though I’ve had a mini-vacation.

  • Just last night I walked back to my parked car by a different route and came across a tiny building with paintings in the window. When I went up the stairs to peer in through the glass door, I was waved inside by the artist himself, the lovely Jack Darcus. Jack paints local scenes that invite one to see home in new ways. What an unexpected delight, because I changed my path.

    • I think an ideal staycation would be to explore your knitting stash, pick out a project that you never started, allow yourself the leisure of a whole day of knitting, and start that project. Or finish something you’ve been working on and just need to finish up in order to move on to something new.

      Take your knitting to your back yard, a park, or a cemetery (as many suggested).

      Give yourself x number of hours of time to organize and peruse your knitting patterns. Or go through your stash and remember some of the yarns you just “ had to have”. Or decide in advance how much money you can spend on this vacation, and then visit one of your favorite websites or LYS and fall in love with something to buy. Never mind if you already have some yarn, this will be a souvenir from your trip.

      Obviously, the list goes on and on. The beautiful part is dedicating x amount of time, or x amount of money that you allow yourself for a staycation. No guilt about unfinished chores. Or “frivolous” spending. Just have fun. Remember to send postcards to your friends.

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