By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
msnbc.com contributor
updated 7/6/2010 10:19:35 AM ET 2010-07-06T14:19:35

If you don’t have the time or the money for vacation this summer, maybe you can spare a few hours for a daycation.

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Somewhere between the staycations of 2008 and the naycations of last year there’s the daycation trend of 2010.

Sure, it’s another silly neologism. But the slowly improving economy means many travelers will take their first real first vacation in more than a year this summer — minus the long flight or drive and the hotel overnight. More Americans will opt for short day trips, instead.

After two consecutive years of decline, the number of domestic leisure trips is expected to edge up just over one percent in 2010, according to a study by Euromonitor, a market research company. “People are expected to get back on the road, although they will remain extremely cost-conscious,” says Michelle Grant, the company’s travel and tourism research manager.

Kathryn Watson counts herself among them. A business analyst with a health systems company who lives in Jefferson, La., she’s daycationing in nearby New Orleans this year instead of taking an overnight trip. “I plan to picnic in beautiful Audubon Park with my dog and a great book, treat myself to lunches, dinners, and drinks at some of my favorite places throughout the city, stroll the French Quarter, and shop Magazine Streets vintage and antique shops,” she says. No need for a hotel, since she lives only ten minutes from the Crescent City.

The travel industry isseeing more people like Watson. At the discount travel site Hotwire, they refer to her kind of vacation as a “straycation,” or “travel that’s within a close proximity to the customer's origin,” according to its president, Clem Bason. “A lot of our customers took vacations within their nearest metropolitan area.” In 2009, the number was up between 1 percent and 9 percent, depending on the market. The trick, of course, is persuading them that they’d be better off in a hotel than at home. And that’s not easy.

How do you have a successful “daycation” this summer? Here are a few tips:

1. Not too far
Christine Louise Hohlbaum, author of “The Power of Slow: 101 Ways to Save Time in Our 24/7 World,” says a vacation isn’t her top priority this summer. “We prefer to pay off some of our mortgage, invest in a new porch and enjoy the summer program that our town offers the kids,” she adds. “We might venture off to the mountains or some such, but we are staying put.”

I hear that a lot — if you feel trapped in the city or suburbs, then get out of town. But not so far that you have to spend the night.

Video: Safeguard your family against summer ailments

2. Think like a tourist
Lara Clayton lives in Miami, and she’s planning a series of daycations with her boyfriend this summer. What’s there to do in Miami? If you live there, you might not think there’s a whole lot (I know, I used to live in the area, and after diving, boating and food, the list ended).

You have to think like a visitor, instead. Clayton plans to attend wine tastings, take a salsa dancing class, go jet skiing, visit a museum and go to a spa. “The list is nearly endless,” she says.

3. Check out your CVB
Your local Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) has a wealth of information about daycationing in your area. In Florida, for example, there’s a Florida Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus Web site that points you to CVBs in the Sunshine State. It, in turn, links to various CVBs and Chambers of Commerce, which have information about local attractions and events.

4. Visit a park
Big-name national parks tend to get all the attention from the vacationing masses, but thanks to the daycation trend, state parks have found themselves in the spotlight this summer. State parks across the country are pushing the concept of daycations with a new advocacy group called America’s State Parks. The organization is promoting state parks as the “smart vacation” because close-to-home getaways cut down vehicle emissions and save you money.

5. Crank up the culture
Scott McKain is taking his family to Indianapolis this summer. He lives in Indianapolis. What’s there to do in town? Plenty.

“When we realized here in Indianapolis we could visit the NCAA Hall of Champions, the largest children’s museum in the nation, a great zoo, a brand new State Historical Museum, and more ... well, there's no beach, but there is plenty to do,” he says. He’s not overstating the matter. You can find out more at the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association site.

6. Don’t blow your budget
Just because you’re staying home doesn’t mean you have to forsake the fun. Heather Sokol, a mother of three and a blogger based in Westfield, Ind., is planning to spend her vacation at a local arcade, amusement park and a Dave & Buster’s. The kids will “have a blast,” she says, “but I wont have to spend a fortune.” That’s the general idea behind a daycation.

One final thought as you plan your daycation: Pack your phone and share what you find. I’ve been using a service called Foursquare — you can friend me here — that lets you trade location-based tips with people around you. Think of it as a personalized guidebook for your own neighborhood.

Slideshow: Great — summer has arrived

I’d like to think the economy is to blame for the daycation trend, but as a consumer advocate, I’m not convinced it’s the only reason. The travel industry has dished out substandard service to us for so many years, it’s little wonder we are reluctant to get out there again. Maybe the service needs to improve before we hit the road.

Looks like we’ll have to wait until 2011 for a real vacation. But you might as well have a little fun in the meantime.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at celliott@ngs.org.

© 2013 msnbc.com.  Reprints

Video: How to really relax while on vacation

  1. Transcript of: How to really relax while on vacation

    TAMRON HALL reporting: Well, are you one of those people who take a vacation but just can't seem to relax? Maybe you're thinking of all the e-mails you have to check when you come back or an upcoming presentation at the office. But it is important for your physical and emotional well-being to just unplug when you have a chance to get away. And here with some suggestions, psychiatrist and TODAY show contributor Dr. Gail Saltz and editor-in-chief of Redbook magazine , Jill Herzig . Thank you, ladies. Good morning. Thanks for joining us.

    Dr. GAIL SALTZ (Today Contributor): Nice to be here.

    Ms. JILL HERZIG (Editor-in-Chief, Redbook Magazine): Good morning. Thanks.

    HALL: So Gail , I'll start off with you here. I mean, the idea of just completely unplugging, I told you in the commercial break one of the actors from "Entourage" said he slammed his BlackBerry down because he just needed to unplug, and then he regretted it two hours later.

    Dr. SALTZ: Yes, because not everybody is able to just turn it off and relax because if you're a person that has anxious thoughts, that tends to be stressed out, that has built a life that work and relationships are sort of frenetic all the time, it's probably because there are some thoughts that you don't like creeping in, and when you just sit on a beach or just tune it all out, those thoughts creep in and make you feel even more stressed.

    HALL: So doing nothing is the wrong solution when you're on vacation .

    Ms. HERZIG: It is not...

    HALL: You want to avoid that, Jill .

    Ms. HERZIG: You do want to avoid that. You know, you think, `Oh, I'll just lie on a beach and I'll relax,' but in fact your head stays back home doing things and checking in with the office.

    Dr. SALTZ: Yeah.

    Ms. HERZIG: So it's much better to take a vacation where you have lots of activities to do. At Redbook we just recently sent a writer to a farm that accepts guests.

    HALL: Oh.

    Ms. HERZIG: And she and her family had the best time because, you know, they move from one new experience to the next, her kids were gathering eggs and they were playing with baby lambs and...

    HALL: Right.

    Ms. HERZIG: ...you know, they really managed to reconnect with nature and reconnect with each other. It was a wonderful break.

    HALL: And, Gail , you make that same point about learning a new activity can even help if you're a couple away...

    Dr. SALTZ: Absolutely.

    HALL: ...for some time together.

    Dr. SALTZ: Well, learning something new, first of all, when you learn -- when you have a new experience, increases the dopamine level in your brain...

    HALL: Mm-hmm.

    Dr. SALTZ: ...which actually is a hormone of pleasure. It feels good and you want to do it again. And so souping up that dopamine feeling...

    HALL: Yeah.

    Dr. SALTZ: ...but also, something that enriches you because enrichment isn't the same thing as being relaxed and destressed, but it's a pretty good substitute. So for the person who can't necessarily just relax and be doing nothing, feeling enriched by some experience you have...

    HALL: Yeah.

    Dr. SALTZ: ...you mentioned you were away on vacation and you really improved your French, and you feel good at the end of that...

    HALL: Right.

    Dr. SALTZ: ...because you've acquired something new.

    HALL: Jill , what does it say, though, about us that we don't know how to vacation anymore?

    Ms. HERZIG: Well, I think what it -- what it says is that we are almost addicted to stress and it takes a whole lot for us to really unplug and rejuvenate. And one of the things that we suggest, and it ties back into what Gail 's saying about learning something new, is to think about the sort of adult camp scenario.

    HALL: Hm.

    Ms. HERZIG: So you can go -- you can go to a camp and you can learn how to sail, you can learn how to surf, you can go to tennis camp.

    HALL: Which is one of the points you make about incorporating physical exercise , and that doesn't mean necessarily going to the gym, it can be a walk.

    Dr. SALTZ: No. Any...

    Ms. HERZIG: Yeah.

    Dr. SALTZ: Well, first of all, lots of data shows at this point that physical exercise , even just like 30 minutes a day, takes down your anxiety level, boosts your mood.

    HALL: Mm-hmm.

    Dr. SALTZ: In fact, in head-to-head studies of antidepressants and exercise with mild to moderate depression, they really won equally well.

    HALL: Wow.

    Dr. SALTZ: So exercise is great for mood-boosting, and you want to use that on vacation as well. So that could be -- I mean, it could be...

    HALL: Yeah.

    Dr. SALTZ: ...30 minutes of concerted exercise...

    HALL: And it's good to...

    Dr. SALTZ: ...but it could just be walking around.

    Ms. HERZIG: Yeah.

    HALL: ...with the kids because it helps them work out some of the energy.

    Dr. SALTZ: Absolutely.

    HALL: You say also learn to soothe. What does that mean, just taking a hot bath on vacation ?

    Ms. HERZIG: Well, you know, there are the hot bath types and then there are those of us who get into a hot bath and think, `What am I doing here?'

    HALL: Right.

    Ms. HERZIG: So you have to be realistic about what your type is. But...

    Dr. SALTZ: That's true.

    Ms. HERZIG: ...unplugging from all your gizmos and gadgets is one of the major things that we recommend. You know, a lot of us when we're getting ready to go on vacation ...

    HALL: Right.

    Ms. HERZIG: ...we pack a whole bag full of electronics...

    HALL: Mm.

    Ms. HERZIG: ...but, you know, pack a deck of cards instead, go old school, pack some board games.

    Dr. SALTZ: Self-soothing is incredibly important in all aspects, vacation as well.

    HALL: Right.

    Dr. SALTZ: But whether we're talking about using visual imagery...

    HALL: Mm-hmm.

    Dr. SALTZ: ...or muscle relaxation or yogic breathing, having a box of tools that you can use...

    HALL: Right.

    Dr. SALTZ: ...to cope with stress will help you on vacation ...

    HALL: Right.

    Dr. SALTZ: ...or frankly, wherever you are.

    HALL: Good stuff. Dr. Gail Saltz , Jill Herzig , thank you both very much. Good advice. Hopefully we can now put that advice to work in our lives.

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