Like a suburban stalker, I have watched from my front window as various neighbors packed body boards in their SUVs and headed to the Jersey shore, set off for a week at a North Carolina mountain resort, and jetsetted to Las Vegas.
I admit it. I suffered from vacation envy.
But after spending a relaxing two-week vacation at home with my family — with no packing, no airport delays, and no backseat chants of "Are we there yet?" — I was refreshed. It was just the vacation I needed. I recommend it to anyone who sighs with that sad Sunday night feeling each weekend when it's clear daily living requires more time and energy than a typical week can offer.
Here's how I enjoyed 14 days last summer:
I went to an amusement park planned my 7-year-old's birthday party; splashed around at a wave pool; read a book; worked out at the gym without waiting for a treadmill; did some shopping — take a deep breath here — slept late; tried out some new recipes courtesy of the Food Network; and turned an unused bedroom into an office (including taking four trips to Ikea).
Most importantly, I was able to shuttle my daughter to a half-day dance camp, which she wouldn't have normally been able to attend if both my husband and I were at work. And I was upstairs scrapbooking in my new office when she discovered her first loose tooth — thanks to the big green apple she helped me pick out at a farmers market earlier that day.
If that's not a sweet vacation memory, I don't know what is.
Experts say it's not uncommon for overscheduled families to choose a "staycation," a term whose origin is often attributed to a popular Canadian television series. In 2006, a New York magazine further promoted the "staycation," encouraging people to spend their vacation exploring what the city has to offer instead of leaving town.
"I think there are new innovative ways to think of vacation," said Lois Backon, vice president of the Families and Work Institute.
A 2005 study by the group found that up to one-third of employees who get paid vacation time don't use it all. Many people said they would get too behind on the job if they took time off, while others cited not being able to afford to take a trip.
"Maybe you don't get to go to Cancun, but you can still take a break from your work," Backon said.
She said it's important for your employer's bottom line as well as your own mental health to get away from the office once in a while.
Employees who don't take all their vacation time report feeling overworked with much higher stress levels than those who do use all their vacation time, Backon said. The more overworked, the more likely these employees were to make mistakes on the jobs, resent other co-workers who do take time off and have more unscheduled absences.
In the summer of 2006, Joye Marino knew she wouldn't be able to take a vacation because of two recent knee replacement surgeries. So Marino, 69, of Baltimore, decided to spend a week at home.
To prepare for it, she hired crews to clean her house, doing everything from washing windows and polishing furniture to scrubbing floors and tending the garden.
"I'm a hairdresser so I stand up all day," Marino said. "I knew that if I didn't take care of everything at home, I would find more projects to get into and go back to work just as tired as when I left."
With a clean house, she spent the week making a stained glass window and four Christmas presents and lounging in her garden. When she wasn't out having dinner, she cooked gourmet meals after splurging on lobster tails, crab cakes and shrimp.
Marino, who plans to travel to Australia on a future vacation, said she wishes other people would take the time to enjoy their own spaces.
"This can be paradise, I'm here to tell you," Marino said.
During my vacation at home, I followed Marino's lead and deliberately avoided household chores. I easily could have spent my time cleaning long-neglected closets, scrubbing floors or rearranging the junk in our garage.
But it's supposed to be a vacation. How many closets do you clean when you go on vacation?
I did assemble three large bags of old clothes and household items that I delivered to Goodwill. But at the end of the two weeks, I still had dirty clothes piled in my laundry hampers, my car needed a good washing and I badly needed to stock up at the grocery store.
And I still had to get up early the next day and go to work — as did my neighbors who sunbathed at the shore, and lounged in the mountains, and gambled in Vegas.