This spring break, try a staycation right here in Chicago

There’s a reason people say, “I need a vacation from my vacation.” It’s not because of the bucolic beaches and exhilarating excursions. It’s because of the baggage fees, cramped airplanes and rude employees.

But you still need time off work and a focus on your family. The tough economy gave rise to staycations-a vacation spent at home. But the travails of travel just might give staycations staying power.

That’s especially true in Chicago, a prime tourist destination for people from all over the world. Blessed as we are to live in such a rich metropolitan area, there’s no burning need to leave town for spring break. But if you choose to staycation this year, remember that it will only feel like a vacation if you treat it like a vacation.

By following a few simple rules, a week at home can offer the same satisfaction as a week away, minus the travel hassles.

Plan it like a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Europe

Maybe you don’t have to work quite that hard, but unless you plan something fun to do each day, there’s a chance the last day of your staycation will arrive and you’ll realize you and the kids did nothing but veg in front of the TV.

Do something different

A vacation in another town or city would involve discovering new things. So spend your staycation week discovering new things, too. If you live in the suburbs, head into the city. If you live in the city, explore a suburb. If you live on the North Side, head to the South Side. There are, literally, thousands of things worth visiting in Chicago and the surrounding areas. There must be some museum (Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art, anyone?) you haven’t yet visited.

Having trouble coming up with a good idea? Pick up your copy of Chicago Parent’s Going Places, or check out the latest issue online, have your kids close their eyes and point, then head to that destination.

If you want to go further afield, Sue Kirchner, Palatine mom of two and founder of the, suggests letting the kids play “pin the map.” Circle a three-hour radius around your house and let the blindfolded kids choose your destination.

Ditch the car

Pretend you’re vacationing in an exotic location where you would not have access to a car. It would require you to figure out how to get around by train, bus, cab or on foot. Do the same thing from home. A ride downtown on the commuter train or El is a treat in itself for kids who usually get around by car.

Sleep somewhere new

If you had gone on vacation, you would all be sleeping together in one hotel room, right? So turn your bedroom into a hotel room. Or camp out together in the backyard. Or build a fort big enough for all to sleep in the family room. Kids love the adventure of it all. If the budget can stand it, consider spending one night in a nearby hotel. Pick one that has a pool for the kids (and maybe a spa for the parents).

Turn off the electronics

Yes, that means your computer and smart phone, as well as the kids’ TV and game systems. The definition of a vacation, after all, is “planned time spent not working.” Pretend you’re on a cruise ship without Wi-Fi. Put your e-mail on automatic vacation response and change your cell phone message to tell folks you’re away.

Don’t answer the door

The in-laws, friends and neighbor kids couldn’t drop by if you were out of town. So let them know you’re unavailable during your staycation.

Try new foods

If you had taken that dream trip to Italy, you’d be eating Italian food, so choose your pretend destination and eat that food for the week. Or choose a different staycation destination each day and eat that food for all three meals. For example, if you’re spending a day exploring Chinatown, do a little research and find out what the Chinese eat. [See our guide to Chinatown for Little Feet] Teri Gault, head of, suggests splurging on paper plates and cups to cut down on clean-up chores and collecting restaurant coupons in the weeks before your staycation.

Take plenty of photos

You would document a vacation in pictures and post them to your Facebook page, right? Well, your staycation is a vacation, too, so snap and post away.

Let the chores go undone

This might be the toughest part of making a staycation feel like a real vacation, at least for moms. Unfortunately, there’s no maid service during a staycation. But perhaps there could be before and after. If you save enough by not traveling, see if the budget can afford a cleaning service the day before the vacation starts so you don’t spend time thinking, “I really should clean that _____.” A second visit after the staycation ends means you won’t spend the week thinking, “What a mess we’re making of the house.” Accept that you’ll have a bin full of laundry, just as you would if you had spent the week basking on the beach.

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