The Case for Staycation: Why Vacations Are (Usually) Overrated

This week's "Working it Out" question was: When is a so-called staycation a better choice than a vacation? We asked, you answered. Now our correspondent chimes in with his own pick ...

615 couple hawaii tomas del amo .jpg

tomas del amo/Shutterstock

I knew The Atlantic readership was smart. No surprise, you voted more than 2:1 in favor of staycations over vacations.

Sure, if you're dating, a staycation can't compete with 7 days, 6 nights in Hawaii. But otherwise, I wonder if those who voted for vacations were suffering from amnesia or at least selective memory.

I can't blame them. Corporations spend fortunes on vacation commercials trying to get you to part with $5,000, which is the average cost for two for a by-plane vacation including the 20% tax on hotels, airfares, rent-a-cars, etc. Everyone in such commercials appears pre-orgasmic: gaping at some native dance, in awe of some famous monument, or cavorting in surreal water, with a model.

The amnesiacs forget that to prepare for vacation, you not only need to take hours to pack and buy stuff like a 220-volt converter, you have to cram in, on top of your already busy life, all that work that needs to be done in your absence: get that report done, visit those customers, see your ailing father. You have to make arrangements for the dog, get someone to water the plants, and if you have kids, bringing 'em is a pain. Finding someone to stay with 'em is a pain, sometimes an expensive pain.

Despite taking hours to pack, you usually leave something home. Maybe it's just that sun hat to ward off the beach sun you're flying thousands of miles to bask in. No big deal--it's hard to pack anyway. But what if it's your medication, precipitating a postponement of that first day on the beach while you scramble to find some pharmacist willing to sell you some. Then there's the getting to-and-fro. With flight cutbacks, chances are good you'll be flying at God-awful times and for a long time. And don't forget about having to leave extra early so you don't miss the plane even if there is traffic, to allow time for parking, the shuttle, airport security, sitting in the terminal or the tarmac, and an even longer stint if yours is one of the 25% of flights that get delayed. Take a two-leg flight and you can count on your roundtrip containing a delay.

Then you're cooped up in that stale-air, cramped airplane for hours. And let's hope you're not sitting next to that obese person, that person who's coughing, or that nonstop-crying baby. And then there's that great food they're no longer serving--so you have to take the time to pack and schlep food or buy overpriced victuals at the airport. Are we having fun yet? Then as you're taking the overpriced cab ride to your hotel, you're praying your hotel room looks even vaguely like the jpg on the hotel's website.

Yes, then you have your days of experiencing a new culture (and the language barriers, which make your life crazy,) and being one with history as you stare at historic churches, artifacts, and buildings, complete with guided tour: "King Kamehameha lived in this building from 1752 to 1759." Or you bake yourself on that skin-cancer-causing beach--assuming it's not raining.

Alas, not much sooner than you've finally unwound, it's time to reverse the process. On the way home, you're mulling the opportunity cost: what you could have done with the five grand. At last, you return home. (Remember now, aren't you usually relieved to finally get home?) You pay the dog sitter and/or the baby sitter, and thank your neighbor for watering your plants and taking in the newspapers.

And then you return to work-- to find the inevitable avalanche of email, voicemail, and snail mail, not to mention the actual work that piled up in your absence. You need...a vacation. Or rather a staycation. Give me seven one-day staycations over one seven-day vacation any time. Or, as one Atlantic reader wrote, "I simply rent Globetrekker videos from Netflix."

If we can push aside the advertisement-and personally-inflated perceptions of the wonders of traditional vacation and stop suppressing all the negatives that have beset you on your past treks (all of the above plus getting lost, poured on, sneered at, etc.) many people will decide to replace their seven-day vacation with seven one-day staycations. How about you?

My wife's reaction: "All good points, but take me to Hawaii."


"Working It Out"