Photo by J Aaron Farr

What do you do when you’re dying to take a vacation, but you’re so broke your couch holds more cash than your bank account? You could put your travel itch on hold, save up your money and your wanderlust, and resign yourself to your travel-free reality. Or you could take an in-town vacation. I discovered the in-town vacation during my first years in Philadelphia, when my three part time jobs barely covered the $250 per month I was paying in rent. A local vacation has plenty of advantages: since it doesn’t involve air travel or paying for accommodations, it’s low impact both on your wallet and the planet. And you might be surprised by how much fun you can have without going very far from home. Here are a few tips on how to make the most of your in-town:

1. Plan as if you were leaving town.

Clear your schedule of work and other commitments so that you can be as free as possible to live like a vacationer. Part of what makes vacation time so nice is the freedom you have not to follow any set routine. That way, you can experience the joy of being able to ask, what do I really want to do today? If you’re planning on vacationing with a friend or a partner, make sure that person also has a clear schedule.

2. Buy a guidebook and a map.

Whether you’ve lived in the same place for years or have just moved somewhere new, a guidebook can be an excellent source for good restaurants, interesting neighborhoods, and fascinating bits of local trivia. I recommend the Off the Beaten Path series, but any guidebook will do – the more specific to your area, the better. Depending on your style as a traveler, you may want to read your guidebook in advance, or you may simply walk out your front door, guidebook and/or map in hand, and start exploring.

3. Ditch your car.

The best way to really see a new place, or to see an old place with new eyes, is to walk through it. If you live outside a city, you could drive or take public transportation to the city center or a neighborhood you want to get to know and walk from there. When you travel on foot you are moving slowly enough to be able to observe things that would go completely unnoticed if they were flashing by out the window at 60 miles an hour. You can talk to people; you can pause on a city bench, relaxing while the working world shuffles past. And by the time you stop to eat lunch at that cute little restaurant you never noticed before, you will have spent enough energy to really have worked up an appetite.

4. Look for day trips in your area.

Wherever you live, there are bound to be plenty of interesting cultural and natural wonders within an easy day’s journey of your home. If you like outdoor sports, you can find guidebooks specific to hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, etc. Small towns are often home to craft stores, flea markets and strange but wondrous local museums, like the Museum of Beverage Containers in Goodlettsville, Tennessee. When driving to your destination, avoid interstates and travel on smaller back roads. That way you can catch even the most obscure tourist attractions. I’ve enjoyed traveling with one friend who stops to take a picture every time he sees a quirky mailbox along a country road. If you want to get away for more than a day, small towns are often home to unique, sometimes historic, bed and breakfasts that can still be less expensive than a night in a big-city hotel.

5. Treat your home like a hotel room.

Don’t go home until you’re ready to call it a day. Or, if you and your sweetie are local vacationing together, stop home in the middle of the day to spend some quality time. Whatever you do, though, don’t just hang around the house. You wouldn’t go to Paris and sit around in a hotel all day. Your local vacation will be better if you treat your hometown and its environs like a place to investigate.

6. Splurge on good food.

Hey, with all the money you’ve saved on airfare and accommodations, you can afford it. And since you’re a local, you already know which restaurants have the best reputations and aren’t likely to be found by out-of-towners.

7. Give yourself permission to be a tourist in your own town.

One of the reasons that travel is so great is that when you travel you open yourself up to new experiences. On your in-town vacation, allow yourself to be as inquisitive as if you had never been to your town before. Ask for directions. Smile at people. Take pictures.

Have a good trip.

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