I’m just going to say it: I find travel and vacationing too damn stressful, especially since I’ve had kids.
First, the planning – which seems to always rest squarely on my shoulders. Then the packing … and packing and packing and freaking packing. Then the having to deal with cranky traveling children, one of whom always seems to catch a cold or a vomit-bug the day before we are set to leave.
Once we get to our destination, we do get lots of good stuff out of it, and of course many great memories (which are often better than the trips themselves!). But even while we’re on vacation, there is always at least one new problem that crops up each hour. Someone is always homesick. Or unable to eat different foods. Or can’t sleep on the scratchy sheets. And the list goes on.
Oh, and did I mention the millions of years it takes to unpack when you get home, or the mountain of laundry that probably won’t get done until you start planning your next trip?
Vacations are supposed to be relaxing, a time to recharge, reconnect, and get some much-needed rest. But I rarely experience them that way, at least not enough for me to want to do them very often. Besides that, my budget rarely allows it, and it’s easy to question whether I want to use my hard-earned cash on an experience that is only going to stress me out more than anything else.
Thus, I have become a huge and super-enthusiastic proponent of the “staycation,” or as I like to call it, the “do-nothing vacation.” Now, I totally get for many of us, the idea of staying home and doing nothing for a week doesn’t sound very practical or appealing. To my kids, this might be an invitation to either sit glued to their iPads for 8 hours each day, or spend the day whining that they are bored.
We definitely pack as much nothing (and yes, screentime) into our staycations, but we also like to make them more intentional than that. I don’t necessarily mean planning day-trips each day (those are fun, but they are also sometimes as stressful as traveling and can be expensive AF).
What we like to do is plan as many at-home or neighborhood activities as possible, and think of our staycation as a time to finally get to enjoy all the little things that we never get a chance to really enjoy during the day-to-day grind of our lives.
If you think about it, as much as togetherness and fun can happen during the work week or school year, there are really just so many limits, and so many of us just simply don’t have the headspace or energy to spend good quality time together.
When was the last time you and your entire family sat down to play a board game together – like really did it, not just went through the motions while you half payed attention and answered work emails on your phone?
When was the last time you did a craft together, all of you as a family? Or looked at old pictures together? Or spent good quality time in your neighborhood – biking, taking a non-rushed trip to the pizza place, literally stopped to smell the roses? Those are the sorts of things we do on our staycations, and they are absolutely wonderful.
There’s actually a name for this kind of “staycation,” according to Quartz. It’s the Italian concept of dolce far niente, which roughly translates to “the sweetness of doing nothing.” And it’s not just about sitting at home in your PJs doing nothing, but really learning how to sink into your life – and looking for ways to find deeper meaning in your most common experiences.
In essence, a dolce far niente is “the newish notion of staying home during a break, going nowhere, and cultivating a deeper appreciation of the place you’re already in but mostly don’t see because you’re too busy,” writes Quartz.
I couldn’t love our dolce far nientes more.
Just last month, for my kids’ mid-winter break, we had one of the most lovely staycations we’ve ever had. But if you asked me exactly what we did, it would probably sound like a whole lotta nothing.
After having seen Mary Poppins Returns over Christmas break, we went on a Julie Andrews movie marathon and watched the original Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music (which was EPIC and took several nights). We also played a few really fun games of Trivial Pursuit and Monopoly. We baked brownies and spent a long time slowly licking the spoon and batter bowl.
Oh, and we also went to each of our favorite pizza places, took a trip to the mall to play glow-in-the-dark mini golf and run through a laser maze, and went to a local video game arcade. My kids are still talking about the laser maze and the French fries at the mall food court.
Again, on paper these all sound like pretty ordinary, unremarkable activities. But the thing is, when you and your family finally get a chance to really relax together – to truly live in the moment in ways that you rarely get a chance to – these ordinary moments become extraordinary.
But maybe the best part of it all is that you learn to carry some of the experiences back with you when you re-enter reality.
Although the hustle and bustle of life has definitely taken over again, the joy and spark of our staycation together has lingered. I’ve been remembering to put down my phone more often and really listen to my kids when they tell me stories from their days. I’m making a point of sitting on the floor with them during the work week and playing, even if it’s a quick game of UNO.
And I’m already excitedly planning our next dolce far niente/staycation, which I’m certain will involve a whole lot of sweet nothingness.