1. Identify your expectations.
What is the goal of your vacation? Is it relaxation? Family memories? "getting away" from it all?
For us, we wanted to have time with the kids that would make memories, give them some un-distracted playtime with mom and dad, and just have a long, restful, stress-free weekend. When we examined those goals, we had a direction. Oh, and our budget directed us, too. We were thinking under $300 including everything for an extended weekend.
2. Identify enemies of your goals
SLEEP - We know our kids need sleep and routine to be happy, and by happy I mean cheerful and not whiny, and when they are whiny and crabby there goes the stress free weekend. So we knew that getting our kids away from that routine of sleep and naps would not necessarily be a good option. So we started looking for accommodations that would, ehem, accommodate our good sleep goal. 2 or 3 room cabins/hotels/condos, with the ability to separate the kids for nap time and make the napping place dark. With fun things to do nearby - just a park and a pool, maybe a museum or a mall. And the budget is gone on just the accommodations alone.
STRESS FREE - As I realized the distance issue for some more affordable housing options, it became clear that we would have to pack a LOT of stuff. A LOT. My boys are 1 and 3, and traveling long distances is not exactly the most fun thing in the world. And if our budget was gone on the accomodations alone, I'd be packing groceries, toys, crafts, everything to keep them occupied while we were away.
3. Devise a plan
So after all that thinking, dreaming (a lovely beach house in Northern MI for $950/weekend? Ahhh. Ugh.) and thinking some more, we decided to have a fakecation. Or staycation. Or whatever you want to call it. Here's why it worked/what we did:
A. I cleaned the house like a madwoman for the whole week before we "arrived" so it would be dirty dish free and dirty laundry free and sparkly. I changed the sheets on Thursday (the night our fakecation started) and washed ALL the bedding. It was a lot of work, nigh unto impossible to maintain on a normal basis, but this is part of my "stress free"
I briefly thought about calling a cleaning service for a one-time top to bottom, and I might if we do this again. Bottom line, the best part about a hotel for me is the self-cleaning factor. My bed is magically made, my towels refresh themselves and my trash can is emptied and full little bottles of shampoo arrive on the counter. AHHH. So if I had paid someone to clean the house for me, it would possibly have been just as awesome. It was still pretty great to start out our fakecation with a clean house.
B. We declared that we were out of town. We did not hang out with anyone we knew, we did not go to church, we arranged for a substitute for the Sunday School class and did not return any phone calls. We turned the ringer off on our phone and let the mail stack up. For all practical purposes, we were gone. As far as we know, life went on fine without us. *grin* Oh, and I spent maybe 10 mintues on the computer. That was part of it, too.
C. Michael took Friday off.
D. We declared fun as our goal. No projects, no bill paying, no grocery store runs (ok I did "have" to go get orange juice) and absolutely no work. We purposed to say YES to more of Aaron's 3 year old whims. We have an overgrown lawn, but we agreed to let it go. et cetera.
E. We made a specific plan, and we did this around the kids' sleep schedules. Our days looked like this - breakfast, fun activity, lunch, nap, fun activity, dinner, bedtime. And we made those kids go to bed early so we could have some mini-dates in the evening. There's nothing like snuggling on the couch watching Monk episodes on DVD and eating jalepeno poppers with the one you love.
F. We spent cash only. I got $200 out of the bank (our vacation fund) and we kept it in an envelope. We used this money to eat out (once a day - it WAS vacation, after all!) and for our activities. We came out way under budget. HOO RAY.
G. We took advantage of the local stuff we never make time for. We went to Dow Gardens for children's story time and sampled produce like Mexican Sour Gerkins, ground cherries, green beans, and sweet banana peppers right off the plants. YUM. We went to the county fair, and paid for parking and a frozen apple cider - Aaron loved the animals and could care less about the rides - he is 3, after all. We went to a fantastic Saturday sale at Old Navy, visited the Saginaw Children's Museum, and ate lunch at Olive Garden, then took the kids to the mall for some play time in the play center while I tried not to get grossed out by the germs. Sunday, we spent a little time playing the piano and singing in the morning, went to a local playground, then swimming at a local indoor pool in the afternoon. Did I mention that we ALL took naps every day? Yeah, good old 2 hour naps in the middle of the day. Talk about rested.
This weekend was perfect for us - really perfect. No packing, no naptime stress, no forgetting anything, no sitting around watching too much TV or wondering what there was to do in the area, and no regrets about overspending. I totally recommend it, especially if your kids are young like ours are. Here's the financial recap:
Dow Gardens admission - free with our passes
Fair Parking, plus slushie - $6.50
Takeout Pizza $24 (we had tons left over!)
Friday's total - $30.50
Old Navy purchases - $40 (1 pair of jeans - for me!, a pair of brown kiddie socks, and 7 t-shirts)
Children's Museum admission - $21
Lunch at Olive Garden including tip - $24
Mall play area - free
Saturday's total - $85
Family worship time - Free
Local playground - Free
Swimming - $8
Chinese Take-out $17
Sunday's total - $26
And, if you take out the clothing purchases (which we won't) it was even better. You could definitely do this same thing for far less money, but we weren't really trying that hard - we felt like splurging. I really feel like I've had a vacation, and I didn't have to come home to a house that I tore apart looking for all the trappings for a weekend away, with suitcases full of laundry and a thousand things to put away - not to mention sleep deprived kids. I had a single load of laundry, a dishwasher full of dirty dishes, some happy memories and a rested self, and a rested family.
Life is good.