SueCarr-new-smBy Sue Carr

I was thrilled this week to see that MSN rated my home city of Pittsburgh, PA as one of the top five cities in the nation to enjoy a staycation this summer—great news for me, since we have a very limited vacation budget this summer and planned to do exactly that. And while budgets are a driving force for many staycations, have you considered the “green” implications of a staycation?

SueCarr-Giraffe-crThink about it. Your typical vacation, whether you reach your destination by air or land, involves some sort of fossil fuel consumption, which hits both your wallet and the environment. This typical vacation also involves a stay at a hotel of some sort (notorious wasters of both energy and water). And then think about
all those restaurant meals you’ll eat while on vacation. Few restaurants inform consumers of where or how they source their food, so it’s anyone’s guess where your dinner came from or how it was derived. And all those restaurant meals will hit your wallet pretty hard, too.

This summer, consider fueling your local economy instead of your car. You could follow the standard staycation advice of exploring your hometown as if you are a tourist—checking out the museums, theme parks, and cultural venues right around the corner (or at least within an easy 1-hour drive). We plan to do some of this, but packing in lots of these types of activities can add up over the course of the summer to almost the price of an actual vacation, and we’re trying to keep it cheap. So while you might want to try a few of these things, you might also consider getting creative with your explorations to cut costs and still make some amazing memories.

SueCarr-KidsByCreek-crFor example, some friends of mine just spent a day biking around Pittsburgh, taking in the riverfront views and enjoying a picnic lunch while watching the bustle of life pass by. Another friend recently shared a list of free local activities on Facebook, including movies in the park, Frisbee-golf courses, biking trails, and farm markets that feature free activities for kids. Think about it—when was the last time you casually browsed your farmers market or explored the independent shops in the quaint town down the road without feeling rushed or squeezing the errand in between twelve others on your “to do” list?

You might also consider spending a Saturday trolling garage sales or flea markets (one of my mom’s favorite activities). Not only is this frugal shopping at its finest, it’s also a great way to help your neighbors recycle things they no longer need that you could repurpose for your own home. To make it more of an adventure, choose a neighborhood you’ve never visited before and explore the area while shopping around. My mom always amazes me with her ability to visualize the possibility for items lying in a heap in someone’s garage. She furnished my daughter’s entire bedroom with garage sale finds simply by painting each piece white and adding new, matching hardware. Trash to treasure for sure.

SueCarr-museum-crEnjoying a staycation can also lead to a greater enjoyment and appreciation of nature. We all love lounging on a tropical beach from time to time, but what about taking in the topography and flora of the state park not far from home? We did this recently with our kids and discovered that you don’t have to travel hundreds of miles to enjoy breathtaking scenery—we only had to drive about 40 minutes from our front door. And we found a fabulous microbrew on the way that serves scrumptious burgers made from locally sourced, grass-fed beef. Double score.

So when you think “summer vacation,” remember, you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars and travel hundreds of miles to enjoy enriching summer experiences. Instead, try thinking “summer staycation” and explore the foreign world of your own hometown. You may be surprised just how fulfilling your summer will be.

Sue Nelko Carr is a freelance writer, editor, blogger and a full-time mother, trying to live a greener life in Pittsburgh, PA.