How to visit distant places from your home

Staycations in Paris, Mexico, China

by Alicia Z. Klepeis


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An inexpensive vacation with kids? To many of us, that phrase seems like an oxymoron. Between the cost of gas (or even more dramatically, plane tickets), lodging, meals out, and entertainment, many families are opting for staycations. However, everyone likes to imagine going someplace exotic like Paris, Mexico, or even China. Why not do it all? Save money, have fun, and "travel" to the destination of your choice, all from home.

The two main ideas behind a staycation are economizing and enjoying life. Depending on the ages of your kids, it can be easy to get away from the norm and have a journey. The more creative you are, the more fun you can have. Whatever your "destination," you can follow the same steps as suggested in the Paris staycation described below. This is just one example of what can be done on your "holiday" away from home. Here are some tips for how to have your own international adventure, creature comforts intact:

1. Gather some information on your selected destination at your local library.

Since you'll be spending your weekend in Paris, you'll want a guidebook to the city and a French cookbook. If you really want to get in the spirit of things, grab a French phrasebook or a kid's book like First Hundred Words in French. Ask the librarian for picture books set in Paris. Two good ones are Adéle & Simon and Anatole. If your kids are slightly older (8-12), they might enjoy Charlotte in Paris or Postmark Paris: A Story in Stamps. Whether your staycation involves reading these books before bedtime or going to a local coffeehouse and ordering a café au lait for Mom and a hot chocolate for the kids, enjoying a book set in Paris will set everyone's imagination ablaze.

2. Decorate as much as you feel inspired to.

Kids love to be immersed in their surroundings. Why not have some fun and get out the craft supplies? It's easy enough to make an Arc de Triomphe out of construction paper and put it across your sliding glass door or in a window where everyone can see it. Kids can create Eiffel Towers from silver pipe cleaners. Add a string or two of white lights in the dining room or around a potted tree, which will be charming indeed. Let the kids browse your guidebook or find a website together with pictures of Paris. They will come up with some great ideas for how to "Frenchify" your home. A print of a painting by Monet or Cezanne will look great on the wall. Party stores sometimes have themed items too, such as Eiffel Tower-shaped place card holders. Keep it inexpensive and fun.

3. Enjoy food, glorious food!

If you are going to Paris for the weekend or a school vacation week, you must enjoy some French food. Make a simple quiche or try Beef Bourguignon if you are inspired. Too much work? If there is a kid-friendly French restaurant in the area, go for lunch. Share some entrees and try something new. Perhaps your local grocery store has an international aisle. Are there snack foods or candies from France available? How about a bottle of Perrier water and a four-pack of Orangina, which is citrus soda with just a little zest and pulp? A baguette is available at almost any grocery store in the country, as is Camembert or Brie cheese. Add some grapes, berries, or other fresh fruit and do a French picnic in the yard or somewhere scenic in your area. At the bakery, grab some éclairs, fruit tarts, and chocolate croissants for a delicious dessert (or decadent breakfast). If you want to set the table Parisian-style, put on a cream tablecloth, some candles, and a few fresh flowers and you'll feel like you're in some swanky bistro.

4. Use all your senses.

When you have your crepes for breakfast, put some French music on the stereo. Putumayo Presents: French Cafe is a great album to set the tone, so to speak. If you are in Mexico, having tortillas with eggs and refried beans, try some mariachi music. And why not do a movie night or afternoon on your staycation? Watch a travel show or DVD on your destination, or find a family-friendly movie set in your country. For example, a few family-friendly movies set in Paris include Ratatouille, Beauty and the Beast, The Red Balloon, and Linnea in Monet's Garden.

Another fun idea can be to download some podcasts of walking tours of your city. Listen to them on a ride in the car. Imagine you are looking up at Shanghai's skyscrapers, while eating dim sum or walking along Venice's canals while savoring hazelnut gelato. Your imagination is the only limit to where you go. Have fun!

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