When I was 10, we had a staycation.

My Staycation Memory

by Rich Finzer

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As a kid, I remember how enthusiastically my parents planned our annual summer vacations. We all enjoyed visiting some faraway locale and lounging about. But in 1960, all that changed when my father returned from a four month out of town assignment. He was road weary, sick of restaurant food and sleeping in a hotel. So after dinner one night, the Old Man and I had a serious man-to-man talk. "Richie," he said, "this year for vacation, let's stay home. We'll go someplace different each day, but we'll be back at home every night. We can sleep in our own beds and grill out in the backyard. The best part is you get to decide where we're going." Once I elicited his promise that I could have hotdogs every night (remember, I was 10 years old), we established some ground rules, the most important being wherever we went, it had to be less than one hour's drive from home.

Next, we made a list of possible destinations including:

  • The local fish hatchery
  • The zoo
  • The arts & science museum
  • A baseball game
  • Going fishing
  • Visiting a local amusement park
  • A day at the beach
  • A picnic at a state park

Dad wisely suggested we choose both indoor and outdoor destinations, just in case it rained. More importantly, we listed more places than we had days to visit them, meaning I had to perform some serious prioritization. We hung the list on the refrigerator and every evening he'd ask what I decided we'd do the next day. From my perspective, this was terrific. I mean a 10-year-old doesn't get to make too many decisions, yet I was the guy in charge. Talk about a sense of power. Wow! And here's how everything went.

The visits to the fish hatchery, museum, and zoo saved my parents money, because kids under 12 were admitted free. Dad and I caught a mess of Jack perch off the Charlotte (pronounced Sha-lot) pier, and we all enjoyed a fresh fish dinner that night. Again, because I was under 12, I didn't need a fishing license. My parents spent zero dollars on lodging, and with the exception of gorging on sundaes one afternoon, zero dollars were on restaurant food. Most of the venues we visited were less than 15 miles away. Therefore, the Old Man was spared from "are we there yet?" and more importantly, gasoline purchases were kept to an absolute minimum, saving even more money. The evening we went to the amusement park, we were even treated to a free fireworks display. And except for the night we ate fish, I snarfed down charcoal grilled hotdogs on a daily basis. So how does this tale relate to today? Simple.

In 1960, gasoline was selling for 13 cents per gallon. Today it's well over $3. In 1960, a family could book a motel room for $10 per night. What would that same room cost today? In 1960, a burger, fries and a Coke cost less than a buck. Today it's hard to find a $1 Coke and forget the burger.

Out of fatigue-inspired necessity, my parents had discovered the sweet spot between a "staycation" and an expensive out-of-town junket. This strategy could work equally well in today's lean economy with its attendant high fuel prices.

If you adopt this strategy, will the kids actually be in charge? Nope. But think of the added fun you'll enjoy watching them making decisions, prioritizing, and possibly compromising over venues. Kids need to develop a sense of control, parents need to save money, and everybody wants to enjoy family outings. So I'm guessing your kids will relish the illusion of taking charge of your family's vacation, too. Last, from a personal perspective and despite the passage of more than 50 years, I'd still rank vacation 1960 as one of my most cherished memories.

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