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Ideas for a Perfect "Staycation"

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Take time to plan ahead. Maybe you already got your family together and brainstormed on what you'd like to do for this year's summer vacation. Everyone chimed in on their ideal destination. Daughter Fritzi clamored for Munich. Son Guido pined for the hills of Sicily. Your dream was to play a third of a round at Pebble Beach, while your wife wanted to hit the lesbian bars in Brasilia.

Well, guess what - you're not going to any of those places. While daydreaming about expensive trips may be fun, in this economy you have to get real. "Just fucking forget it," advises financial strategist Robert Charles.

Sometimes the best things in life are free, and all it takes is some planning to get your vacation off on the good foot, to find ways, before you start, to minimize your cost and maximize your fun. Good luck with that, but here are a few ideas anyway.

Pool your resources. Your community has untold riches - often right in your neighborhood. Vacation planner Elaine Bustos suggests making friends with someone who has a pool.

"You can take the entire family swimming," she says. "And see if the owners of the pool will give you food. That's what I do. I've had entire meals poolside. There's nothing like a cheeseburger with your feet dangling in the water. If they have Tostitos, that's good too."

There are pitfalls to watch out for with this, however. "Don't let your food fall into the water," cautions Bustos. "I once dropped a plate of nachos in a pool and it left an orange film they couldn't get out. I didn't get any more food and I wasn't invited back, either."

Doin' what comes virtually. Another activity you can enjoy without leaving town, or even home, is watching television shows or Internet videos of other people's vacations. Unlicensed psychologist Noel Berrysill is a big proponent - and we mean big, at 320 pounds - of the three Vs: Vicarious Virtual Vacations.

"You might try the Travel Channel or National Geographic. Or Google 'people's summer vacations' and see what you come up with. It can be very emotionally satisfying to go along with a stranger to Nice or Switzerland or Paris." Berrysill has personally watched many TV shows about travel. "It makes me feel really good, like I'm really going out there," he grunts.

Laid at the library. Your local library is a goldmine for books and information, but why not take a different tack with this invaluable resource?

"A good inexpensive way to enjoy summer is to lay down a beach towel in your town library's parking lot," says libraryvacation.org's Puffi Livermore. "We promote a program, 'Tan 'n' Tarry,' where we encourage people to tan in our parking lot, then cover them with chicken fat and invite them in for an afternoon inside the library."

Why chicken fat? "We found that more people develop an interest in reading after a combination of sunning and chicken fat," says Livermore. "Families come to the parking lot for free summer fun and end up learning. It's sustainable, too, because it involves solar energy."

On the beach. To simulate a day at the beach, pour some sand (available at most hardware stores in inexpensive five-pound bags) in the living room and fill the fireplace with water. Turn a fan onto the fireplace to make waves and presto! Your own beachfront to enjoy. Build a campfire to complete the classic summertime tableau.

"People truly don't understand the power they have to adjust their environment," marvels Philip Monroe, decorating motivator from yourindoorsummerbeach.com. "You can transform your living space to anything, from Canada to the Congo. All it takes is a little old-fashioned American know-how."

Monroe suggests picking over neighbors' trash on garbage collection day to pick up discarded chairs and small tables for your personal beach. "Then put together a fabulous relish tray!" burbles the effeminate designer. "Celery, peppers, carrots, cauliflower - oh, I don't know what else!"

Hop on this and rotate. Since you can't get to a real amusement park this summer, get together with the kids to devise rides for your backyard. Looped over a sturdy tree branch, the combination of a tow truck chain and an old tire from the city dump can create magical moments for you and your family.

Steven Pinkler, author of Stuff You Should Do With Your Family But Probably Won't (FamFun Books), thinks you should have a variety of homemade amusement park-type rides in your backyard. "People can easily make their own roller coasters, Tilt-a-Whirls, Dodgem cars, Ferris wheels - anything you can find at Six Flags, you can build yourself," he says. "But let's face it, that's not gonna happen."