04/17/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Spring Break In Trying Times? 5 Rules for the Perfect Staycation

If NBC news anchors could be considered a microcosm of the rest of us, we sure are conflicted about traveling in these trying times.

Last week, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams announced that he was going to cancel his family's spring break plans, because he felt that taking a beach vacation at this juncture "didn't feel right." Then, encouraged by his friend Jonathan Tisch to get out there and contribute to the economy, he changed his mind, opting to take a domestic trip -- to New Orleans instead of a beach resort. This week, NBC announced that the Today show would be putting off its annual "Where in the World Is Matt Lauer" round-the-globe travel segment, and would instead send all four anchors on a weeklong exploration of affordable vacation spots in the United States. "This show takes great pride in reflecting what's going on in the world," Jim Bell, Today's Executive Producer said, "and this just feels right."

Regardless of the whereabouts of Matt Lauer, and in spite of pleas from Jonathan Tisch, Warren Buffett, and travel experts, many Americans are home this week, rather than traveling on Spring Break. There are some people, like Brian Williams or the Today show, who could certainly afford to go to some far-flung destination but don't "feel right" (read: they're worried about seeming insensitive to those who can't.) And then, there are simply those who can't.

Whichever you are, I say: don't just stay home, take a staycation.

Last summer's explosion of gas prices inspired much chatter around the "staycation" - or, taking a vacation in or around one's home. Whether annoyed or amused by the term, taking a staycation became a great way to spin your lack of funds into something as fun and meaningful as getting out of dodge. Now, the once-higher-tax-bracketed folks, who weren't daunted by gas prices because they wouldn't have taken a car trip anyway, have the opportunity to try staycationing -- and, yes, it should be seen as an opportunity. To take advantage of free time you don't usually have in your home or hometown. And to appreciate it.

A solution to our conflictual feelings about travel, a staycation also provides all of the fun, relaxation, and break-from-routine of vacation travel - without the expense, stress, or TSA strip search.

Here are five rules for the perfect staycation:

1. Declare it. A staycation is not just staying home, it's taking a vacation there. So, put up the "Closed" sign, create an out-of-office auto-reply, and change your outgoing voicemail message. You may be there but not for regular business, housework, or every-day domesticity.

2. Create an itinerary. You wouldn't waste a meal if you were in Italy, nor a good snow day on the mountain, so be sure not to miss anything on this "trip" either. Do some research of goings-on in town, map out a schedule, and make some reservations.

3. Translate your trip. Treat the time like you would a vacation that you've taken or just dreamed of. If you had wanted to go to a spa, create a "day of beauty" in your home. If you're normally outdoorsy, plan a different adventuresome outing for each day of your week off. Foodie vacation = hometown foodiness.

4. Be creative. That makes the difference between passing the time and really taking advantage of it. No camping trip this year? Pitch a tent in your backyard! No cash for Vegas? Host a game night! Missing a foreign culture, or hearing a foreign tongue? Have a pot luck take-out party from area ethnic restaurants, hire a chef for a cooking demo, or take a field trip to your local Korea-, Japan-, or China-town.

5. Get away without getting away. Only try new things. Only do pleasurable things that provide you a much-needed break. Only do things you never have time to do, have never done before, are not your home or hometown norms.

Now, don't bother me. I'm on staycation.