In 2014, Google Trends reported a 10 percent increase in online searches for staycations, or getaways that are close to home, or maybe even right in your own backyard. But can a staycation really replace a vacation?
"I think staycations are a great idea," said Caroline Trefler, senior editor at Fodor's Travel. "With the cost of airfares and gasoline, plane travel and road trips can get expensive. So a staycation is a fabulous alternative."
Aside from the obvious cost savings, staycations also offer less stress: no long-distance travel means no wasted days spent at the airport and no threat of losing your luggage or your vacation being canceled altogether.
According to Trefler, a few days off spent at home offers the perfect opportunity to go to a museum, linger at a coffee shop or sign up for a daytime art or exercise class.
"You can have a spa day on one day, do a local hike or two, and spend a day at a local beach without the crowds," Trefler said. "Go to a matinee, or take a day trip to a nearby town or park you've been wanting to visit."
Katie Lara, who writes the blog Traveling Panties, said being a tourist in your own city will open your eyes to places you may have never tried otherwise, "then at the end of your 'trip' you won't have to deal with any of the hassle of getting home. You'll be back in a snap, restored and renewed."
Some destinations have recognized the allure of staycations as a marketing opportunity. The New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau started a program a few years ago called "Be a Tourist in Your Own Hometown," enticing locals with special restaurant deals and promotions.
Some hotels have also focused advertising programs on attracting more area residents. At the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort & Spa near Austin, Texas, about 30 percent of all bookings come from locals, according to Kim Britton, director of sales and marketing at the resort. Britton said that number will continue to go up this summer, specifically with the hotel's Houston guest base. "People are still getting away, even if they're staying in-state or closer to home," Britton said. "They still wish to have that opportunity to make memories together in places that are beyond their usual day-to-day."
But for some families, staying at home is not about preference, but necessity.
"Staycations are a common response to dealing with school vacations throughout the year. For dual-income families, often one working parent will take off for winter break, while the other handles spring break," said Jennifer Owens, editorial director for Working Mother Media, a national magazine for career-committed mothers.
Critics argue that while a stay-at-home vacation may be more cost effective, it can fail to deliver the same impact.
Travel writer Kelly Mazur says staycations are simply overhyped. "It's great to explore your own city, but I do not think this is a substitute for travel, because you miss out on those life-changing, culture-shocking and exciting adventures you get in a foreign country," Mazur said.
Susan Eckert, owner and founder of Adventure Women, a travel tour company exclusively for women, agrees. "Sometimes a staycation just isn't what the doctor ordered, especially for people who are looking to get out of their daily routine and environment," Eckert said. "Many of the women who travel with us say they are looking to travel on their own, unfettered by the responsibilities of home and work, with the freedom to leave the makeup off and truly be themselves."
Eckert, who has spent the past nearly four years traveling the world, is passionate about the idea of traveling somewhere new. She said a trip with the Peace Corps to Africa was life-changing and inspired her to take a new direction in life, one that focused on travel. "These achievements are difficult to accomplish in the confines of your home or even the city where you live," Eckert said.
Whether you're staying at home or taking the trip of a lifetime, Trefler said it's all about how you approach the time away from your daily routine. "I think the key is to take a week, or at least a few days, so that you can really get into vacation mode."
About the author: Julie Loffredi is an award-winning journalist and correspondent. She writes about travel tips for a variety of publications and is a contributor at InsureMyTrip. You can follow her on Twitter @julieloffredi or connect with her on LinkedIn.