Let’s take a staycation

G Magazine

Travel most often conjures up thoughts of destinations far and mysterious, but when it comes to an escape of relaxation and exploration can having a holiday at home be as good as the real thing?


Credit: iStockphoto

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San Francisco or Sydney? Madrid or Melbourne? According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, you’ll likely choose the former. Aussies’ obsession with overseas travel has grown steadily over the past two decades (we took 6.8 million overseas trips in the 12 months to June 2010, up from 2.1 million in 1990), and boomed in the last year, with a rock solid dollar and cheap flights at our disposal. But there are good reasons to keep your next holiday local, really local, by holidaying at home. Let’s face it, when else will you make time to visit that restaurant/market/picnic spot friends and neighbours have been talking about all year? Staycations can save cash, hassles and inspire you about your own city – they also help the planet. Sue White tests the theory in her home city.

Best laid plans

The first hurdle is the reactions of friends before the staycation has even begun. Announce your holiday is at home and the conversation goes a little like this:
“I’m off on holiday next week.”
“Great, where to?”
“Oh? [Confused look]
Where are you staying?”
“Right. So you’re just staying home?”
A holiday may be a state of mind, but a carbon-friendly staycation excites friends far less than a carbon-hungry trip overseas. Unperturbed, I set some guidelines to ensure my break is more holidaymaker than homebody. First, I determine a staycation must be significantly longer than a weekend. Second, sneaking off to work is out. Third, a mantra will keep things on track. “Would I do this on holiday?” is my marker for what is in or out.

Day 1

Holiday vibe: Dubious.
Checking of email: 7 times.

Given holidays usually involve leaving most of your friends at home, I use day one of my staycation to do the reverse. The morning begins with a swim at Maroubra’s Mahon Pool, one of Sydney’s two dozen (plus) fabulous ocean baths. My friend Sandi tricks me into talk of work (she’s headed in shortly), but nonetheless, the swim, the company and the view ensure a relaxed mood prevails. Fast forward through lunch in a local park with friend number two; a walk around Blackwattle Bay in Glebe with my sister; and a regular mid-week dinner with a fourth friend, and I’ve been out of the house all day. Still, this feels more like a great Saturday than a holiday. I’ve also obsessively checked my email and taken two work phone calls. Hmmm.

Days 2-3

Holiday vibe: Improving.
Checking of email: 3 times.

Day two and three prove to be the best of my staycation. Much of the credit goes to immovable bookings, which prevail over uninspiring weather and a ‘can’t be bothered’ vibe that I don’t usually feel on holiday somewhere new.

Partner in tow, I check into a glamping (glamourous camping) site at Cockatoo Island (www.cockatooisland.gov.au). Like many other staycation activities, this has been on my to-do list for years. Once home to convicts, homeless girls and a serious ship building industry (not all at once), Cockatoo Island now offers one of Sydney’s most unique accommodation experiences: camping smack in middle of the harbour. Arriving by ferry, I’m loved up on my city. Sydney Harbour is sparkling, the ferry ride from Circular Quay offers plenty of sneak peeks into the city’s harbourside homes, and because everything’s provided, we only need to bring daypacks. Sitting by the water’s edge, waving at the boaters touring past our front ‘porch’ the holiday vibe is high.

It remains so the next day, when friends join me for dinner at sustainable cafe Fish & Co (www.fishandco.com.au). A meal of Spencer Gulf prawns and organic mussels in the inner west suburb of Annandale proves to be a staycation win: I’ve discovered a new favourite restaurant, and because I actually live here, I can come back anytime!

Day 4

Holiday vibe: Genuine.
Checking of email: (Virtually) none.

It’s the weekend, which means most of Sydney’s inner suburbs (Bondi, Rozelle and Paddington among others) are awash with markets. In the interests of exploring, I forgo my Sunday favourite, Marrickville, for the monthly Surry Hills market (www.shnc.org.au/markets). There’s plenty of recycled clothing and inner Sydney attitude available under the trees, but it’s the local neighbourhood centre just opposite (tucked upstairs in
the uber-green Surry Hills library) which makes my afternoon. They’re now doing $5 Devonshire teas as a fundraiser every market day − who knew?

The delicious home-baked scones see me through until dinner, at the casually stylish Table for 20 (www.tablefor20.blogspot.com). Accessed via a back lane in Surry Hills (yes, you actually have to text a code to get in) this Sydney restaurant has been serving up communal meals and good vibes for five years. They’re typically booked solid Wednesday to Saturday, so a staycation is the perfect reason to get organised and book.

Days 5-6

Holiday vibe: Rainy.
Checking of email: Email? What email?

The weather starts to play havoc with my holiday plans, but like any good tourist, I power on regardless. Despite the rain, I keep my 9am booking with Manly Surf School (www.manlysurfschool.com) and have a go at the waves on North Steyne, an effort which is inspiring yet so exhausting it results in a night in with a DVD. Thoughts of walks and picnics are quickly converted to catching the last day of photographer Louise
Hawson’s pictorial on Sydney, 52 Suburbs (www.52suburbs.com), showing at the Museum of Sydney, an institution I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never visited previously. Thanks to Hawson, I discover there are 683 suburbs in my city. I’ve spent six days in just a dozen or so, proving that there is plenty to keep me occupied
at home.

So, is it as good as a holiday? A staycation is undoubtedly cheaper, slower and greener, than a holiday. However, you’ll have to work a lot harder to earn that holiday state of mind. Would I do it again? Yes. In summer. Without the phone.

Making a staycation work

- Tell people that you’re on holiday. It’s your best chance of friends and family taking your staycation seriously.
- Make a few bookings. Without them your staycation will soon be indistinguishable from a long stint on the couch.
- Use the staycation mantra: “Would I be doing this on holiday?”
- Consider staying in accommodation away from home, even if it’s only for part of your ‘holiday’.

- Just do the same old. The idea is to explore new aspects of your home town.
- Expect the same highs you get on an out-of-town holiday. But the good news is: if you like a place, you can always go back!

Staycation savings

There’s no doubt holidaying at home delivers savings for the planet and your wallet.

Holiday costs
Accommodation: $50-$200 per night.
Meals: $50-100 per day.
Transport: Car rental around $60 per day. Not to mention flights/transfers – anywhere from $200 to $2000.

Staycation costs
Accommodation: Zero. Although staying somewhere local 1-2 nights is recommended to spice things up a little bit.
Meals: Use some of your budget on local restaurants you’ve been meaning to try.
Transport: Big savings. You’ll likely only spend a small portion of a holiday transport budget – either on public transport or petrol for a car you already own.

Carbon costs

Staycations can save significant amounts of carbon, especially if you’d usually fly.
Sydney to Cairns: 1.1 tonnes
Sydney to Bali: 2.2 tonnes
Sydney to New York: 7.6 tonnes
Sydney to Sydney: None (from flights).
All figures based on return flights, calculated at www.climatefriendly.com.

The writer explored Sydney courtesy of various local operators.