Say Hello To The American Staycation

Kauai’s Waimea Canyon, where Elaine Schaefer and her husband Jack staycationed. Elaine Schaefer Staycations may…

Staycations may be the vacation trend of 2020, but does anyone really know who these staycationers are?

Meet Elaine Schaefer, who didn’t go anywhere this summer. And by “anywhere” I mean she didn’t take a puddle jumper from Kauai to Oahu and catch a flight to the mainland, like almost every other Hawaii resident. It’s kind of hard to do that when the state is under a strict quarantine order.

Instead, she drove from Princeville, where she lives, to Kekaha, on the other side of Kauai. Then she turned down a winding road to Kōkeʻe State Park near Waimea Canyon and checked into a cabin. 

Waimea Canyon, known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, may be one of the most beautiful places in Hawaii. From the lookouts, you can see the mile-wide gorge, and beyond it the ocean and the forbidden island of Ni‘ihau.

Note: This is the second in a two-part series on the changing American vacation. Here’s the first part, which explains how we got here.

Staycations may already be the new vacations

“These are very rustic, mainly two-bedroom cabins set among the trees,” says Schaefer, who publishes a travel blog for seniors. “They have a wood-burninig stove, kitchen, living room and bedrooms — and no internet.”

The only restaurant in Kōkeʻe closes at 3 p.m., so Schaefer got to use the kitchen often.

“We plan to go back again soon,” she told me.

In many ways, her experience reflects that of the typical American staycation in 2020. Staycationers want to go somewhere remote, safe but also simple. Sometimes they’re “microcationers” who want to walk down the street from home to their hotel. They’re adventurers who need to disconnect. Mostly, they want to be isolated and away from a possible COVID infection. 

These desires to disconnect aren’t likely to go away any time soon. In fact, experts say they may become a permanent thing. Actually, staycations may already be the new vacations.

What is the American staycation?

The average person who traveled, or planned to travel, in 2020 kept their vacation destination within four hours of home, according to research by VactionRenter.com. Nearly 80% of respondents said there are vacation opportunities within 50 miles of their home, and over half agreed this type of vacation can be just as enjoyable as going somewhere farther away. 

“These short-distance destinations, or nearcations, are also likely more affordable, which could be another factor for cars being the most popular mode of transportation to reach a vacation spot, according to our survey,” says Marco del Rosario, chief operating officer for VacationRenter.com.

Another recent survey by Farmers found that 74% of drivers want to stick close to home when they’re traveling. Just over a third (36%) are only willing to drive less than 100 miles one way.

For Susan Kalinowski, the point of the staycation wasn’t to travel far, but to feel far away. She lives in Boylston, Mass. In July, she spent five days in nearby Mashpee, Mass.

“Just being away and having a change of scenery and being near the ocean was a big plus.” says Kalinowski, a retired nursing assistant. “I figured with the quarantine I didn’t want to go out of state.”

Karen Cummings, a retired marketing professional, also decided it was time to get out of her house in Fryeburg, Maine, this summer. 

“I rented this 1930s cabin overlooking Kezar Lake, which is all of 13 miles from my home,” she says. “Just couldn’t stand not going anywhere. At first I decided I was crazy to do it but then it ended up being a really fun getaway.”

She invited friends to visit her. They dined at nearby restaurants and hung out at the beach. It was a nice change of pace from last year’s busy travel schedule, which included trips to Cuba, Portugal, and Italy.

“We spent every evening admiring and judging the sunsets,” she says. “A perfect vacation.”

What’s the appeal of an American staycation?

So why do people today prefer staycations to more traditional vacations?

They save time. Driving a few miles, or even walking to your hotel, means you recover a lot of valuable vacation time. There’s no need to spend hours on a plane or in a car. You’re already there.

They save money. Besides eliminating trip expenses, you also have an unfair advantage when you’re on your home turf. You know all the good restaurants, and if you forget something, you can go home and get it. Also, no need to pay a pet sitter. You can come home to feed Fido and check the mail. 

They save the environment. If you’ve looked at the enormous carbon footprint each airline passenger leaves behind, you’ll love the staycation. There are no planes involved, and if you walk to a green hotel, congratulations — you’re carbon-neutral!

Put it all together and you have compelling reasons to stay put, says Ryan Todd, the head of sales at the new Canopy by Hilton Philadelphia Center City. So far, nearly 90% of his business has been local. 

“They’re looking for a change of scenery for their workspace, favoring the hotel atmosphere because of its onsite amenities, service offerings and stringent health safety protocols,” he says.

But are American staycations really the new vacations?

But wait — aren’t these just people making temporary adjustments to their vacation schedule? How can they say this is permanent? Some professionals, in fact, don’t think it will last forever. Del Rosario of VactionRenter.com is one of the skeptics.

“I believe these travel trends will continue through the rest of 2020 and potentially into 2021 as the pandemic remains prevalent,” he says. 

Others say staycations are here to stay.

“I suspect that this trend is actually the beginning of a lasting behavior change in travel,” says  Michael Altman, program director and lecturer in the hospitality management program at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C.

If you listen carefully to the staycationers of 2020, though, you’ll hear something: these “perfect” vacations. They talk about repeating them again “soon.” It’s clear that they’ve discovered something that’s probably worth keeping.

“Staycations are not a trend anymore,” says Rob Stein, managing director of The Stein Collective, an affiliate of Ovation Travel Group.  “Quite simply, nearcations offer clients the opportunity to create unique experiences with minimal baggage — both literally and metaphorically. A quick self-drive, Uber ride, or even a leisurely stroll can create refreshing — and enduring — perspectives within the physical center of our lives.”

In fact, for many luxury travelers, a staycation and a vacation are now one and the same. Something tells me we’re going to spend the next year wrapping our heads around that one.