Thoughts on a Solo Staycation

by Gray Cargill on October 15, 2014

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When the term “staycation” was first coined several years ago, I despised it. It was too cutesie and the concept baffled me. Who would want to take a vacation and not go anywhere, when you could travel and see the world instead? What kind of madness is that?

Of course, there are reasons people might do this: Lack of money for travel, health issues that prevent going away from home, family obligations, wanting to get to know your new hometown (if you’ve recently moved there), or even just a desire to shake up your normal routine are a few of those reasons. If solo travel is new to you, a staycation also might be a good way to get your feet wet, so to speak.

Pomerleau Building

A tourist might think this is a museum. But no, it houses a real estate company.

Still, I wasn’t sure it was for me. For me, part of the joy of travel is experiencing that sense of wonder you feel when seeing a new place for the first time. Is it even possible to do that when you’ve lived in a place for 24 years? I had the opportunity to find that out this summer when I was offered a comped night at the Burlington Hilton in downtown Burlington.

So how was it? It was enlightening.

Seeing Burlington Through the Eyes of a Tourist

CCTA bus station

The public bus is safe and easy to use for tourists as well as locals.

As a tourist, I saw Burlington slightly differently than I normally do as a resident. As a “tourist” I was pleased that a combination of walking and public transportation could get me easily and cheaply from the airport (which is near where I live) to downtown and back, even on a Sunday. (This pleases me as a local, too.) Burlington is a very walkable city, which makes it exactly the kind of place I would want to visit when I travel.

Richardson Place

We have some beautiful architecture in Burlington.

Instead of swearing at other drivers as I normally do during my workday commute into and out of Burlington, I was able to look around me as if I were seeing the city for the first time. The views are pretty impressive to the newbie: From Main and South Prospect Streets going into town, you get your first glimpse of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks. When you crest University Heights leaving town, you get a stunning view of the mountains Vermont is so famous for in the distance. And of course, once you’re downtown, Burlington is a cute city, with it’s bricked-over pedestrian Church Street Marketplace, stately old architecture on the UVM campus and hill neighborhoods, and the gorgeous waterfront setting.

Boathouse

The weather wasn’t ideal for photos.

As a photography buff, I found the overcast weather a bit disappointing for photos, but it didn’t rain, so I considered myself lucky. I had a warm jacket with me, so the cool wind also wasn’t much of a problem. At least the weather didn’t prevent me from having dinner outside that night. I’ve certainly run into much worse weather on the road, in places you might not expect it (like Hawaii).

It was fascinating to see how my personality changes when I’m a tourist. I’m never unfriendly, but I am an introvert, so when I go about my daily life, I often keep to myself. But as a tourist, I was very gregarious. I chatted up anyone and everyone I encountered. Clearly, traveling brings out my inner extrovert.

Ben and Jerry's

There’s more to Burlington than Ben & Jerry’s, though of course, it did get its start here.

As a solo traveler, having evening entertainment options is very important to me. If it’s important to you, too, I’d advise you to avoid Sunday nights in Burlington if possible. There was nothing going on that night in town to keep me occupied. There at least would have been more live music options if I’d been there on a Thursday through Saturday night. (Visitor tip: If you have time, try to plan your trip around a production at the Flynn Center or a festival.)

As I was walking up and down Church street at night, passing outdoor dining spots, it occurred to me that it really does remind me of the San Antonio Riverwalk, minus the river. In other words, it’s a charming place to stroll around in the evening, grab a drink or a bite to eat and people-watch. Not every city offers a place like this.

Big Joe Burrell statue

Statue memorializing “Big Joe” Burrell, a beloved local jazz legend.

In the morning hours, before the lunchtime crowd arrives, it presents a different picture. Without the throngs of tourists and locals who crowd the Marketplace from noon-on every day, the number of homeless people was much more noticeable. Seeing one homeless man rooting through the trash was depressing, and not at all the touristy image of Church Street that Burlington tries to project. I’m very well aware of the homeless population in Burlington; but a tourist may not know that we have great organizations dedicated to helping them here in Burlington (like the Committee on Temporary Shelter, the Burlington Food Shelf, and the Salvation Army soup kitchen).

One thing I really noticed through my tourist filter was just how ratty and unwelcoming City Hall Park looks. There’s a weekly Farmer’s Market hosted here every Saturday during the summer months which is great for locals and tourists alike. But otherwise, there is no reason to spend any time here. The grounds are full of dirt patches where the grass has worn out and there’s very little in the way of flower beds. Most of the people who hang out in the park look pretty sketchy. Can’t we do better than this, Burlington? Not just for tourists, but for ourselves? I can’t think of another city I’ve visited where the downtown park is so seedy looking. It’s shameful.

City Hall Park

City Hall Park is one of the rattiest looking city parks I’ve ever seen.

 

The Limitations of a Staycation

Painted car

Well that’s interesting.

Because I only stayed for one night, I was able to shove everything I needed into my backpack. Unfortunately, that meant that when my room wasn’t ready at check-in time, I had to schlep all that stuff around town with me for 2 hours while playing tourist and taking photos. It was HEAVY. If I were traveling to another destination, I’d have brought at least a carry-on suitcase I could check with the bell desk.

I skipped touristy activities like visiting the Shelburne Museum, taking a ferry across the lake, or visiting the Teddy Bear Factory because I’ve done all of those things before. Besides, I had less than 24 hours to my staycation and I had to sleep for about 8 hours of that. That didn’t leave me time to get out of downtown Burlington.

I wasn’t offended by the price of the $5+ maple latte (which was delicious, by the way) at Juniper at the Hotel Vermont or the $4 for a smallish frozen truffle pop at the Queen City Pops stand on the Waterfront. I’m used to paying those kinds of prices when I travel. But I’m a little too frugal in my everyday life to make it a regular practice.

Juniper Maple Latte

Juniper’s Maple Latte

Finally, as a Vermonter, I found myself growing defensive when I heard a tourist walk by sputtering in a sarcastic tone about how “the weather in Vermont is so…..’lovely'”. I wanted to say “Do you see three feet of snow on the ground? No? Then quit yer bitching!”

So I guess there are limitations as to how much you can pretend to be a tourist when on a staycation. πŸ™‚

What I Learned From My Staycation

Sherpa Kitchen

I discovered a new restaurant to add to my “must try soon” list.

Would I do things differently next time? Yes. I would choose my dates wisely to make sure I had evening entertainment options. I might take a tour or two of Burlington, like the Queen City Ghostwalk or the Historical Trolley Tour of Burlington. I might grab a loaner bike from the Hilton and go for a ride on the bike path along the lake. Or I might time my visit for the Vermont Brewers Festival or another fun waterfront festival. And I’d probably dine at some of the more expensive restaurants in town that I haven’t had a chance to try yet, like Hen of the Wood. But there’s one thing I wouldn’t change: Staying in a hotel.

Before I left home, I thought it would feel weird to hang around downtown Burlington and then not come home to sleep in my own bed. But it didn’t. As soon as I plopped my stuff down in my hotel room, that was my home for the night. It felt like any other trip I’ve taken where I’ve stayed in a hotel. I just happened to know the city I was “visiting” a lot better than most.

I honestly think this is the only way I could make a staycation work. If I had tried to stay home and force myself to “act like a tourist” in my hometown by just going out for the day, I would have been preoccupied by all of the “work” I should be doing (household chores, errands, blogging) instead of goofing off. I wouldn’t have been able to relax.

Have you ever gone on a staycation? How was it? How did you put yourself in the frame of mind of being a visitor in your own town or city? Did you see your hometown differently afterwards?

Brock September 28, 2015 at 5:57 pm

LOL living in phoenix, there are so many things I could do – in terms of a staycation. But, I don’t. Why? Not sure, I think my deeper desires are to get out of dodge and experience other cultures and such, so I don’t splurge here – and simply save to travel somewhere else. Seems strange, knowing that people pay big bucks to come to Phoenix lol.

Gray Cargill October 3, 2015 at 5:28 pm

I totally understand the desire to “get out of Dodge,” Brock. I feel that way here in Vermont in the winter. But yes, people certainly do pay big bucks to visit Phoenix, just like lots of tourists come to Vermont every year. Sometimes, it takes a little distance to appreciate what we have. I suspect that if you were away from Phoenix for a long period of time, you might come home and see it with brand new eyes, much like tourists do.

Katie December 2, 2014 at 8:06 am

Never really a staycation like this one, though Burlington is a great place to do it! I currently live in South Korea, and I am exploring my new city every weekend, so I guess kind of technically! I also used to live right across from Fletcher Free Library and would walk my dog in the early morning hours every day. Burlington really is a different places at 6AM…not a lot of the same things you see after 12!

Gray Cargill December 3, 2014 at 9:02 pm

Hi, Katie, Yeah, I’d say you’re doing a staycation, since you live there now. Burlington to South Korea is quite the jump. Hope you’re having fun there!

Ian October 31, 2014 at 4:30 pm

Sometimes we work so hard that we don’t get to enjoy our own backyards … staycations give us that opportunity!

Gray Cargill October 31, 2014 at 7:10 pm

I think that actually happens a lot, Ian. At least for me it does.

Jeff October 18, 2014 at 1:38 pm

I agree with you on hating the word Staycation. I think some marketing genius made it up to make people feel better about not being able to go anywhere. I have however recently taken a couple of “Localcations” to nearby resorts and actually felt like I was on vacation. It was nice but I would still rather go out of town.

Gray Cargill October 18, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Haha, I think you’re right about the marketing, Jeff. Maybe that’s why I hate it so much. I’d rather go out of town, too, but when time or money is scarce, it’s not a bad option.

Racheal October 17, 2014 at 10:37 pm

I’ll be honest, I can’t see this as something I would do. I am perfectly capable of being a tourist in my town when I want to, but checking into a hotel is out of the question. I’m hard on myself in a different way than you are: Why waste so much money when I could be saving that for a REAL travel experience? I thought reading this would make me feel differently, but honestly it seems to me you found it rather “blah” overall. Don’t take offense- I love your blog and I read all the new posts- but this does not really inspire me.

Gray Cargill October 18, 2014 at 8:57 am

I’m not in the least bit offended, Rachael. Everyone feels how they feel about these things. I did enjoy the experience, but I would have enjoyed it more if I had been able to choose my own night to stay. We have some awesome performances at the Flynn and some fun Waterfront festivals in the summertime that I would totally enjoy spending a night in town for. It just so happened that the night they gave me had nothing going on in town, that’s all. I think staycations work best for people who have reasons why they can’t get away for a longer trip–health issues, family obligations, work obligations, lack of vacation time, etc. There’s a time and a place for these things. And if I lived in Vegas like Brian does, I’d be taking staycations all the time! πŸ™‚

Kirstin October 16, 2014 at 2:53 pm

I would be happy to stay home and spend time “goofing off” but my flatmate would probably come up with a To Do list for me.

Gray Cargill October 16, 2014 at 7:17 pm

See? Now you know why I had to stay in a hotel! I am my own flatmate! LOL.

Marlys October 16, 2014 at 12:05 pm

Before one embarks on a round the world trip or any foreign travel, I think it is always best to first be a tourist in one’s town or city – visiting its museums and other noteworthy places. Many a tourist queuing up to get in the Louvre, etc, would not have been to their town’s or city’s museums, I bet.

Gray Cargill October 16, 2014 at 7:12 pm

So true, Marlys. I’ve heard from some native New Yorkers they’ve never been to the Statue of Liberty. And how can you advise visitors what to see and do in your town if you haven’t done those things, right?

Suzanne in VA October 16, 2014 at 6:30 am

I was just in Vermont first weekend of October and really enjoyed it. Took your yelp advice to the Vermont Tap room. Didnt get to spent much time in Burlington (and it was raining) but I did get almost the same waterfront picture as you posted, mine was rainier though. Loved Church street area although I tried to drive on it and a friendly fellah gave me the “no can do sign” and we laughed. I will definitely go back an explore more, maybe next year! Thanks for the tips over the years- all the best!

Gray Cargill October 16, 2014 at 7:09 pm

Sorry about the rain, Suzanne. I’m so glad you enjoyed Vermont anyway! You tried to drive on Church Street? I bet that was comical. Hey, let me know if you come back. Maybe we can meetup and swap a few solo travel stories.

Shelly October 16, 2014 at 6:28 am

After one holiday in Europe, where I found I was always of looking skyward, noticing (and taking photos of) the old grand buildings, I made a decision that next time I was in my own home city of Sydney (Australia), rather than rushing from A to B, I would take time to look up. To my surprise I saw some lovely old building facades I had never noticed before – at street level they have been converted to modern, big windowed shop fronts, but look up and you see the old Australiana architecture, some of which is quite ornate and lovely – a glimpse of yesteryear. I don’t go into the city all that often, but now when I do, I do try to see it out of tourists eyes, or if I have time, visit a shop or touristy venue that locals wouldn’t normally visit. Recently I discovered hidden away an Opal store which was more half museum, half store! .. and yes, I have even stayed on occasion in a city hotel after a concert, just to have the whole city experience. I’m yet to buy a ticket for the red hop on and off bus .. they have often intrigued me as to what the commentary would be like. I would recommend people to make the time and stop and “smell the roses” in their own home town – you will be surprised what you’ll see!

Gray Cargill October 16, 2014 at 7:05 pm

Shelly – Isn’t it funny how we don’t notice things when we pass them every day? Sometimes, I’ll see a restaurant or something that I think is new because I’ve never noticed it before…and then find out it’s been there a couple of years. πŸ™‚ We really do have to force ourselves to look around with “new eyes” sometimes. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

brt374 October 16, 2014 at 2:44 am

I wasn’t a fan of the word “staycation” or the concept until I moved to Vegas. And you’re totally right that it doesn’t work well unless you stay away from your own house. Even on my days off when I say I’m going to go “play tourist” downtown or on the Strip, I can think of a million errands or chores to do instead. That’s the fun of a staycation…escaping “real life” in your own town.

Gray Cargill October 16, 2014 at 7:02 pm

“Escaping real life in your own town”….yeah. I like that, Brian. It’s a vacation without the expense or the hassle of an “away” vacation.

De'Jav October 15, 2014 at 6:52 pm

I was never a fan of a staycation always was looking to get out somewhere new to explore. Over the past year since moving and living in Perth, Australia the most isolated city. I’ve become fond of staycations on long weekends. It gets me time to explore and discover new aspects here in the city or near by that I’d never would have before. Also, sometimes you just need a break from the daily routine. Sounds like you had an eye opening experience.

Gray Cargill October 15, 2014 at 8:46 pm

I was the same way, De’Jav–always wanted to go elsewhere. But there’s something to be said for seeing your own region through the eyes of a visitor. It was definitely eye opening.

Lauren Meshkin @BonVoyageLauren October 15, 2014 at 1:09 pm

I’m a fan of staycations! I’m from Southern California and I swear I’ve seen more of Europe than my own state. My staycations have definitely led to a better appreciation of where I live. Thanks for sharing your experience! I hope to find myself in Vermont one day.

Happy travels πŸ™‚

Gray Cargill October 15, 2014 at 8:45 pm

Thanks, Lauren! And I hope I find myself in California again before too long. πŸ™‚ Staycations are all about the attitude, I think–exploring, keeping an open mind, recalling your sense of wonder when experiencing something new, seeing a place through the eyes of a visitor. It’s not a bad thing.

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