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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Limitations of a Staycation
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.
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. 🙂
What I Learned From My Staycation
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?