The unofficial start of summer usually begins with barbecues, a long weekend away, visiting relatives, or heading to a beach town to visit your summer share cottage. Whatever your choice has been in the past, this year’s dreadful economy is bound to make at least some, if not most, of us reevaluate our summer vacation plans.
Even if financial concerns aren’t causing you to take a second look at vacation plans, you may be tired of the same old, same old. So Busted Halo decided to take a look at 5 possible vacations — ranging from lavish steals for the budget conscious, to family friendly activities, to serving those in need.
Want to experience a new culture at a low cost and simultaneously help others in need? Several organizations now offer the opportunity to help others in the third world, improve the environment, or serve the needs of others in another area. Often these vacations last for about a week — you learn about a new culture, meet fun people with similar concerns, and get to travel to a foreign country at the fraction of the usual cost.
The leader in the field of volunteer vacations is Globe Aware, which offers one-week vacations in Peru, Costa Rica, Thailand, Cuba, Nepal, Brazil, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Jamaica, Romania, Ghana, Mexico, and China for less than $1300 plus airfare.
One should note that while the word vacation is in the title of these adventures, they should not be mistaken for traditional vacations. This is hard work — in might mean waking early and finishing a day’s work long into the evening. A trip I took to Nicaragua had us up at 6 a.m. to paint a roof before the sun baked down on us by 10 a.m. When the weather got too hot, we’d move on to an indoor repair project, or play with orphans, or assist a physical therapist. By day’s end we were exhausted, but the results were well worth it. Besides a sense of accomplishment and serving the poor in a direct way, I also managed to lose 6 pounds and got plenty of exercise.
For volunteer vacations dealing with environmental issues, check out your local Sierra Club, where you might assist cleaning graffitti in the Grand Canyon or digging a drainage ditch. The American Hiking Society also sets up several very affordable volunteer vacations that are environmentally based.
The tanking worldwide economy might be an opportunity to get a great deal in a part of the world where a once-booming economy is now struggling. You can contribute to the economy of an area that really could use tourism and you get a steal on lodging and package deals that were once prohibitively expensive. Iceland Air, for example, has been setting up fairly inexpensive packages to one of the hidden gems of the Nordic world at about half off their usual rates.Sometimes just making a small adjustment and thinking creatively can offer you a vacation with the exotic location you hoped for, closer to home. Instead of trekking the mountains of Nepal, Yosemite National Park offers grandeur that few locations can replicate. Want to go on a safari? Check out alligators, manatees and the Florida Panther in the Everglades instead. And camp out under the stars, for a mere $12 per night.
Sometimes just making a small adjustment and thinking creatively can offer you a vacation with the exotic location you hoped for, closer to home. Instead of trekking the mountains of Nepal, look to explore one of North America’s National Parks. Yosemite National Park has over 700 great trails that offer all different kinds of views and climates. From valleys to alpine habitats, Yosemite offers grandeur that few locations can replicate.
Want to go on a safari? No need to head to Africa. Check out Florida’s Everglades National Park instead; it’s the largest subtropical wilderness area in the United States. See alligators, manatees and the Florida Panther. And camp out under the stars, for a mere $12 per night.
If the budget is tight, staying home can be a true adventure. Of course, this is your hometown where you live 90% of your life; so if you’re like most of us, you’ve become so familiar with your area that you might be blind to what makes it special. Be extra deliberate and mindful about breaking out of your usual daily routines, so you can approach your hometown anew and do things you’d never consider doing as a native. Take a day trip to a town or city near you that you’ve wanted to explore. Hit a restaurant you’ve always wanted to try. Ever been to a local historical site or taken a ride on the local ferry (check your local tourist board)? Does your town have a minor league baseball team? They have plenty of fan-friendly activities at the fraction of major league costs.
Think about some of the things in your house that you usually miss or haven’t gotten around to doing. Does the back porch need painting? Need a new garbage disposal? Want to redo the baby’s room? The last stay-at-home-vacation I took included: Going to the local amusement park; setting up a home office; and taking my dog for several long walks and finding new safe spots for him to run off-leash. I also re-discovered the afternoon nap.
Most importantly, my wife and I found time for a daily walk that allowed us to dream together and spend more time together without the pressures of work drawing us apart.
Invite Someone To Come See You Instead
Ok, admittedly it’s only a slight variation on the stay-at-home vacation, but with the right company you can rediscover your hometown in ways you never thought possible by giving yourself the opportunity to see it through your guest’s eyes. Have an old college friend who’s thought about visiting? Your sister’s never seen your apartment? Mom and Dad complain about never seeing the grandkids?
Having someone come to stay for even a few days often gives you the excuse to do some of the things you simply never do in your local area. I’ve lived in the New York City area my whole life, but had never gone to the Statue of Liberty until one of my friends came to visit me. So clean up the guest room or sweep the crumbs out of the cushions of the pull-out.
Retreats, Monasteries or Other Religious Communities
Retreats (findthedivine.org, charisretreats.org) are often great ways to get back in touch with oneself and God. On week-long retreats, typically mornings are dedicated to some kind of retreat programming or prayer, while afternoons are free for you to do as you please. Take a nature walk or a boat ride — as retreat houses are often in rather bucolic settings. I’ve found deer and other wildlife on the property of a few of my favorite houses. Weekend retreats are often more intense, with shorter periods of free time. Silent retreats usually have no formal programming, but allow you the opportunity to meet with a spiritual director to talk through where you might be finding or struggling to find God in your life, then spend the remainder of the time in quiet reflection.
You also might want to use monasteries or women’s religious communities for lodging in certain cities, especially in Europe. You can end up finding a simple room in the heart of a city for a fraction of the cost of even a badly furnished hotel. Sometimes, even meals are included in the price of your stay, and you might even be able to exchange manual labor or professional services for a stay in the house. A friend of mine recently did some landscaping at a women’s religious beach house in exchange for a stay there during Memorial Day weekend. He worked in the early morning hours and had much of his day free to catch some rays and parasail.