The past year has been a doozy, so it’s no wonder most of us are longing for a vacation right about now. While carefree travel is still not in the picture, we do have an (affordable) suggestion to help you hang in there—that’s right, we’re talking about a staycation. What is a staycation, exactly? Well, as the word suggests, a staycation refers to any experience that feels like a vacation but requires no travel. If you’re not sure how to actually make such a thing happen, we’re here to help. From DIY spa days to backyard campouts to home movie nights, check out our roundup of the best staycation ideas for families and we promise you’ll enjoy an at-home experience that provides all the novelty and relaxation you and your brood need right now—without breaking the bank (or any public safety rules).

RELATED: 21 Education (and Non-Lame) Virtual Activities for Kids

staycation ideas for families backyard campout
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1. Have a Backyard Campout

You needn’t plan for a National Lampoon’s style road trip to enjoy some fresh air and possibly even starry skies (sorry, city folk). If you have a backyard, just turn it into a campsite for a getaway that will bring you closer to nature—or at least a few steps farther from your living room couch. Pitch a tent, bust out the fire pit and get cozy with a couple of s’mores. Aside from a snuggly sleeping bag and the obvious campout fare, we suggest you bring your own entertainment to this staycation—a riveting podcast, a selection of books and a couple of family-friendly games—should do the trick.

staycation ideas for families themed dinners
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2. Throw a Themed Dinner Party

If wanderlust has got the better of you during pandemic times, you’re not alone: Nothing will make you lust for an exotic adventure quite like being homebound for the better part of a year. Alas, international travel is still not in the cards for most of us—but the good news is that you can always go galivanting in your head. We know what you’re thinking, but this is actually way more fun than it sounds, provided you put in a little prep work. Let the kids pick a dream destination and do your darndest to recreate an ideal visit in the comfort of your own home—just be sure to stay true to your vision with regional food, decorative details and a thoughtful soundtrack. Take a trip to Italy, for example, by tucking into a plate of cacio e pepe, all while listening to some of the country’s greatest hits. Then enjoy your dessert (tiramisu, obviously) in front of a classic Italian-themed movie (like Roman Holiday). Or make it a Disney-themed affair with a selection of Disney theme park recipes you can re-create at home (including their famous Dole whip) paired with a family-friendly animation… and don’t forget the Mickey Mouse ears.

staycation ideas for families indoor picnic
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3. Have an Indoor Picnic

This option boasts all the charm of a backyard campout with an all-weather bonus. In other words, keep your eyes on the forecast: This idea will save you from the depths of boredom that a rainy weekend might otherwise bring. The key to making this staycation a success is to pull out all the stops. Sure, it’s just a picnic blanket spread out on your living room floor, but kids will love prepping an assortment of finger foods, creating a comfortable seating area (complete with a pillow fort) and inviting their favorite stuffed animals to the party. They’ll likely also get a kick out of seeing their parents get down to their level and join in the fun.

staycation ideas for families go off the grid
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4. Go off the Grid

The best kind of vacation, whether you stay put or travel afar, is one that provides a break for the busy mind (something that’s even more difficult to do these days thanks to Zoom meetings and virtual learning). So, consider this one less of a suggestion, and more of a challenge: Turn off—and lock up, if need be—all your technology (including your kid’s beloved iPad) for the length of your staycation. Yeah, that’s all there is to it. But you might be surprised to discover how a weekend without technology can transform your relationship to each other and spark creativity—you know, in a way that might inspire many more memorable staycations to come.

staycation ideas for families outdoor movie night
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5. Have an Outdoor Movie Night

Invest in a projector screen to take family movie nights up a notch. All you have to do is set that puppy up in your backyard, on your driveway or wherever else you wish for a novel experience that will please film buffs and casual viewers alike. And don’t forget to stock up on the snacks for the ultimate movie night experience.

staycation ideas for families virtual vacation
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6. Go on a Virtual Vacation

In case you missed it, you can take a virtual trip to some of the most incredible destinations in the world. Transport your brood into a fairytale with a visit to Prague Castle, or remotely roam the halls of art museums abroad before you stroll the gardens of Versailles—these are just a few of the many virtual vacation options at your fingertips. That’s right, your computer can do much better than those boring work conferences.

staycation ideas for families artists retreat
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7. Create an Artist’s Retreat

Nope, you don’t have to be a professional artist or own any fancy supplies in order to enjoy this staycation. In fact, all you really need is a free afternoon and a few basic items to pull-off this family-friendly activity. From painting and gluing to folding and papier mâché-ing, there are tons of crafts for kids that you can try your hand at, many of which are manageable for even the littlest of children (like these rainbow crafts or these mason jar projects). Take a load off and get artsy on your upcoming staycation by tackling a new DIY project every day. Bonus: Souvenirs are included—and they’re all handmade.

staycation ideas for families sarfari
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8. Go on a Virtual Safari

COVID-19 may have put a damper on everyone’s travel plans, but the good news is that there is no shortage of virtual workarounds that have cropped up in its wake. Case in point: the generous library of live video cams provided by explore.org that treat viewers to an intimate view of some of the most fascinating and exotic animals on the planet...from the comfort of the couch. There are multiple adventures to choose from but we’re fans oft he watering hole in South Africa—an instant hit that regularly features elephants, leopards, lions, hyenas and more. The website also provides videos that feature only the highlights from their footage (a handy option for those with impatient kids in tow).

staycation ideas for families at home spa day
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9. Have an At-Home Spa Day

Treat yourself and your offspring to a self-care staycation by turning your pad into a day spa. The exact treatments on offer will depend on the age of your kids but some fun ideas include face masks made with pantry items, DIY pedicures, hand massages and cucumber eye treatments—all to be enjoyed while lounging around in a plush robe and sipping homemade lemonade.

staycation ideas for families local food tour
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10. Go on a Local Food Tour

For a highly customizable staycation option that’s sure to satisfy, step out and sample all the good eats that your neighborhood has to offer—either by checking out a couple of local restaurants offering outdoor seating or with a takeout food tour. You can stick to a single food item (perhaps you’re in search of the best dumplings, for example) or hop from cuisine to cuisine; tackle the mission in a single day or stretch your tour out over several days. Bottom line: No matter how you plan your food tour, your family is bound to discover some hidden gems—just be sure to have some research under your (hopefully loose) belt before you begin so your staycay doesn’t leave you with a bad taste in your mouth.

staycation ideas for families virtual national park tour
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11. Enjoy a Virtual National Park Tour

No matter how cozy your digs, there’s a good chance that lockdown life has left you desperate for a change of scenery. While you might not be able to start jet setting just yet, you can still treat yourself to some breathtaking views with a virtual tour of a national park (or several). Yep, thanks to the folks at the National Park Service, you can now stream the majestic beauty of nature straight to your laptop. These guided tours feature 360 degree views of some pretty spectacular places—Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Yellowstone and the Virgin Islands National Park, to name a few—so the whole gang is bound to come away from this one with a renewed sense of wonder.

staycation ideas for families lawn games tournament
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12. Host a Lawn Games Tournament

Nothing brings a family together like a little healthy competition. Whether you split up into teams or it’s every family member for themselves, everyone will enjoy getting involved in the sporty fun from classic lawn games. There are tons of great outdoor games to choose from but we’re partial to the classics like corn hole, giant Jenga and ring toss. The winner gets to pick what’s for dinner tonight.

13. Book an Airbnb

Good news for anyone desperate for a night away from home without the risk that travel brings: Airbnb is still going strong despite the pandemic—and per the experts, it’s completely safe to pop into a nearby rental for a night or two for a little novelty. (Psst: Here are some of our favorite Airbnbs in the Northeast.)

staycation ideas for families cooking1
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14. Try out a Meal Delivery Service

A good staycation should relieve stress and leave you feeling a little more content—and what better way to accomplish this than by simply giving yourself a break from the hassle of daily meal planning? Depending on the service you choose, a meal delivery plan might eliminate time-consuming prep work, cooking and in some cases, even grocery shopping. Just make sure to involve the kids in the process, from picking out the menu for the week to preparing the food to setting the table. The end result: A lot more time to focus on doing things that make you happy...and a delicious meal, of course.

staycation ideas for families science experiment
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15. Do a Science Experiment

From making your own unicorn slime and creating a marble run to baking bread and playing with magnets, there are tons of kid-friendly science experiments you can try at home. Not only will this staycation idea keep little hands occupied, but they’ll also learn something in the process (and hey, maybe mom will too).

RELATED: 15 At-Home Activities to Do with Kids

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