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How to Roll Your Vacation Budget into Staycation Upgrades

A backyard with a fire pit , outdoor furniture, and a beverage cart.
AVN Photo Lab/Shutterstock

Canceled vacations aren’t fun, but they sometimes have a silver lining: saved money. If you’re missing that getaway feeling, you may want to funnel your saved vacation budget into home improvements for a staycation!

The good news about staycations is that they cost less than proper vacations. Even if you buy some new stuff for your home, you’re still not spending big bucks on plane tickets, lodgings, and pricey recreation. Plus, investing in your home has the long-term payoff of making your house a more fun and relaxing space for years to come.

Wondering how to turn your home into a staycation paradise? We’ve got some ideas!

Why You Still Need a Vacation During Lockdown

First, let’s make a case for the socially-distant vacation.

If you had to cancel a planned vacation, you might have decided to forgo the time off entirely, since you can’t jet-set to anywhere. While you’re stuck at home, you might think, Why not just spend that vacation time working instead? 

However, the truth is that you still need breaks and time off, even if you can’t go on a traditional vacation. Downtime can actually improve productivity, unlock creative breakthroughs, and make you healthier and happier in general. You may not be able to leave your house, but time off isn’t time wasted.

With the current stressful situation, your mind and body will likely benefit from a work break even more. Of course, not everyone is able to get time off right now or to afford extra days off. But if you can swing it, go ahead and give yourself a vacation. Even if it’s just a long weekend, you’ll come back from the break refreshed.

Now, let’s take a look at how to use your existing vacation budget to improve your staycation—and some free options in case that vacation budget doesn’t exist.

14 Home Upgrades to Spend Your Vacation Budget On

A beautiful home with outdoor furniture, nice landscaping, and a hot tub.

The right upgrades for your staycation will depend on your home design, budget, and what you like to do with your time. But we think there’s something here for everyone, from simple one-step purchases to whole-room overhauls.

Because summer is right around the corner we’re focusing on outdoor upgrades first, but don’t worry we’ll round out the list with indoor staycation upgrades too.

Fire Pit

Whether you do backyard camping or not, a fire pit is a great staycation upgrade. Fire pits offer a range of experiences: cooking s’mores is simple and laidback while sipping homemade cocktails around a fire is classy and elevated. Many outdoor fire pits are surprisingly inexpensive and easy to set up!

Outdoor Furniture

If you have outdoor space—even just a balcony or patio—you can probably use some outdoor furniture.

From a set of all-weather chairs to a hammock or porch swing, a few new furnishings can turn outside spaces into extra rooms of your house. If you can, try setting up an outdoor dining area too, which will turn ordinary meals into vacation-y al fresco dining.

Picnic Supplies

Outdoor furniture can get expensive. If you don’t quite have the budget or space for that upgrade, a few nice picnic supplies make a great stand-in.

Chances are, you can put together a home picnic with stuff you already have. But to make the experience feel special, try getting a nice picnic basket and a cheerful outdoor blanket. Pack cheese, wine, sandwiches, or whatever you like, step into your yard or garden and pretend you’re in a Parisian park with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

Grilling Equipment

You don’t need an Airbnb by the beach to enjoy cooking outside! A home grilling setup lets you take full advantage of nice days and outdoor dining.

Fancy grills can get super-expensive, but you can get a basic, portable grill for well under $50. No matter what you end up cooking, check out our grilling tips for great results.

Camping Equipment

If you have a yard, even a small one, you almost certainly have room for a tent. A few camping essentials will allow for a “getaway” in your own yard—with the decidedly unrugged benefit of running water just steps away.

A tent, sleeping bag, and flashlight is a good start, but you can also go all-out with a camping stove and cookware to maximize your time outside. Buy high-quality gear, so you’ll be able to use it for “real” camping trips in the future, too.

A Hot Tub

You know what a good transition from the outdoor summer life ideas to year-round fun is? A hot tub. Sure hot tubs seem like a warm-weather thing because most of us associate them with summer vacations to warm places, but ask anybody from a snowy climate and they’ll tell you that sinking into a hot tub while it’s snowing out is amazing.

A good hot tub isn’t cheap (but definitely cheaper than a week of premium vacationing!) and it certainly requires more planning than just buying a fire pit and dropping it in your backyard or buying new chairs for your deck. But it’s tough to beat soaking in a hot tub with a cocktail to recreate that “I’m on vacation” feeling.

Upgrade Your Lighting

Think about your last vacation. What did the hotel, the poolside area, the hotel restaurant, and everything else on the grounds have in common? Good lighting.

Whether you’re going for a romantic bistro for your outdoor dining area by stringing up bistro lights or you want to give you home a subtle soft ambient light to relax in the evening using smart lights, changing up the lighting in and around your home is a very high impact upgrade.

Better Bedding

A bed outfitted with crisp high-quality linens and fluffy pillows.

Think of sleeping in a hotel, and the first thing that comes to mind is probably the luxe bedding. Now’s the time to invest in equally-nice home bedding while you perfect the staycation art of sleeping in.

White sheets always have that hotel vibe, but you can also get soft, high-thread-count sheets in any color. Don’t forget a chic comforter cover and some fluffy new pillows! A mattress topper can also make your old mattress feel like new.

Ceiling Fan

Ceiling fans may seem practical and boring—but the steady spin of a ceiling fan on a hot day can actually bring tropical vibes to your staycation. With so many fan designs out there, you can easily find one that upgrades your home decor.

Screen Door

Letting a fresh breeze in through a soft screen door might trick you into thinking the azure Mediterranean is just outside your doorstep.

What’s the deal with soft screen doors? Unlike rigid metal doors and sliding panels (which require installation and/or existing hardware) a soft screen door is an add-on accessory that you can retrofit to a regular width or sliding glass door opening. Here’s an example, but you can find them in a variety of sizes.

Spa Treats

If you only upgrade one room in your home before a staycation, the bathroom is a great choice. It’s small, so sprucing it up feels manageable. And with the door shut, the outside world disappears for a while—including the people you’re quarantined with—for a relaxing, spa-like getaway.

A newly clean bathroom may feel like a spa already, but you can boost the vibe with some new decor, candles, and green plants (even artificial ones). A different shower curtain will really make a bathroom feel upgraded. For spa-like vibes, opt for white or soft colors in your decor.

Lastly, add some personal-care items like an exfoliating body brush or fancy face mask to complete your home spa experience!

Dining Room Upgrades

We think dinner parties are going to be a huge post-pandemic trend, since everyone will want to show off their newly-organized homes and cooking skills. However, you don’t have to wait for parties to be allowed before upgrading your dining room.

A nice new dinnerware set and some pretty glasses can level up home dining, and will come in handy for those future dinner parties. A centerpiece or tablecloth makes any old dining table feel like new. Put some extra care and attention into the presentation of home meals, and you’ll start to feel vacation vibes.

Cocktail Essentials

For many people, vacations aren’t complete without cocktails. Now, you can make your own staycation cocktails, which is actually more fun than you might think!

A set of basic bar tools lets you whip up cocktails in seconds, and you can look up every drink recipe imaginable online. But if you’re trying to stay off your phone during your time off, snag a mixology book for recipes instead.

Fresh Paint

If you want something that feels more like a DIY project, painting a room or two is a great way to make your home feel like a getaway. The fresh color will trick your eyes into seeing familiar spaces in a new way.

You can pick a timeless or trendy color—it’s all up to you—but make sure to schedule some project-free staycation time to enjoy the results after you’re done painting.

Free Staycation Ideas

Family watching a movie, projected onto the wall of their living room.
Evgeny Atamaneko/Shutterstock

Not everyone has the money to buy new stuff for their home right now, but a tight budget doesn’t mean you have to forgo a staycation. Give your time off a getaway feel with these free upgrades!

Set up a Different Sleeping or Eating Area

There are some powerful links between the sense of novelty and the feeling of happiness, which may explain why vacations can make us happier. New sights and experiences tend to give us positive feelings.

You can tap that novelty simply by creating a new eating or sleeping space in your home. Take some blankets and pillows from your bedroom, and make a cozy sleep retreat in a different part of the house. Turn a low coffee table into an alternative dining space using pillows on the floor as cushions. Doing something ordinary, like eating or sleeping, in a different place can make your home feel fresh and interesting.

Create a Restaurant Experience

You probably already have what you need to recreate a restaurant experience at home! You can build a themed “menu” using what’s already in your fridge or freezer. Then set the table nicely, turn down the lights, and pick out a playlist. For more details on how to make home dining feel restaurant-quality, check out this post.

Upgrade Your Movie Nights

You can watch almost anything at home, but people still like going to movie theaters because it’s an experience. Luckily, you can also recreate a theater experience at home for a lowkey staycation activity.

Pull the curtains or temporarily hang blankets over your windows to darken the room if it’s light out. Get out your softest blankets to make your furniture cozier. Set out a few snacks and drinks, so you’re not getting up to raid the fridge mid-movie.

Use candles, string lights, or any other sources of low light you have to provide barely-there illumination. Lastly, clean up the room a bit and hide clutter, so nothing distracts you from what’s onscreen. You might not have a state-of-the-art theater system, but these upgrades will help make home movies an immersive experience.

Rearrange Your Furniture

You can make your home look totally different without buying anything new, simply by rearranging. This gives you a dose of that addictive novelty, making a staycation feel more exciting. Plus, the process of rearranging can be fun in itself, helping you see your home in a creative new light.

Staying home long-term isn’t what most people would choose, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for ways to enjoy yourself. These upgrades give you a reason to take some much-needed time off to recharge and destress. And even once travel restrictions are lifted, you might find yourself choosing to repeat the staycation experience in your newly upgraded house!

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a freelance and creative writer from the Pacific Northwest, and an MFA student at the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She specializes in lifestyle writing and creative nonfiction. Read Full Bio »
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