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You Can't Travel, but You Can Vacation at Home

3 ideas for a relaxing home-cation, because everyone needs time off

Family of four are sitting at a picnic bench while camping in their backyard

SolStock / Getty Images

En español | In a pre-Covid-19 world, the freedom to be at home without obligations would have seemed like a vacation. But isolating for the coronavirus has changed that perspective. The American belief in productivity may make some feel guilty for taking a vacation day at home, but experts say that it's no less important to do so now than it was before the pandemic.

"It's important because it seems like something that we shouldn't do, because with no place to go, it feels like a waste of time,” says Andrea Bonior, a clinical psychologist in Bethesda, Maryland, and author of Detox Your Thoughts. “We have this big blurring between working and home, and taking a day off is a way to reclaim that boundary."

Home should be a place for pausing, resting and healing, Bonior says, and she recommends doing something creative, social or nourishing with an “off” day at home — even watching TV without guilt. It may seem silly, because you may be working at home anyway, but it's important to reclaim some space emotionally, and time off — without commitment or obligation — is key to helping lower overall stress levels.

Over the past few years, it has become “harder to distinguish vacation days from other ones,” says Diana Zuckerman, a psychologist and epidemiologist and president of the National Center for Health Research in Washington, D.C. But, “it's important to have at least a day or two when you don't work.”

How to plan a 'home-cation'

But how does one vacation, literally, in the home? Bonior recommends starting by thinking about where, if you could travel, you would go. “That's a clue to your values right now. If you would choose to spend time with other people, maybe spend time connecting digitally with others.” You might play a game, host a watch party for a movie, or start a book group online.

If you're thinking about nature, you're probably craving fresh air and sunshine. Depending upon your circumstances, maybe find a safe place to take a long walk. Or, if you have a backyard, sit outside and read or enjoy a garden. “Don't dismiss the importance of sunshine, even through a window,” Bonior says. Pair that with watching nature documentaries or travel shows or simply looking at pictures of trees. “There's research literature on how even looking at pictures of trees makes people feel better,” Zuckerman says. “For a lot of people, nature really does make a difference. Looking at the natural world can be uplifting."

Some “home-cation” ideas require a bit of advance planning, others can be as easy as allowing yourself to make popcorn and watch movies. Speaking of movies, why not create a daylong film festival? Pick a genre, location or actor and queue up related movies. Or, create a music or dance festival.

Whether you're pining for France, coastal Maine, a spa escape, or a camping getaway, you can recreate a semblance of your dream trip by using your senses to help evoke the experience. Think about typical food and drink, not only the flavors but also the aromas and textures; think about what you'd see and hear; and think about what you would do. Now set about recreating that at home. Here, a few examples to get you started.

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Vacation in France without leaving home

If France is calling to you, spend a day there. Let technology aid your imagination and help you travel faster than the old Concorde. First, listen to Edith Piaf or other typical French music to set the mood. Then get ready for some virtual tours. Go up into the Parisian signature Eiffel Tower, built for the 1889 World's Fair; descend into the Lascaux Caves in southwestern France to see the prehistoric cave paintings; discover the Mona Lisa without a hint of crowds at the Louvre or browse the paintings in Museé d'Orsay.

You may not be able to stroll the incredible Champs d'Elysses, but you might tantalize your taste buds with the flavors of France you would find along that avenue; perhaps a green salad with bread and a cheese and charcuterie plate. Or maybe make a delicious croque monsieur (a fancy-pants broiled ham and cheese).

Woman Relaxing in Bath with Tea Bags over Eyes

LWA-Dann Tardif / Getty Images

Turn your home into a spa

If a spa vacation is in your dreams, turn your house into one, says Mary Bemis, editorial director and founder of the Insider's Guide to Spas. One doesn't need to go to a fancy hotel or day spa to enjoy the basic tenets of a relaxing retreat. Start with water. That can be everything from taking a nice bath with Epsom salts, a long shower spraying a little bit of eucalyptus oil, an invigorating contrast shower, or simply filling a sink or bowl with steaming water, adding a few herbs or drops of essential oil, and covering your head with a towel to inhale.

Add touch. If you're isolated with family, massage each other — you'll find tutorials online. If alone, massage your back using foam rollers and roll feet across tennis balls. Try a basic foot rub, dry brushing or reflexology.

Get moving: Many well-known spas and wellness retreats are offering free and easy access to virtual classes in yoga for all levels. Local studios are offering them too. You might find a teacher you'll someday meet in person. Some of the same places offer guided meditation, another spa staple, to help you wind down.

Get your heart pumping with a jump rope or dance to your favorite music. If possible, enjoy a walk outside. “A 10-minute walk is the best mood-booster out there, and there is research to show that,” Bemis says.

Remember to eat lots of greens and fresh fruit during your spa day and hydrate regularly. Fall guiltlessly into bed early with a good book.

Mimic a camping trip

If you love camping in the great outdoors, mimic it at home. First, a little research. Check out the websites of some favorite national parks to find virtual hikes. The Friends of Acadia National Park, for example, has a webpage rich in resources related to the park. You can even listen to and watch waves crash on the park's craggy granite shores. Enhance the experience by burning an ocean-scented candle. You might even order a lobster roll kit along with a whoopie pie, the official Maine snack.

Now, set up a tent in your yard, on your balcony or patio, or in your living room. Sing camp songs around a campfire, grill or candle. If possible, toast marshmallows and make s'mores, that delicious combo of two graham crackers sandwiching chocolate bar pieces and those roasty-toasty marshmallows into an ooey-gooey masterpiece. You might even experiment and add peanut butter, salted caramel or Nutella. Before crawling into your sleeping bag, gaze at the stars above and try to identify the constellations.

Finally, don't feel guilty about taking a vacation day “just” to stay home. Not only is it an investment in your mental health, it also will boost your immune system, decrease irritability and help you sleep better, Bonoir says, offering a nugget for workaholics: “Anything we can do to decrease stress will help with overall productivity."

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