- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2008

This summer, Deborah Johnson is planning a restful vacation — at her house.

“Traveling is just so exhausting. The lines are long at the airport; the security takes forever; and I’m sick of schlepping and rushing, all for the chance to relax,” said the Michigan mother of two teenagers. “I’d rather spend my money doing something quiet and low-key.”

Mrs. Johnson, a 46-year-old nail technician, joins a growing number of people trading in fancy trips to exotic locales for time spent with family, working on home repairs, organizing closets and enjoying time with friends and family who live nearby.

Their stay-at-home vacation — or “staycation” — has been dubbed a new trend by the global ad agency JWT, according to its director of trend-spotting, Ann Mack.

With the economy flat-lining and busy professionals looking for more work-home balance, the idea just makes sense, Miss Mack said.

“People are rediscovering the delights of their own back yard,” she said. “The U.S. dollar is so weak, so it doesn’t make sense for them to travel overseas, particularly in Europe, where the euro is so strong against the dollar.”

Higher gas prices also are forcing more folks to rethink their travel plans, she said, adding that increasing concerns over the environment as well as the desire for more family time add to the staycation’s popularity.

“People are putting more investment in their homes, so they can think of it as their oasis rather than a place to live,” she said.

According to the Travel Industry Association in Washington, costs for travel are rising significantly, with the association’s February Travel Price Index up 7.6 percent over February 2007.

In the past year, TIA says, gas prices have risen 32.7 percent, air fares 7.6 percent and lodging 3.4 percent. The overall consumer price index rose 4 percent over February 2007, straining wallets and entertainment budgets and limiting vacations to long weekends rather than extended and often pricey getaways hundreds or thousands of miles away.

Mike Pina, a spokesman for AAA, formerly the American Automobile Association, said for those who do venture away from home, the trend is for shorter trips nearby.

“People are still traveling, but they are traveling differently,” he said. “People travel closer to home. They stay at less-expensive hotels and eat at less-expensive restaurants. … People are looking at more extended weekend trips.”

Ambitious family schedules also influence travel plans, he said, with many parents “reluctant to take their kids out of activities that they have paid for.”

Some two-career families also find it difficult to get time off for long vacations together, making shorter and less-elaborate vacations more practical.

How long will the staycation trend last? Miss Mack said it depends on how long until the economy rights itself, but “definitely this will continue through summer.”

Mrs. Johnson, who said she hopes to read, maybe get ambitious and paint the house or “reorganize my life” during her time off, said that while she’s hoping the economy improves, she sees benefits to staying at home that go beyond saving money.

“I want to indulge my kids, take them to see several shows in a week, something we never have time to do,” she said. “There’s a lot to be said for getting your personal life organized and just resting and slowing down. Sometimes, I think people need that more than flying off to some beach. It gives them more control over their lives.”

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