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Planning the Perfect New England Staycation
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Tight on money? You can still vacation in grand style, locally, with these simple yet fun ideas!

East Bay Bike Path photo, Bristol, RI

If you enjoy bike riding, you'll love the free, coastal 14-mile East Bay Bike Path, spanning from Providence, R.I., to Bristol, R.I. (photo by Eric H.)

Article by Eric H. When the economy gets tough, the tough stay home.

Lean times do indeed require tough measures to budget for a vacation while still having fun. With some reports stating that one out of every eight homeowners 30 or more days late on their mortgages, and several state unemployment rates near 10 percent, millions of people nationwide might not be able to vacation the way they used to.

Does that mean being relegated to eating peanut butter sandwiches for lunch and a box of $2.00 pasta for dinner? For many people, absolutely not!

Enter the staycation, a relatively new travel term defined as having one's own vacation at or near home. Even if people aren't familiar with the term "staycation," they are certainly practicing the concept.  It seems like the majority of people we talk with state that they plan on staying close to home, with no real plans. So, if you are finding it difficult to vacation the way you did in previous years, realize that you are not alone.  The economy is obviously in a terrible state and many people find it a necessity, more now than ever, to cut back on vacations.

Some of our ideas on how to enjoy your time close to home -- including day trips -- will seem as obvious as the current state of our economy, while others might have you saying, "Why didn't we think of that before?"  So, just as if you were going on vacation, clean your home, take lots of photos of your staycation, and stay away from the computer, video games, cell phones and other distractions.  Enjoy your staycation!

Tap into New England's History! New England possesses a rich history, but it's often so inexpensive (Sometimes free!) to see. For starters, here are a few suggestions for your "historical" staycation travel destination:
The Old North Bridge in Concord, Mass., where local Minutemen experienced its first American Revolutionary War victory by forcing the British to retreat back to Boston on April 19, 1775.
The Fisherman's Memorial on Stacy Blvd in Gloucester, Mass., pays tribute to the more than 10,000 fisherman lost at sea while working their jobs.
Take a tour of the Newport, RI., mansions, including Astors' Beechwood Mansion, built in 1851. Astors' has been put to great use -- it's now a living history museum with actors and actresses in costume taking visitors back to Newport's glorious late 19th century Gilded Age days through a guided tour of the premises. Gillette Castle in East Haddam, Conn., is a stunning castle with 24 rooms, 47 doors (each one different), white oak woodwork and carvings, stone stairways, built-in couches, a moveable table on tracks, an inside porch fountain and amazing views of the Connecticut River. It is the former home of William Hooker Gillette (1853-1936), a famous actor, director and playright, best known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. It took 20 men five years (1914-1919), to complete the main section of the building! The kids will love the Paragon Carousel, remaining from the glory days of the now-closed Paragon Park Amusement Park at Nantasket Beach in Hull, Mass. It's a very well-maintained merry-go-round from 1928 featuring 24 restored horses and a Wurlitzer band organ that generates the familiar carnival music. Up the road in the amazing city of Boston, Mass., you'll find an wonderful array of history. The Freedom Trail allows tourists to learn about America's Revolution by walking a 2.5 mile red brick walkway where historic meeting houses, museums, churches and other landmarks offer a colorful,
scenic educational experience. Includes the Boston State House, Old Corner Book Store, Park St. Church, Old South Meeting House, site of the Boston Massacre,  the
Paul Revere House and Faneuil Hall.  Best toured in the warmer weather! Check out The FreedomTrail.org for more information.  Plymouth, Mass., is synonymous with the Pilgrims. In this beautiful large coastal town, you'll find:

Plimoth Plantation (137 Warren Ave.), an indoor and outdoor museum portraying Plymouth as it was in the 17th Century (this means lots of information on Pilgrims).

Plymouth Rock, at the waterfront in downtown Plymouth, symbolizes the bravery of the men and women that founded the first New England colony.

The Pilgrim Hall Museum (75 Court St.) showcases a collection of Pilgrim possessions.

The Jenny Grist Mill (6 Spring Lane), a 1636 living history museum, offers a tour of this famous grist mill.

In the historic, charming small city of Portsmouth, Mass., we recommend visiting Strawbery Banke Museum (14 Hancock St.), a 10-acre historic waterfront neighborhood, with homes dating back to 1650. Although modern amenities are around the corner in Market Square, Strawberry Banke takes you out of the modern era and into another period of time.

Maine is full of history, including the small coastal city of Bath --  best known for Bath Iron Works, founded in 1884 as a shipbuilding center. A great place to visit in Bath is The Maine Maritime Museum (243 Washington Street, Tel. 207-443-1316), celebrating Maine's maritime heritage and culture.

Montpelier, Vt., (state capital) has a most striking attraction -- the Vermont State House, dating back to 1859 and featuring stunning Renaissance Revival architecture with a gold leaf dome including real gold! The Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vt. is a fantastic historical/cultural travel destination with a seemingly endless presentation of Impressionist paintings, folk art, quilts and textiles, decorative arts, furniture, American paintings, and and amazing display of 17th-to 20th-century artifacts.

On the subject of museums, we've compiled a Twitter list of some of New England's best museums. Most are inexpensive to visit and offer some great historical learning opportunities including the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Conn., Mystic Seaport in Mystic Conn., the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., and the The Paul Revere House in Boston.


Campgrounds Less in cost than a motel, chances are you have a campground not too far from where you live.  Pitch a tent or take your RV and save gas money by staying in an inexpensive outdoor lodging destination where you can enjoy Mother Nature at a price that usually won't break the bank. Some campgrounds have lakes to swim, or even swimming pools!  Around our neck of the woods, many people drive a few towns away to stay at the family-oriented Normandy Campgrounds in Foxborough, MA -- a southwest suburban Boston town where you wouldn't think there would be such a bucolic oasis. For more information on regional campgrounds, check out Tom and Anne's excellent review of the best campgrounds in New England (and which ones to avoid).


Bike Rides If you have a bicycle, by all means, take advantage of free bike trails! Mostly converted from defunct railroad tracks, many of the developed "rails to trails" bike paths have nice scenery and long enough trails to get a good workout.  A personal favorite: the 14-mile East Bay Bike Path -- from Providence, RI, to Bristol, RI, with amazing views of the Narragansett Bay, abundant plant life and the wonderful feeling of being by the Rhode Island coast.  There's also a terrific 2.7 bike path in Stowe, VT, with splendid mountain views.  Or how about the 14-mile Minuteman Bikeway that features nice scenery through Cambridge, Arlington, historic Lexington and Bedford?


Local Baseball Games -- Major League Baseball games have become quite expensive, but minor league and amateur baseball games, in many cases, still come in at under $10.00 a ticket (or even free!).  The minor league games are truly a blast, featuring contests, great concessions and comfortable, updated parks with ample parking space. We recommend checking out minor league teams like the Triple A Pawtucket Red Sox at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, R.I.; the Double A Portland Sea Dogs at Hadlock Field in Portland, Maine; and the Single A Lowell Spinners at LeLacheur Park in Lowell, Mass. The Cape Cod Baseball League games (amateur league), are a perfect summer staycation activity -- exhibiting the spirit of America's National Pastime while close to all the Cape Cod beaches that are also a great budget-minded staycation activity. Games are free, although we recommend contributing a nominal fee at the games to help this great non-profit cause.  And who knows, you might be seeing the next big baseball star. Former Cape Cod League baseball players include current and former big league baseball names like Jason Varitek, Mike Lowell, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jeff Bagwell, and Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.

Free Factory Tours  Although many factory tours have ceased because of legal concerns (liability), myriad tours still exist in New England.  How about a Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream Factory Tour in Waterbury, VT? Or the Cape Cod Potato Chip Factory Tour in Hyannis, MA? The tours are usually fun, and there's often a delicious free sample involved! Check with your local chamber of commerce for factory tours in your area.



Community Events
 OK, this one is obvious, but how often have you been to a community event?  If so, you know these events can result in a fun time. Concerts on the Common, church events, town days, parades, recreational department activities including town pools... you name it, any town with integrity (and an existing budget) will offer free or low-cost events. We recommend contacting your local chamber of commerce or checking out the community events section of your local newspaper to find out what's going on in your community. You'll be surprised how much is going on in your town or city.  If that's not the case, check out surrounding towns.


Flying Kites It's not nice to tell someone to go fly a kite, but during the tough economy you might want to take up the idea. Spend a few dollars on a kite, find an open field and let the wind yield its magic on your recent purchase. It's quite therapeutic!  A great location to fly a kite is beautiful 464-acre Colt State Park in Bristol, RI, where the coastal wind will bring your kite to new heights along the scenic Narragansett Bay.


Pitch A Tent in the Backyard We've already mentioned campgrounds as a viable staycation activity, but how about your own backyard? As long as you feel safe in your neighborhood and have enough room to pitch a tent, there's something special about being in the great outdoors under the stars. It might be easy to forget, but you have a sky -- and a time of the day called night -- in your own backyard. You'd be amazed how peaceful things can get in your own neighborhood after the commuting traffic and other sources of irritation that often impede peace and quiet during the day.
 

The Public Library Now more than ever, libraries have seen a surge in traffic. During this challenging economy, it makes so much sense to frequent a place where you can borrow books and movies for free.  The quiet nature of your local library is also most welcomed during these stressful times. People are indeed finding libraries to be a literary oasis that turns out to be a good deal.


Hiking Like the kite flying insult, it's not nice to tell someone to take a hike.  Taking a hike, though, just might be one of the nicer ways to spend a staycation. From your local walking paths to more challenging designated hills and mountains to hike, this activity is often free. If there's any cost, it's usually nominal.  Here in New England, you might want to check out Cliff Calderwood's excellent article on popular walks in New Hampshire's Lakes Region.


More Local Scenic Sights  The other day, I was walking through our town forest, and thought "Gee, this is just as scenic as any hike in New England." Then, driving back past our town common, I thought,"Gee, this town common is as nice as most of those so-called classic town commons town in Vermont and New Hampshire.  Then, driving past a few ponds and lakes, I thought, "Gee, this is really beautiful and you can even swim here at the beach!" The moral of the story is peace and tranquility can be expressed in local scenery, virtually at your doorstep.  Sure, far away places have their appeal, but you have to wonder if people from far away drove through your region if they might find it appealing. Don't laugh, we know people that think that our area is quaint, charming and historical -- although we're still not totally convinced of that assessment.  I guess the perspective depends on if you can drive by a lake without getting cut off in traffic or someone right on your tail. Nevertheless, it just goes to show that the grass might be greener on the other side, thus perhaps inspiring you to check out the local scenery while keeping the spending at a minimum.

Miniature Golf Sure, the talking whale or hitting a golf ball around a barber shop pole might seem a little hokey, but miniature golf is still a great deal. A few games can fill up the better part of a morning or afternoon, providing fun for children and bringing back special childhood memories for adults.  Here are some recommended local miniature golf courses around Boston.  Bowling is a pretty economical activity, too, for your staycation!

Ice Cream Stands  Many local ice cream stands have a rural feeling, some with cows and farm land. During the summer, we feel that a perfect, inexpensive staycation activity is frequenting the local ice cream stand, sitting at a picnic bench, and enjoying the local flavor of ice cream and pleasant surroundings. You'd be likely to eat ice cream on vacation; why not close to home? We have some favorite ice cream stands in New England that are sure to please!


Berry and Apple Picking Getting out to your local farm, taking in the fresh air, and picking berries is another pleasant staycation activity. The summer brings strawberries, blueberries, black raspberries and raspberries and the fall, apple picking, to name a few. In the southwestern suburbs of Boston, we particularly like The Big Apple Farm in Wrentham, MA. In addition to berry and apple picking, they have a nice farm stand and ice cream stand that features Richardson's ice cream -- a regional favorite!

You can check out local New England farm stands, near you, at:

Connecticut Grown

Maine Department of Agriculture

The Massachusetts Association of Roadside Stands

New Hampshire Directory of Farm Stands

Farm Fresh Rhode Island

Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont



Block Party! Wouldn't it be nice to reconnect with your neighbors? It seems like, as just mentioned, computers, video games, cell phones as well as cable on demand, more time at work and other anti-social societal trends have taken away from the closeness of many neighborhoods.  Maybe it's time to get back to fostering close neighborhoods, especially in these challenging times where people need to bond together.   Our neighborhood used to hold annual block parties with everyone contributing food, drink and, most importantly, friendship.  It was a fantastic feeling, getting to socialize with your neighbors. We hope to have future block parties here, but it's just a matter of someone taking the initiative.  Everyone really seemed to have a good time and the cost was extremely low -- just the price of what was bought at the market for your food contribution.  Be sure to contact your town or city hall to make sure block parties are permitted. If so, you will need a permit (especially if streets are going to be blocked off!) before holding such an event.



Turn Your Backyard Into A Vacation Paradise Whether it's an affordable above-ground pool or taking the time to construct your own brick patio (pretty easy to do; it took us a day), you can save a lot of money vacationing in your backyard.  It might sounds obvious, but it's hard to beat a cookout, lounging on a patio chair, and enjoying quality time with your family and friends!


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