With gas prices hovering around $4 per gallon, a phrase coined a few summers ago is making a comeback: staycation.
Basically, that's a nice way to say that many of us won't be able to afford an elaborate vacation this summer, and we need to find some way to create an adventure close to home that still satisfies our need for a break from the norm.
Gas prices don't just affect us when we fill up at the pump. They drive up the cost of doing business for just about every industry, including airlines, hotels and all things vacation-related.
So what does that leave us to do within an hour or two of home? So many options abound we hardly know where to begin.
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Camping is a good alternative. Don't have an RV? You can rent one in town, pack up the whole family and take a short trip to one of the many nice campgrounds nearby. The cost for a camp space is low, but they do book up early, so you need to plan ahead. Or go completely old school and dig out the tent. Get your fishing licenses, and head for the water. Cooking over the campfire can be fun and inexpensive. You will create memories the family won't soon forget.
Or maybe you want to spend time on the water but don't have a boat. Here in the Mid-Columbia, you can rent anything from jet skis to boats to houseboats.
Rent a floating house complete with a stereo and slide for your family or friends, and cruise the Columbia River for a few days.
Wine tasting seems like an obvious option. But many of us don't bother to visit our local wineries unless we're entertaining out-of-town guests. Why not treat ourselves like guests for a weekend? Rent a limo or van, and let someone else do the driving. They will factor in the cost of fuel as part of the rental fee. All you have to do is get in and enjoy the ride.
It's easy to feel like you've gotten away by adding an overnight stay, even if it is in a neighboring town. Drive over to Walla Walla, take in some of the wineries and fine dining options, and spend the night. You will feel like you're farther than 50 miles from home, trust us.
Or go the other direction and head to Prosser, hit the wine village and stay in town. Or if you have an RV, take it with you and spend the night at the campground next door.
Like to get out and exercise? Then you likely know about some good trails and trips in the area. But for those of us who don't do anything more hardcore than the short side of Badger Mountain, there are other options. Spend a weekend tackling the entire Sacagawea Heritage Trail. Break it into two days -- or two weekends -- if you're on foot. Or you can make a one-day ride if you're on a bike. You'll get a whole new perspective from the river's edge than you do crossing the Columbia via bridge.
Explore some of the smaller towns in the region. They all have got their own charm. Check out Benton City, Dayton or Waitsburg. They are an easy drive from the Tri-Ctiies. You will find big surprises if you haven't been there in a while when it comes to dining and tourism options.
Maybe you're ready to throw caution to the wind and gamble some of the gas money. We've got big-time casinos in Pendleton and Toppenish and both are undergoing expansions that will make them seem more like Vegas and less like the shrub steppe of Eastern Washington and Oregon.
How about making eating local an adventure? Hit a farmers market, a local gourmet shop and butcher, and whip together a meal at home that will make you feel like a five-star chef. Fresh food flat out tastes better, and it's so much easier to get our hands on locally grown products these days.
Figure out what you would like to do if you could go on an exotic vacation. Then try to recreate that adventure at home. Sure, you will have to get creative if your idea of a vacation is on a sandy beach in Hawaii, but we do have beaches. You will need some bug spray and a boat to get to most of them. But that's doable. If you do camp or hit one of our beaches, be prepared to follow the "pack it in, pack it out" adage. Nothing spoils an afternoon of adventure more than coming across other people's garbage in an otherwise idyllic setting.
How about lounging by a pool for a day of relaxation? Find a friend who has a pool and offer to furnish food and beverage for all in exchange for a day of unlimited use. Pick a theme and make it fun for everyone. You will get to spend time with family and friends in the process, which is what a vacation is all about.
Staycations only are limited to your imagination. A visit to a discount store can add a lot of life to an activity or themed event for just a few bucks. Recruit your friends and family in the planning and create an adventure full of special memories right here at home.