family_picnicStaycation is a dirty word to people like us who believe that a family vacation ought to involve, well, family travel. But a staycation can be a family vacation, if you follow a few simple rules.

Have a plan.

If you don’t have a plan, chances are the day will slip by, filled with sleeping in, watching a little TV, running an errand and checking your email. In short, your average Saturday. If this staycation is going to be a family vacation, plan it like you would if you were spending a bundle for a 7-day trip to Italy. Sunday: the science museum. Monday: eating at that restaurant you’ve wanted to try. Tuesday: family bike ride and picnic.

Spend some money 

Look how much you saved on airfare, gasoline and hotel fees. Take some part of that savings and invest it in your staycation family vacation. Use it for admission to museums, movie tickets and popcorn (vs. renting a DVD and staying home) and dining out at least one meal a day. Depending on your budget, you might even choose to splurge on a night or two at a local hotel with a swimming pool for the kids and a spa for mom and dad.

 Sleep around

If you had gone on vacation, you would all be sleeping together in one hotel room, right? So turn your bedroom into a hotel room. Or camp out together in the backyard. Or build a fort big enough for the entire family to sleep in the family room. Kids love the adventure of it all.

Shut out the world

Put your e-mail on automatic vacation response and change your cell phone message to tell folks you’re away. Don’t answer the door when the in-laws, friends and neighbor kids come knocking. They couldn’t drop by if you were out of town, so let them know you’re unavailable during your staycation family vacation as well.

Explore new things

A vacation in another town or city would involve discovering new things. So spend your staycation family vacation discovering new things, too. If you live in the suburbs, head into the city. If you live in the city, explore a suburb. Check out the restaurant, museum or park you have never visited. Can’t pick a destination? Let the kids play “pin the map.” Circle a two-hour radius around your house, blindfold the kids and have them point to a spot on the map you’ll explore during a staycation day trip.

Try new foods

If you had taken that dream trip to Italy, you’d be eating Italian food, so choose your pretend destination and eat that food for the week. Or choose a different staycation destination each day and eat that food for all three meals.

Let the chores go undone

This might be the toughest part of making a staycation feel like a real family vacation, at least for moms. Unfortunately, there’s no maid service during a staycation. But perhaps there could be before and after. If you save enough by not traveling, see if the budget can afford a cleaning service the day before the vacation starts so you don’t spend the week thinking, “I really should clean _____.” A second visit after the staycation ends means you won’t spend the week thinking, “We’re making such a mess of the house.” Or do what Carissa Rogers does on her staycation and let the dishes pile up until it’s time for the family to play the “hotel staff” game and clean up. If the hotel staff doesn’t do laundry, don’t worry. Just accept that you’ll have many loads to do after the week is done, just as you would if you had spent the week basking on the beach.

Take plenty of photos

You would document a vacation in pictures and post them to your Facebook page, right? Well, your staycation is a vacation, too, so snap and post away.

Have you got a great idea for ways to esnure a staycation is a real family vacation? Share them in the comments section below and join us on Twitter at 9 pm ET for our #TMOM Staycation Twitter Party. RSVP here to be entered to win a TravelingMom backpack full of fun stuff to entertain kids.