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What’s your vacation destination situation? If funds are low or time is short, you may be looking for creative solutions to a family friendly (or solo) escape. In that case, this word is for you: microtravel. Microtravel means experiencing your own town or state as a visitor or explorer would, putting aside your usual routine, and embracing discovery. (Yes, it’s pretty much the same concept as “staycation,” but without the hint of inertia.) Travel comes with health and wellness benefits, and our happiness comes from our experiences, not our stuff. Microtravel is a sure way to add to those experiences.
In a recent survey by Student Health 101, 63 percent of respondents said they’d had at least one microtravel experience or staycation. “You need staycation experiences to remind yourself it’s not all about work and school. There’s a larger purpose to it all,” says Lauren E., a second-year graduate student at St. Joseph’s College, New York.
6 motivations for microtravel
1. You won’t spend much money
“It saves tons of money! In my case, we usually go into the mountains from the plains so it feels totally different than home.” —Dallis B., second-year online student, Fort Hays State University, Kansas
2. You’ll minimize travel stress
There’s little risk of flight delays or missed connections. And if the prospect of travel makes you anxious, this is a great way to start. “You don’t have to travel far to discover exciting things you’ve never done before.” —Sarah S., online student, University of Central Arkansas
3. You can easily go solo or social
The logistics, time, and costs of microtravel are not too onerous, making it easy to team up with partners, friends, and family—if you want to.
4. Your discoveries will enrich your regular life
Those new eateries, contacts, and activities—they’re keepers.
5. You’ll get to be spontaneous and flexible
Ever felt obligated to visit the ancient relics, or devastated that the volcano you came for was hidden in the clouds? When you’re microtraveling, the stakes are lower.
6. You can cherish your roots and your locality
Microtravel is a way to honor your family traditions (or make new ones) and explore your local heritage.
The freedom, health, & happiness of travel
Students associate travel with freedom—for example, a break in academic, family, and work expectations, a boost to emotional health and relaxation, and an opportunity to experience nature—according to a small study by researchers at California Polytechnic State University (2010).
Physically active leisure helps people maintain physical and mental health, especially during times of stress, according to a study of 20,000 people in the Canadian Journal of Public Health (2001).
Love your life
Even the anticipation of vacation travel makes us feel good about our lives and health, according to a 2002 study in the Journal of Vacation Marketing.
Go global (with moderate expectations)
Students expect travel to make them more “global”—i.e., expand their knowledge, perspective, and social and cultural connections—according to the same California Polytechnic State University study (2010).
Knowing people from other cultures makes us more creative in tasks that draw on multicultural influences and more receptive to new ideas from outside our own experience, suggests a study from Harvard Business School (2011).
Your microguide to microtravel
Consider a quirky theme or idea
A theme or project can help shape your microtravel explorations. Be open to creative and new experiences, even if you’re unsure. “You have to find things that help make it special. Things you normally wouldn’t do,” says Jennifer S., a third-year graduate student at Utah State University.
Students: Ideas that made our microtravels
“During my undergrad in Atlanta, I loved exploring the city to find the urban art murals by street artists. It’s always fun to take a picture in front of it and admire their talent. It’s completely free and gets you out and about. You can do it walking or in a car.”
—Nilza S., second-year graduate student, Clemson University, South Carolina
“My girlfriend and I just decided to take off to the mountains and see how many small little nowhere towns we could visit. It was fun, scary at times, but overall very memorable.”
—Tanner S., third-year student, Metropolitan State University of Denver, Colorado
“Sometimes it’s fun to dress/act the part—employ your imagination to maximize the fun times. I used to live in the Florida Keys, and one of the best staycations was dressing like a gaudy tourist and visiting all the attractions.”
—Liz S., second-year graduate student, University of Maryland
“My boyfriend and I were both broke. We bought disposable cameras and drove around town taking pictures in front of different things or places that started with each letter of the alphabet, like Rockin’ Robin’s Cafe and Ice Cream Parlor for the letter R. It was so much fun and basically free! We got to experience the little town where we grew up in a whole new way.”
—Brittney B., second-year student, University of Central Arkansas
“Think of something that your state isn’t really known for, then try to find a way to do that.”
—Casey S., first-year student, New Jersey Institute of Technology
Remember to do all the things
Microtravel means finally having time for that stuff you can’t usually do. “It helps to make a list of places you want to see and things you want to try and then check them off the list! There are always new things you can find,” says Taylor G., a fourth-year graduate student at University of Kansas School of Nursing.
Students: What we did with that time when we got it
“My most memorable staycation happened about a month ago. I took off four weeks from work, using accumulated annual leave, to spend time with my son, Jacob. During those weeks, I didn’t get much sleep, but it was definitely worth it. Being able to spend time with my son is a memory I will never forget. While it may not be the most ‘desired’ staycation experience for some, I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.”
—Scott V., third-year graduate student, The University of Memphis, Tennessee
“Going for bicycle rides and hitting up the wineries and breweries like a tourist is always good fun, staying the night at a hotel out at the coast. There’s a reason people from all over the world come here.”
—Jason K., first-year graduate student, Sonoma State University, California
“[I would do] different types of fitness classes that I otherwise cannot fit into my day, and visit different art museums/studios that I may not be able to in my normal weekend routine.”
—Kristen S., second-year graduate student, Hofstra University, New York
Seriously consider leaving home
When you microtravel, it’s vital to establish boundaries to protect against the distractions of regular life. That’s especially important if you’ll be based at home.
Students: When to lose (or keep) the homing instinct
“I feel like individuals still fall into their routines and won’t disconnect like they would on a vacation. Instead they may feel the need to clean up around the house or declutter.” —Kristen S., second-year graduate student, Hofstra University, New York
“Another [drawback] is having work readily available, since you are at home or close to it.” —Name withheld, second-year online student, Fort Hays State University, Kansas
“Stay in a hotel or hostel so that you don’t have to go home, and then you can spend more time relaxing, and perhaps use the hotel spa to relieve the stress of your day-to-day life.” —Kelsey R., first-year student, University of North Dakota
“We stayed in a hotel and basically just relaxed there for two days. It was a great escape from our busy and stressful lives where we didn’t have to worry about anything. We just watched TV, swam, and went for some walks.” —Roxanne R., first-year certificate student, SAIT Polytechnic, Alberta
Unless being at home is the point
“[My staycation was] going home and spending a few days on the farm with family. I took in the views, the smell of a freshly mowed field, and checked in on the animals. [It meant] connecting back to my roots.” —Name withheld, online student, University of Windsor
“Staying home was much more relaxing than spending all the money and time to travel around!” —Jenna S., second-year graduate student, WWAMI Regional Medical Education Program, Washington
Got public transportation? Use it
Even if public transportation doesn’t feature much in your regular life, take another look at the routes and schedules (if you have access to them). Buses and trains can deliver you affordably to many adventures.
Students: How we got around
“Start small and use the public transportation. It’s a great learning experience and puts you in closer proximity to the locals.” —Courtney F., fourth-year student, University of Kansas
“[I did a] tour of Portland using all modes of transportation available—train, car, walking, hiking, streetcar, and elevated tram.” —Dave S., fourth-year graduate student, Oregon Institute of Technology
“At home in Phoenix, Arizona, my friends and I would drive to the downtown area and then buy a day pass for the light rail. We would take turns picking stops and then would explore the surrounding area. It was sometimes the closest we could get to a real vacation.” —Nicole H., first-year graduate student, Rochester Institute of Technology, New York
“Uber is also a great way to get around; going from bar to bar or something like that. I want to do this, get my friends, get a room somewhere. For me, travel is typically such a pain. The airport security look suspiciously at my braille laptop, and they try to take my cane, and ask if I need my service dog with me. Apparently, somewhere I signed on to educate the ignorant.” —Caitlin W., fifth-year student, Northern Illinois University
Plan your plan
Figure out your policy on planning. The risk of going planless is that the demands of routine life may encroach on your precious exploration time. On the other hand, spontaneity is a rare pleasure. “Planning or spontaneity can set the tone for the vacation and can present its own set of pros and cons,” says Cristophet C., a first-year graduate student at the University of California, San Diego.
Students: The pros and cons of planning
The plan plan
“Staycations can become fun as long as they are thought out decently; otherwise you just view your time off as wasted.” —Aron A*., second-year graduate student, University of North Dakota (*Name changed)
The no-plan plan
“You just have to let yourself go wherever you feel your feet are taking you. If you have no idea where you are, that’s even better. It makes the experience more enjoyable and chances are, when you are trying to find your way out, you will find something amazing that you would never have even seen.” —Elizabeth S., first-year student, University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire
The part-plan plan
“It helps me to make a schedule for the first part of my staycation, to help get into the ‘vacation mood,’ and then leave the latter part a little looser, to decide as I’m going along.” —Reba S., second-year graduate student, University of Wisconsin–Madison
“Having a plan helps, but always be ready for the unexpected. Spontaneity can sometimes be the best part of your staycation! And to make it work you just kind of have to pack your bags and leave. I’ve rarely planned a staycation down to the last detail; it’s more fun to be spontaneous with it!” —Name withheld, fourth-year student, East Tennessee State University
Switch off when you can
To protect your downtime and your headspace, try a remote campsite or B&B beyond the reach of phone signals or wifi. You probably won’t get irretrievably lost in the woods—and a printed map (remember them?) is great for getting found again.
Students: How to disconnect
“It was a three-day backpacking trip, and I went with a group of six. We packed all our food and belongings into four large Tupperware bins and canoed out for about three hours to a desolate island in the middle of the Everglades. No phone service, no water, no electricity. It was great!” —Andrea W., graduate student, University of Miami
“[Microtravel is] good for a short trip if you can’t find time to go away for longer trips. Try not to bring your cell phone along or you can still be contacted for work!” —Janell L., first-year online student, University of Michigan–Flint
“Rather than taking out your phone to take photographs and video, use a disposable, digital, instant, single lens, or any other type of camera. Another option is to not take photos or video at all, to allow oneself to immerse fully in the present.” —Amy N., fourth-year student, Western Washington University
“If you are so in love with a town, it can change, and if you used to hate it, it can become the most beautiful city you have ever seen and experienced.”
—Callixte N., first-year graduate student, University of North Dakota
“I was so amazed by the old and the new that I have taken for granted for so long.”
—Emily L., third-year undergraduate, University of New England, Maine
“The key is to not think that this is what you’re doing because you can’t afford to do otherwise. You should be entirely into this and try to get the most out of it.”
—Elham M., graduate student, Clemson University, South Carolina
Solo, pair, or group?
“I decided to get a hotel room and pretend I knew nothing about the city. I ventured off to places I never have had time to [go to] and did a lot of walking. It was nice to get out of my routine for a bit and just experience my city for a second first time.” —Marrissa W., first-year student, University of the Pacific, California
“I drove outside of town for twenty minutes and explored the wild [part of] Wyoming [alone]. I saw herds of antelopes.” —Haibi W., fourth-year graduate student, University of Wyoming
With a friend
“My friend and I decided we wanted to bike all around Boulder for the weekend and experience different events such as the weekly Saturday farmers’ market and other attractions along the bike paths.” —Trevor D., doctoral student, University of Colorado Boulder
“I went with my roommate to explore an open-air market that we had never visited before. We interacted with the people and sat down for an unexpected, cheap, and great-tasting meal.” —Otis H., third-year graduate student, American University School of International Service, Washington, DC
In a group
“A couple of friends and I decided to take a day off from our full-time jobs and go to Newport, Rhode Island for the day. It was relaxing and took our minds off of all the daily stress we face.” —Lauren E., second-year graduate student, St. Joseph’s College, New York
“I visited Nashville in December for the first time with an all-women group from my church. We toured three of the [historically] black colleges. We enjoyed the beautiful Christmas decorations and lights. Enjoying a nice restaurant and shopping was a treat.” —Name withheld, fourth-year student, The University of Memphis, Tennessee
“I find it’s better to go in smaller groups than in larger groups. It makes things more intimate, and people tend to not split off into smaller groups.” —Arnaldo M., fourth-year student, Florida International University
“While I was living abroad, my friends and I [had a staycation]. We visited all the places we meant to go but hadn’t because it’s easy to not [explore your own city] when you live somewhere.” —Melissa G., first-year graduate student, University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences
What we brought back with us
“I went to a different state where food and hospitality was very different from mine. It was new and refreshing, and I took stuff home and integrated it into my daily life.” —Name withheld, second-year student, University of Maryland, College Park
“I made it a goal to eat at a brand-new place every day of the week. The experience really opened my eyes to how much more my hometown has to offer.” —Eddie F., third-year student, University of Massachusetts Lowell
“It opened more doors for me as far as networking and social events. I got the chance to explore the best restaurants and social clubs.” —Rahul S., fourth-year student, Northern Illinois University
Traditions and surprises
“Many of us take for granted family time, as well as our local communities. Some have an annual trip to the beach or an amusement park. While those trips can be fun and exciting, it’s also important to experience your local community and the sights it has to offer. Many times you can also experience these sights with close friends and family.” —Scott V., third-year graduate student, The University of Memphis, Tennessee
“It’s so easy to become smitten with other glamorous places that you forget that excitement, charm, and culture could be hiding right in your hometown.” —Name withheld, second-year student, University of Illinois Springfield
“We went to the visitors’ center of our hometown and actually found a bust of my great-grandfather and a story about his contribution to the city’s development. It was very moving and inspiring.” —Mary M., second-year student, Hofstra University, New York
“My friends and I went geocaching here in my small college town. We ended up going to a cute little log cabin and actually discovered that there was a movie about the founding of our town. While we were there, a person who was actually born in the log cabin, a historical site, pulled up and took a picture with us.” —Derick S., second-year student, Texas Lutheran University
“I took time to explore a local museum which I hadn’t even heard of in the past three years I’ve lived here. I went for a special holiday Lego exhibit, but stayed for an exhibit on what life was like in the early 1900s in Palo Alto. I got to see antique kitchen appliances, a printing press, one of the earliest cars, and an old Indian motorcycle. It was so cool!” —Anna C., fourth-year graduate student, Stanford University, California
“This was inside a sculpture in Madison Square Park. It’s easy for a native New Yorker like me to hide behind 8 million people and stay comfortable with where I am without ever leaving my neighborhood. But then I remember that I can always be a tourist in my own backyard, if I let myself.” —Persephone Tan, first-year graduate student, University of Pennsylvania
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Chua, R. Y. J. (2011). Innovating at the world’s crossroads: How multicultural networks promote creativity. Harvard Business School Working Paper 11-075. Retrieved from https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/6645.html
Gilbert, D., & Abdullah, J. (2002). A study of the impact of the expectation of a holiday on an individual’s sense of wellbeing. Journal of Vacation Marketing, 8(4), 352–361.
Iwasaki, Y., Zuzanek, J., Mannell, R.C. (2001).The effects of physically active leisure on stress-health relationships. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 92(3), 214–218.
Smith, C. E. (2009). Students’ beliefs about the benefits of travel and leisure: A qualitative analysis. [Unpublished] Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1005&context=rptasp
Student Health 101 survey, February 2016.