Spring break isn’t canceled: How to staycation in your own city during the pandemic
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For many students, spring break represents the perfect school holiday. While Thanksgiving and Christmas are fun, they often involve a lot of logistics and planning around family obligations. Meanwhile, spring break offers a full week off from academic responsibilities, coupled with warming weather in many locales.
But this will be the second spring break season that has been overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic. After a full year in lockdown, what are some safe and responsible ways to reset?
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Book a night (or a week) in a historic mansion or local boutique hotel
Tired of staying home? Nothing resets your mood quite like an escape from the familiar, especially if your travel itch is driving you wild. Assuming your city isn’t completely locked down, look down the road to find your local hotel gems. You might even find that your staycation can boost you to the next tier of elite status.
For example, I’ve always been curious about the Driskill Hotel in Austin. I prefer contemporary decor and calm vibes in my typical hotel choices, but this 1886 gem has over a century of Texas history (and even a few ghosts). I would definitely book a night here if I wanted to experience a different side of my hometown. As a bonus, the Driskill is a Hyatt property, so I can earn or spend World of Hyatt points here.
If you also skew modern in your hotel preferences, you can go the other direction and seek out the newest and greatest properties in your area — I booked a hip Kimpton hotel for a Monday night last summer. Many hotels may also be offering special discounts, especially if they opened during or just before the pandemic began.
This is a particularly great opportunity to support some of your local boutique properties as well, since they don’t have the added benefit of marketing exposure through large chains. While BoutiqueHotel.me primarily markets its international destinations, the website lists an impressive number of smaller properties for a number of major U.S. cities as well. As a bonus, the site also highlights hotels that have affiliations with larger chains to help you make your decision.
If your city doesn’t offer any options that catch your eye, cast a wider net. A growing number of getaway cabins, recreational vehicles, camper vans and treehouses are popping up all over vacation rental websites such as Airbnb and VRBO. Perhaps getting out of the city is exactly what will help you see your hometown in an all-new light. The fun new ones can be a little bit harder to find, but ask your friends and other local experts if they’ve heard of anything good.
For instance, some exciting options near my hometown of Austin are:
Finding the perfect alternative lodging may take a little bit more legwork than usual, but you’ll thank yourself afterward.
Look up tourist guides to find new activities in your area
We get it. You know your city better than anyone else. You’ve lived here forever. You’re the tour guide when friends and family come to visit. You’ve seen every last museum, gallery and historic destination in your city and done more than your fair share of Segway and duck tours, tallest-building lookouts and visited every bridge, show and beach in town.
But have you? New attractions may have popped up since you last ushered your friends around town. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to window-shop downtown, or try out that new restaurant with the pretty patio that opened during the pandemic.
Regardless of what’s on your to-do list, your local newspaper, blogs and guidebooks are a great starting point to help you see what you’ve missed in your city. A growing number of influencers or social media brands also advertise local events and happenings. For example, my favorite sources in Austin are:
Try a restaurant outside of your normal comfort zone
You don’t have to go to Ethiopia to sample the local cuisine or travel to the Czech Republic for a good kolache. Larger cities in particular tend to be a wealth of unique, delicious cultural offerings — and many of these smaller restaurants would be eternally grateful for your patronage during this difficult time. New Yorkers are particularly poised to enjoy the best foods from around the world without even having to change out of their sweatpants.
But what if you live in a smaller town? You might be surprised by what you find in your area. One of my favorite spots for kolaches is located along Interstate 35, halfway between Dallas and Austin. A few years ago while munching on one of these buttery pastries, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that central Texas boasts the largest population of Czechs in the United States.
If you really can’t find any cultural foods in your area, get creative — try out that raw vegan place in town, or pick out a fancy recipe from a cookbook or website you’ve always admired and make it in your getaway Airbnb.
Visit a local attraction you’ve always overlooked
When was the last time you walked through Times Square, jogged across the Golden Gate Bridge or took a photo by the Chicago bean? If you’re a local I’d wager it’s been a hot minute.
Yes, these may be some of the most touristy activities you can experience in your home city. But many tourist traps look drastically different during the pandemic, when the number of visitors are far diminished from the usual. In addition to the opportunity to capture unique photographs and savor the experience in solitude, you’ll also avoid risky exposure by staying outdoors.
Related: How to feel less like a tourist
Try visiting Times Square just after sunrise, or running the Golden Gate Bridge the next time Karl the Fog dissipates. After all, when else are you going to have an excuse as perfect as a pandemic for playing tourist in your own city?
Featured photo by franckreporter / Getty Images
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