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The Stay-at-Home Vacation

This year when vacation time rolled around, I told my husband I just wanted to stay home. I didn't want to schlep my baby Hudson's diapers, wipes, bottles, and formula across the country, or even across the state. I couldn't bear the thought of having to frantically calm his crying while suffering the withering looks of other passengers on the plane. Instead, we could let our 5-year-old daughter, Cady, stomp and sing all over the house without worrying that the noise would bother the neighbors, obviously a concern at hotels. And in the morning, we wouldn't have to race against the clock to pack up by checkout time. By vacationing at home, we'd save money -- and sanity. And we did! Here's how:

Planning ahead
The biggest hurdle for me was thinking of my house as a retreat. So before our time off started, I got our mail held at the post office, changed our outgoing answering-machine message (stating the dates we were on vacation), programmed my home-office computer to send automatic "I'm away" e-mail responses, put bills and laundry in my office, and locked the door. Here are some other ways to prep for your at-home vacation:

Block off the dates on your calendar, and don't schedule doctor's visits, home improvements, or other routine commitments then.

Don't tell people you'll be home. When friends asked where we were going, I told them my husband was planning a surprise. If people know you're home, I've found that the calls and obligations don't cease.

Buy film and get the cameras ready. Just because you're staying at home doesn't mean you shouldn't preserve your vacation memories.

Decorate. I bought fresh flowers for all of the rooms and placed candles in our bedroom and bathroom. You can even string lights around your kitchen (it adds a festive touch, and your baby will love to be in there with the main lights off and the string ones blinking).

Stock up on frozen entrées and other convenience foods. You don't want to have to cook or clean during your vacation, so buy food accordingly. Have muffins or other easy foods for breakfast, and go out to eat more -- your nutrition can slide for a week. And use paper plates the entire time.

Splurge on fancy treats. Pick up a box of expensive chocolates you wouldn't buy normally. Since you're not footing the bill for a hotel room or transportation, you can afford small splurges here and there (other great ideas: champagne, fresh berries, gourmet cheese, gelato).

Book a babysitter for the nights, afternoons, or mornings when you and your partner want some time alone. You don't want to have to scramble to find someone once your vacation starts.

Deborah Geigis Berry is a freelance writer and the author of FamilyFun Vacation Guide: New England. She lives in Windsor, Connecticut.