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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.

What do we do now?

Without the beach, hotel pool, or amusement rides and attractions to keep you occupied on your vacation, it can be hard to think of activities to fill the week. Consider some of these great at-home holiday plans:

Do what you'd do "if you had time." One afternoon while Hudson was sleeping, my husband took Cady for a hike and I worked on photo albums. These activities were enjoyable to each of us, and we countered the separation with a late-night dinner for two, after the kids were in bed.

Be a tourist in your town. Visit museums, aquariums, zoos, and parks in your area; you'll enjoy fewer crowds when you go on a weekday (something you usually can't do as a family when you're not vacationing).

Take a ride. On a beautiful day, we spread a map out on the table, highlighted backroads we'd never explored, and took the kids for a "mystery ride" -- a journey without a destination. We discovered a picturesque farm that offered horse-drawn wagon rides. The farm was just ten miles from our house, but we never would have found it if we hadn't gone exploring.

Picnic in your backyard. If the weather's nice, lay out a large blanket on the grass and feast on cheese, premade pasta salad, and cookies. Older kids can play safely in the yard, and your little one can relax underneath a baby gym. On rainy days, move the picnic to your family room floor.

Go to the movies. Find a movie theater that has mommy matinees -- grown-up films that welcome babies in the audience at select times -- such as the Movies for Moms program at [TOUT_LINK {http://www.crowntheatres.com/} {Crown Theatres}].
Granted, your little third wheel will be along, but at least, with the darkened lights and a bucket of popcorn to share, you and your spouse can pretend that you're on a date.

Schedule massages for you and your spouse, and take turns caring for the baby. You can even hire a masseuse to come to your home and set up a massage table in a quiet spot in the house. At the [TOUT_LINK {http://www.amtamassage.org/} {American Massage Therapy Association's website}], you can look up therapists in your area.

Set up a play zone. To keep the baby entertained and to contain clutter, put up a tent indoors and create a fun zone filled with board books and toys. No tent? Drape a blanket or sheet over a table to create a fort; your baby will love pulling the sheet back to play peekaboo.

Hire a maid to clean up at week's end. (Molly Maid  -- at 800-665-5962 -- has franchises in 34 states.)

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