free summer fun pittsburgh

Vacation, staycation… here’s how Pittsburgh families can have free summer fun with a ‘no-cation’

Photo above by Kate Darmody via Unsplash.

YAYcation. We’re in the heat of summer, and for many that means vacations.

Maybe you’ve been working hard all year, saving up money, booking rooms, making to-do lists and figuring out the best way to get to your destination. Planning a vacation is work. And sometimes vacations themselves are work if you’re tending to others the whole time. You end up needing a vacation from your vacation.

Still, the excitement remains. On the last day of work before your getaway starts, you’re like a kid on the last day of school before summer break begins. But here’s the thing: not everyone can afford a vacation — especially to places outside of their own state.

Thankfully, there’s two other kinds of vacations to consider.

The STAYcation.

Odds are, you already know what a staycation is. But for those who might not know, a staycation is when you go somewhere close to your home. Maybe you live just outside the city and you decide to stay at a hotel Downtown or in the Strip District for a day or two. Or you spend a few nights at a cabin an hour away from your house.

Staycations are more affordable, depending on what you’ll be doing or where you’ll be staying. You don’t travel far, so you have very few travel expenses. But whether it’s a day trip or a weekend trip, staycations can be just as adventurous, fun and exciting as any vacation. They can be educational, too, because sometimes you’ll discover more about the area around you, and your own state, than you never knew before.

With that in mind, let’s stretch our legs for a moment with a story from the past…

As a kid, I only went on two real vacations and they were without my mom. One time I stayed with my Aunt in Virginia for the entire summer and another time I spent a month in Toronto, Canada. (As a parent, I understand now that these were vacations for my mom. LOL.) But in general, my family couldn’t afford vacation-vacations.

When I returned to school after summer break, to no fail my English class was always asked to write a one-page paper about our summer breaks. Nearly everyone would write about their vacations. Me? Those visits to Virginia and Canada aside, I always had to make up something to feel like I belonged to the “vacation” class.

One time, the teacher called me up and with great concern, and asked me if my mom and I were alright. I had written a paper about how I was so excited to go to Disney World, and that we were driving down, but just a few hours into the drive my mom and I were in a terrible car accident. The car was totaled. We were lucky and had escaped without injury, but our vacation was ruined and the money for the trip would have to be used for a new car.

After this, I dialed back my made-up vacation stories. But this experience led me to create the next kind of vacation.

The NO-cation.

A no-cation is literally staying home but creating an atmosphere of a vacation. Having fun and relaxing — creating your own adventures with your kids right there in the home where you live. This will cost next to nothing and it can be surprisingly great.

So what kind of no-cation could you have?

Depending on the size of your living space, maybe you want to have a beach theme.

For your Beach No-cation, lay out beach blankets on the living room floor. Put a screensaver on your TV of beach photos or images of palm trees, and play recordings of the sound of rolling waves (they’re easy to find for free on Youtube). Spritz yourselves with spray bottles of water. Make some kid-friendly drinks with little umbrellas in them. Cut up some tropical fruits and make jerk chicken kabobs or other recipes from beachy places you can imagine visiting.

Maybe you want a cabin theme. If you have a tent, pitch it inside or in your backyard. Grab the sleeping bags and make up some smores in the microwave. Grab some flashlights, a spooky book, and tell some scary tales. If inside, put on a screensaver of crackling fire on your TV. Make hotdogs. And put on some flannel pajamas.

Have your kids help with the planning and gathering of all the foods and other supplies you’ll need, and have them help decorate and make the food and drinks, too.

No-cations may seem obvious, but we tend to overlook the obvious because our minds are on bigger things — perfect things. But it’s the imperfect things that are the most fun, and they’re what makes life special.

Vacations aren’t about destinations. They’re about the people we spend time with and the spirit we bring to the things we do.

Want more free summer fun ideas? Check out our guides to free movies in the parks and free museum admission.