Here’s the thing: It’s the end of August. Your days of staving off the kids’ wrath with promises that you’re taking a vacation “soon” are over. The jig is up. School starts (or has started) and if you’ve yet to make good on your promises of a fun-filled getaway, mutiny is imminent. There’s still a chance though. The answer my friends, lies in the infamous staycation.
I know what you’re thinking. “My kids aren’t going to be swayed by the promise of a trip – to nowhere.” Not so.
Staycations have received a bad rap but mostly because we have been doing them wrong – and the word itself has a terrible connotation. “Let’s just hang at home this weekend and do all kinds of fun things in between our regular chores,” isn’t going to cut it.
The steps to a successful staycation are few but mighty. I recently pulled one off and successfully lived to tell this tale. Want to stop the whining and re-position yourself as the parent who saved summer? Do as I did:
Leave home: I know it seems silly: Why pay for a hotel room when you could be in your own house less than an hour away? I’ll tell you why: It’s a mental shift. We checked into the new Hotel X Toronto and immediately felt as if we were a world away. No dirty socks in the corner of the room, stunning views of the lake and the CN Tower and a Nespresso machine to do my bidding! Room for all of us to lounge but none of the to-do list temptations of home. It screamed “This is not our house. We must be on vacation!” so we were. If the budget requires a less expensive stay, check hotel sites for deals, consider off-peak days for a few of the nights, or consider a house swap or AirBnb option. Important things to consider when choosing where you stay: Proximity to fun things, room for everyone to be comfortable and a pool. You need to flee your house, you just don’t have to hop a plane to do it. hotelxtoronto.com
Take a tour: You can live in a city your entire life and still never explore it like a tourist. Give in. You’ll be embarrassed by what you didn’t know. Whether you opt for a hop on hop off bus tour or sign up for something more niche (Drake tour, anyone?), pick something. We did two while in Toronto: On the ROM Walks tour (free!) we made our way to Queens Quay, sought out one of the groups gathered under purple umbrellas and took a detailed historical tour of the waterfront. The views made my Instagramming teens happy and I gained a new appreciation for the city’s immigrant history and green spaces. We then joined a culinary adventure company food tour and ate our way through Chinatown and Kensington Market. Tour creator Kevin Durkee ran our tour alongside his 16- year old daughter, Taylor, who was a contestant on Chopped Canada Junior. Restaurants and neighbourhoods that I’ve driven past my whole life suddenly felt more accessible. culinaryadventureco.com, rom.on.ca
Never do a dish: If you have to get up from dessert to wash the dishes, you aren’t on vacation. Include meals out in your budget and plan for a weekend where tasting the city is as big a part of the trip as seeing it. Not every meal has to be a swanky affair. Slip in some street-side hot dogs or source out a great brunch – such as the Sunday family brunch at Ricarda’s where you’ll eat enough to cross two meals off your list and keep the kids entertained as well. Bonus: Kids are always more likely to try something new when you’re away from home. Your broccoli au gratin is gross, but when it appears on a kids’ menu somewhere they’ll sop it up like its candy. ricardas.com
Mix and match your activities: The “one for them, one for you, one for everyone” method of sightseeing is a great way to keep everyone interested in touring. Suggest an escape room for your puzzle-loving kid or a baking class for your artsy one (one at Le Dolci teaches you how to make a unicorn cake!). Get the children involved in choosing some of your activities and they’ll have one less thing to complain about. Working in opportunities where you can all enjoy something together – but not be glued at the hip while you do it – is always a great idea too. Case in point: At the Spiders: Fear and Fascination exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum, the space is big enough that kids who want to read every word and kids who’d rather spin through it Tasmanian style, can both do their thing. ledolci.com, mysteriousminds.ca
Embrace the night: The best part of a sleepover in the city? Not fighting traffic to get home. Take advantage of it by extending your plans into the evenings. Go big with a Broadway style play or bigger with an after-dinner ice cream stroll (Warning: A Bangin’ Brownie Sweet Jesus cone will delight but may result in a sugar high you’ll need to deal with well into the next morning. Ask me how I know.) Take a sunset harbour sail or summon everyone for a late-night dip in the pool. Stay out late enough to watch the city come to life in a way you can’t when you have to beat rush hour chaos. You won’t regret it. sweetjesus4life.com
The writer’s visit to Toronto was supported in part by Tourism Toronto. They did not review or approve this article.