It’s good to be back to a regular routine starting today, though we really did have a great family vacation and staycation. We went to the beach for a few days, and hit up the nearby water park, but other than that, we stayed home.

Staycation is the latest buzzword – it basically means what it sounds like, a vacation you take at home. In order to deal with increasing gas prices, staycations have become a great alternative for those families who would otherwise not take time away from real life at all. And since gas is nearing $14 where we live, a staycation was a must this summer.

The problem with staycations, however, is that it’s tough to leave your real life. While it’s nice not to have to pack, deal with traffic, or juggle kids in the airport, it’s a challenge to pretend like you’re away, when really, you’re not. You can see the dishes in the sink, the incoming bills, and the remnants of usual day-to-day life, so it does take some effort to get into vacation mode.

It’s worth it, though. When we priced transportation, hotels, and food even just a few hours away, we figure we saved almost $1,000 staying in our own place and vacationing in town.

I want to share a few tips I learned this past week about how to have a successful staycation, especially with small children.

Staycationing with preschoolers: Yes, it can be fun

Write a list of things you want to do, and decide on a general schedule of when to do them. It’s easy to let time get sucked away when you’re on familiar territory. Cleaning out the closet can still happen when your vacation is over – don’t let that take priority over truly relaxing with your family (unless, of course, that’s really something you want to do – I can completely understand that!).

Make sure that list has at least one thing everyone would enjoy doing. If you’re like us, the things the adults want to do (read at Starbucks, sleep in) are not the same things the preschoolers want to do (play at the park, watch Ratatouille eleven times). But it’s everyone’s vacation, so it’s best if everyone gets to do at least one thing they’d enjoy.

You and your spouse take sleeping in shifts. Sure, in an ideal world, you both could sleep in until 10 a.m. and read the paper in your bathrobes while munching on breakfast in bed. In the real world, your baby is ready to go at 7 a.m., and the three-year-old will pour herself apple juice over chocolate chips for breakfast unsupervised. My husband and I flip-flopped the morning shifts, so we both got to sleep in at least a few days.

Have plenty of snacks and easy meals on hand. I took the week off of menu planning, but if we weren’t careful, it would be too easy to eat out way more than was necessary. Having bread and sandwich makings in the fridge was so helpful, so that we could easily pack lunches when we left, and have an easy lunch at home when we stayed. Plenty of fruit, crackers, carrot sticks, raisins, and peanut butter made the perfect healthy snacks, for the 30-year-olds and the 3-year-olds.

Stay flexible. This is one of the beauties of a staycation. If you wake up and decide you’d rather rent a movie and do a craft together in your pajamas, you can! The local museum will still be there tomorrow, or next month, really.

You’re on vacation, but still keep somewhat up to speed on dishes and laundry. There’s no need to scrub the house top to bottom, but still wash your clothes and clean the dishes as you go. It’s a bummer to take a break from the fun in order to catch up. If everyone pitches in a little each day, these things shouldn’t be too cumbersome.

• Be brave. Even though you’re in the city where you live, do something out of the ordinary. It’s easy with small children to rule out a lot of options, chalking it up to nap or bedtimes. On a staycation, it’s okay for your kids to stay up late for the sake of something special every now and then. Do that thing in your town you’ve always heard was fun. If your kids are a basket case by the end, make the next day a Recovery Day.

And speaking of which, schedule in some Recovery Days. Don’t plan too much, and for those all-day events, spread them out for the sake of the little ones. If they’re sunburned, exhausted, and whiny, the odds are, you’re not going to have as much fun. Take a day to chill, head to the library, play in the sprinkler in the backyard, and make a fun dessert.

We are so glad we took a break from our usual life to spend some unique time together. Do you have a vacation planned for the last half of the summer? What are you doing to prepare? If not, have you considered a staycation? What are some of your tips for having fun with preschoolers? I encourage you to take a few days off together as a family, even if you can’t afford to go somewhere.

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