With the snow now mostly melted from this cold and ugly winter, the same question is on everyone's mind: Am I on vacation yet, and if not, when? As of right now, it looks like most of spring is out and the summer is a hopeful maybe - but vacations require advanced planning, especially in times like these. Planning a true vacation requires too much guesswork to be practical right now. Cruise ships? Who knows. Airplanes? Who knows. International borders? Who knows!
A staycation, on the other hand, can scratch the travel/vacay itch with far less logistical planning and cost. GOBankingRates chose six options that offer something for everyone. There are two in the Midwest and one each in the Northeast, South, Southwest and West. Together, these six American gems are within manageable driving distance for tens of millions of people. Each one is cheaper overall than its closest standard vacation hotspot, including a homegrown alternative to the Caribbean and beauty on a budget out West that doesn't come with coastal California prices. Although some attractions may be closed or limited, see which locations are worth a visit.
Last updated: March 2, 2021
The Poconos, Pennsylvania
The mountainous region of eastern Pennsylvania known as the Poconos gets first billing on proximity alone. Millions of people are within easy driving distance, including short jaunts for the populations of New York City and Philadelphia, with D.C., Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Boston just a few hours away by car. The something-for-everyone destination offers everything from nightlife and high-end dining to shopping and historical attractions-but the Poconos are most famous as a year-round natural paradise. There's skiing in the winter, water sports in the summer, and camping, hiking and every other outdoor activity imaginable in the seasons between. There are packages, resorts and deals for every budget and family dynamic imaginable.
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The Florida Keys
If you're itching for the white sand and crystal clear water that can only be found in a tropical paradise, you don't have to break the bank in the Caribbean or even get on a plane. Florida commandeered a few of the region's sweetest islands. They're the Florida Keys, and thanks to an extraordinary feat of engineering called the Overseas Highway, you can drive to them anytime you like. Even though you'll be adjacent to the Bahamas and doggy-paddling distance from Cuba, you'll enter paradise without ever leaving the States. They're accessible for all of Florida and much of the Southeast and Deep South - even far-off Atlanta is only half a day's drive all the way out to Key West. Key Largo is equally exotic but two hours closer to the mainland.
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Like the Poconos in the East, Sandusky is centrally located within manageable driving distance of huge population centers. In this case, it's Midwest/Rust Belt hubs like Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Detroit, all of which are within a few hours' drive. The quintessential Great Lakes town, Sandusky is quaint, vibrant and affordable. It also happens to be home to Cedar Point Amusement Park and Water Park, the roller coaster capital of the world. Admission there starts at $29 per day as part of multiday vacation packages.
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Branson is the ultimate Midwest family playground. It's an outdoor paradise that's famous for stunning scenic beauty in the Ozark Mountains, the highest range between the Rockies and the Appalachians. It's an old tourist draw that's primed for visitors, and if you go, you'll have your pick of restaurants, nightlife, entertainment, historic attractions, amusement parks, resorts, golf and famously friendly Ozark culture. Like every other entry on this list, it's centrally located - Branson is a bridge between the South and the Midwest. It's a manageable drive from portions of 10 states, including Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Illinois.
If you live in the Southwest and you're up for adventure off the beaten path, consider planning your staycation around the artist town of Marfa, where the motto is "Tough to get here. Tougher to explain. But once you get here, you get it." It's an unusual, but uniquely Southwestern American experience. It's a place of rugged wilderness, pitch dark skies and boundless stars. It's famous for the Marfa Lights, an enchanting display of seemingly sourceless colored lights that dance and disappear on the southwest horizon all year and in all weather. The phenomenon remains unexplained by science. Beyond that, there are film and art festivals, dining, shopping and the true feeling of getting away in this town of fewer than 2,000 people.
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Central location to population centers is key for staycation hotspots, and Reno checks off a lot of boxes. Not only is it far more affordable than many of California's big attractions, but it's within driving distance for virtually all of its nearly 40 million people. Reno is only about nine hours from the Mexican border, so San Diego, Los Angeles and Orange County are closer than that, and Las Vegas, San Francisco, San Jose and Sacramento are easy by comparison. Reno is a beautiful city with beautiful weather, and it's teeming with things to do both indoors and out. Situated on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, it offers immediate access to beautiful Lake Tahoe, which spans the border with California.
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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: Fun and Budget-Friendly Staycation Ideas for Spring Break and Beyond