The Lonely Planet guide to planning the perfect staycation

I love a good staycation – they fill me up and make me feel like I’ve stepped into someone else’s life for however long I can. I’m living out dreams, doing the things I never get to, and slowing down enough to notice how amazing the city I live in really is. 

The first time I took a staycation, it was so spontaneous that I almost missed it. My parents were in town, and one afternoon my mom said, “Why don’t you and Jon go to a hotel tonight?” I was speechless. A thousand thoughts ran through my head: I don’t have a reservation! What if my daughter needs me? There is no plan!

But my parents were there to watch (and bond) with my daughter and there is this amazing thing called Hotels Tonight. Also, I live in one of the most touristy cities in the world, so there is ALWAYS something going on. Goodbye, boring Saturday – hello, Nashville! 

I booked the Dream Hotel in downtown Nashville because: 1) It’s in a prime location close to all the action, 2) the vibes seemed on point, and 3) it was available. We packed the smallest overnight bag ever and didn’t look back. From deciding to go to handing the valet the car keys took maybe two hours. Next time I’ll Uber. 

We ate at a random restaurant on Printer’s Alley, and we popped into a bar we know plays blues. We hung out in our room, and the next morning we lingered in bed before going to a coffee shop where we sipped instead of gulped. We didn’t wrangle kids or think about time. We just hung out. It was glorious.

The best part was that there was no stress – no arriving two hours before your flight, rushing out the door, hoping you had everything you needed. There was no loading up the car and no long drive. It was a relaxing way to relieve the chaos of daily life, and I cannot recommend it enough. For those hoping to experience it themselves, here are my top tips for the perfect staycation.

We had a wonderful stay at The Thompson, its location in the Gulch made it easy to explore © The Thompson, Nashville

1. Decide where you’re going to stay

The hotel is key. As my colleague Chamindae Ford says in her staycation itinerary in the Rockaways, you want to find somewhere where you only want to leave if you want a change of scenery. I also recommend booking in an area of town you want to explore. 

Since that first staycation, I’ve gotten better at planning, and I always try to book a hotel that I am really interested in checking out. Nashville is an ever-evolving tourist magnet, so there are always cool hotels popping up. The last time we stayed at the Thompson (so great), but I have The Graduate, The Dive Hotel and The Russell on my list. 

My three favorite restaurants in Nashville are Hearts, Xiao Bao and Lyra if you visit me, I will take you to one or all © Hearts, Xiao Bao, Lyra

2. Decide what you’re going to eat

Again, the first time I staycationed, we just walked down the street and ducked into a place that looked good and had open seating. It was fine. But this is the perfect chance to make reservations at those places you just never seem to make it to. On one staycation I went to all my favorite restaurants in Nashville in one weekend. Here’s the rundown: Hearts has the best brunch, I always order the cold smoked salmon toast and the Brussels sprouts, which I pretend to share; the cut noodles at Xiao Bao make my tongue tingle and call to me in my dreams; and the incredible tapas at Lyra are always changing and always exciting and leave me feeling happy and content.

On another staycation, we booked a reservation at the newest spot opened by Sean Brock. We’re also coffee shop people, so we try to find cafes we haven’t been to before. The point of this exercise is to either indulge in that which you know will bring you joy, or to indulge in novelty, which is just plain exciting. 

Loved pretending I was a SAHM for a week in Nashville © Sarah Stocking / Lonely Planet

3. Decide what you’re going to do

The answer to this could be absolutely nothing – seriously. I have a friend who books herself a hotel room quarterly and just spends 24 hours blissfully alone. She sleeps. She reads. She takes walks and works out. Doesn’t that sound heavenly?

You are in the lead, but here are a few suggestions that I’ve gathered from my fabulous Lonely Planet colleagues and my own experiences. 

Take a walking tour: These often take you somewhere you’ve never been and make you think about the city you live in in a completely different way. They are fascinating, perspective-shifting and wonderful conversation fodder for your dinner later.

Plan your weekend around a concert: Go see your favorite band and make a whole thing out of it. I promise you’ll delight in the experience so much more when you’ve carved time to really enjoy (and recover). 

Go to a museum you love or have never been to: Similar to the walking tour, this is a great opportunity to slowly linger in your favorite places — those exhibits you know you want to really get to know or perhaps a new exhibit you’ve been so excited to see. 

Enjoy your companions: Last spring break, I did not plan a big trip for my family, instead opting for the staycation approach. My husband went to Vegas with friends and I took the week off work. We went to the zoo and watched all the 4D movies, we took an animal tracking class and spent a day at the nature center practicing our new skills. We played in the woods until we were tired and needed ice cream. We went to sandwich shops for lunch, and we hosted an Era’s tour viewing party for our friends who also didn’t go away. My point is, do you. Do the things that connect you and fill your buckets with no schedule and no shoulds. Just be.

4. Go slow

Last but not at all in least, GO SLOW. That is all caps – I am yelling at you. I’m passionate about this. Do. Not. Overbook. Staycations are about truly and fully relaxing into a space. Lay in bed long after you normally would, order room service, linger over your meal and your conversation, and mosey instead of power walk. Staycations are about stress-free indulgences in your favorite pleasures. They are gifts you give yourself, and you should give yourself over and over and over again.

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