The Magazine

No Fly Zone

The obvious answer to the cost of travel.

Jul 20, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 41 • By THOMAS SWICK
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Right now millions of Americans are thinking: staycation.

Curiously, there is very little staycationing information available. I personally don't think this is an accident; the travel industry continues to proselytize, often subliminally. You've seen that Viagra ad--the graying middle-aged couple that read at home in muted tones and then get on a boat to a tropical isle where they break out in pastels and loony grins as they walk to their beachfront bootyshack. As if Viagra isn't enough; you need a change of scenery, too!

Well, I say: Viva Staycation! Walk right past those magazine covers of beautiful women in faraway places. (They're models who have no idea where they are.) Ignore the guidebooks shouting "China" or "Portugal." Don't trust any travel section that writes about places you can't get to on a gallon of gas. The people behind them are clearly not living in the 21st century.

Let Thomas Friedman rack up frequent flyer miles in pursuit of a greener world. You, my friends, are staying home. Home is where the action is.

But as I said, there's not a lot out there right now--Zero Places to See Before You Die--to help Americans understand this. The travel-industrial complex includes some very influential people who have built enormous empires based on the idea that seeing the world is exciting, romantic, educational, and imperative. (That's the kind of tendentious language they use.) It would kill them to see the ascendance of a competing, and seductive, philosophy of inertia and incuriousness.

Sure, some travel sections have paid it lip service, but that's been less out of true conviction than a lack of money. For journalism, the staycation is the last resort.

As a leisure concept, the staycation is extremely young, which partly explains the absence of literature. No one has yet had time to write the great never-got-out-of-the-driveway novel. (Xavier De Maistre's A Journey Around My Room and Tibor Fischer's Voyage to the End of the Room, while both interesting works, are not about people on holiday.) And schools, which perennially lag behind the rest of society, continue to assign the stale what-I-did-on-my-summer-vacation essay.

It's incredible, when you think about it, that in an age of inaction--when, instead of going outside to play, kids sit indoors at computers--the staycation has not become an American institution. We need to abolish the stigma of staying home. As a people, we've been fairly good at ignoring other countries--only about a quarter of the population owns a passport--but now we have to begin ignoring other states, other counties, other townships as well.

If it makes you feel better, by all means say you're worried about your carbon footprint. But for heaven's sake don't apologize. Today, people proudly announce that they eat only locally grown vegetables; are they going to diss you because you hang around town for two weeks?

There are centuries of prejudice and propaganda to overcome--Thomas Wolfe's overblown classic You Can't Go Home Again being just one obvious example--but you have the time to change things. That's the inherent beauty of the staycation: You're not going anywhere. The hours you would have spent reading dull guidebooks, making dubious reservations, checking cheap airfares, sitting in airports, crawling on freeways, nodding to the spiels of unintelligible tour guides, searching ancient cities for ATMs, waiting for waiters to bring you the check--they all stretch gloriously empty in front of you now.

Sounds pretty enticing already, doesn't it? Last year it was all very new to you, the wandering around the house on a Wednesday afternoon. This summer it will have a purpose and a goal: to change the image of the housebound holidaymaker. Put down Outside and pick up Interiors. Forget The Amazing Race; think The Phenomenal Nap. Don't be a tourist, be a homebody.

People assume that, just because you're not going anywhere, you lead a dull life. Have they never heard of Netflix? You're lacking a sense of adventure, they say. As if shopping at Costco doesn't quicken the pulse.

They'll come back, these Old Schoolers, with videos and folk art and stories galore. Smile politely and recite one of the hundred poems you committed to memory during their absence, preferably Billy Collins's Consolation, which begins: "How agreeable it is not to be touring Italy this summer." Don't mention that you had the most wonderful, memorable staycation ever because--well, you don't want to rub it in.

And besides, who would believe you?

Thomas Swick, the author of Unquiet Days: At Home in Poland, is the author, most recently, of A Way to See the World: From Texas to Transylvania with a Maverick Traveler.