Book a Healthy Staycation: 5 Tips

  • Published: Monday, June 8, 2020

Rachel Buenemann MS, RD, LD
Phelps County Engagement Specialist in Nutrition and Health

Maybe your vacation plans for the summer have been canceled; or maybe you forgot to make any but your time off work begins on Friday. The staycation is your solution. Use these 5 tips to bring healthy relaxation to your home destination. 

1. Pick a short-term skill to learn.

People embark on a vacation with different goals, some for relaxation and others for a challenge. I have an athletic friend who took a week off to complete a marathon hike through the Nevada desert. Pushing your limits on vacation or discovering new talents is spiritually and physically energizing. I’m not the type to embark on a marathon hike, but I did buy a new Tai Chi DVD for my stay-cation. Each day of stay-cation I learned a new form and celebrated the development of my skills. Choose a topic which is new to you and can be progressed in a week. Try photography, a new dance style, magic tricks, juggling, or the basics of a new language. Neurologists tell us that learning a new skill has a variety of effects on the physical structures of the brain itself. New information introduced to your mind connects new neural pathways, which makes your thinking quicker and more efficient (1).

2. Mix up the menu.

Does vacation mean a hotel waffle bar to you? Don’t miss out on your luxury breakfast while staying at Chateau de Local: plan a menu of new recipes for your week. I have several foodie friends, so a simple message asking for new recipes brought me seven days of cooking/eating fun. The highlight was buffalo cauliflower tacos with coleslaw and avocado aioli. A diverse diet prepared with a combination of flavorful plant foods, lean proteins and healthy fats can bring you the adventure of travel with only a short trip to the grocery store. To find new recipes try regional and international cookbooks or visit for simple and tasty ideas. National reviews of the American diet through NHANES demonstrate taking more meals away from home, such as fast food, increases chronic disease risks: of high blood cholesterol, depleted micro-nutrient stores, and higher body mass index measures. Cooking more meals at home increases nutrient density and reduces risks for metabolic diseases (2). 

3. Decorate your home for vacation.

The smell of coconut sunscreen. The sound of ukulele music. The colors of blooming hibiscus. Are you on the streets of Oahu, Hawaii with me? We have five senses that alert ourselves to the environment and are capable of sparking deep joy within us. If a new environment inspires your vacation bliss, introduce relaxing cues to your home. Try the hotel experience with fresh, novel scented sheets and soaps. Dazzle your eyes and ears with party decorations throughout your home; such as flower garland, scenic posters, or regional soundtracks for the beach, folk-art festival music and live YouTube concerts. I am deeply tactile, so changing into flip flops and soft vacation tank tops told my body and mind it was time to relax. The built environments of our homes and offices are found in some research to impact mental health; such as higher ratings of ‘greenness’ in spaces correlating to better mental health rankings in Austria University students (3). Generally, research in this field is conflicting and ongoing; more research is needed to strengthen the evidence of health benefits from environment modification (4). 

4. Take walking tours of your hometown.

Walking tours are the Grand Slam of a healthy vacation, awarding four big wins.
They are a dose of vitamin D. Ninety percent of our vitamin D comes from dermal sun absorption, benefiting our calcium absorption, insulin regulation and blood pressure regulation (5). Be sun safe by applying sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher within 10-15 minutes of being outside. Sunscreen blocks up to 98% of UV absorption, decreasing melanoma risk, without significantly interfering with Vitamin D absorption (6, 7). I pack the sunscreen in the walk bag to reapply after two hours of touring.
They release mood boosting hormones. Exercise helps alleviate anxiety and depression in part through the release of endorphins. Moderate exercise is associated with feelings of pleasure and euphoria (8). Plan a tour of 2-3 miles to achieve 60 minutes of moderate physical activity. Tools like google maps and can help you map the tour.  

They are novel and exciting.  You may know your hometown well or, like me, you may discover a trove of hidden local parks, shops, and murals when you plan your tour. Calling your local Chamber of Commerce is one way to gather ideas for tour stops. Picking a new route to a familiar destination is another. Remember to take photos along the way.

They are social. As you walk you are going to meet new and familiar people. Invite them to be your tour stop guide. Ask the shop owner ‘how long have they been open’ and ‘what is their favorite ware’. Ask your family, if they are walking with you, to ‘tell a memory of the stop’ or ‘make up a silly story about its origins. Tours can be even more social if you post about them online. Invite your friends to guess the stops on your tour based on your photos. Take a close-up or unusually angled picture of a familiar local landmark and post it online. See how many of your friends can identify your stop. 

5. Share your vacation joys with friends.

Souvenirs and postcards are synonymous with vacation. They are a part of the staycation too. Print, or purchase postcards and send them to your family and friends. Social interaction such as conversations, shared activities and even mail can provide impressive health benefits. Social interactions diminish stress responses, decrease cellular inflammation and reinforce positive self-worth (9).  Mailing vacation postcards is a simple way to support the health of our loved ones, by demonstrating your care and informing them of the healthy topics you've learned about on staycation.

If you would like to share your staycation with me you can mail a postcard to Phelps County Extension Center, 200 North Main STE G-8, Rolla, MO 65401. You can also call me with nutrition and health questions at 573-458-6260. The University of Missouri Extension is an ADA/Equal Opportunity employer. 



  1. Chang, Y. (2014). Reorganization and plastic changes of the human brain associated with skill learning and expertise. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8.
  2. Kant, A. K., Whitley, M. I., & Graubard, B. I. (2015). Away from home meals: associations with biomarkers of chronic disease and dietary intake in American adults, NHANES 2005-2010. International Journal of Obesity, 39(5), 820–827.
  3. Alexander K. F. Loder, A. R. Schwerdtfeger, & Mireille N. M. van Poppel. (2020). Perceived greenness at home and at university are independently associated with mental health. BMC Public Health, 20(1), 1–9.
  4. Núñez-González, S., Delgado-Ron, J. A., Gault, C., Lara-Vinueza, A., Calle-Celi, D., Porreca, R., & Simancas-Racines, D. (2020). Overview of “Systematic Reviews” of the Built Environment’s Effects on Mental Health. Journal of Environmental & Public Health, 1–10.
  5. Dunne, S., Bell, J. A. (2014). Vitamin D’s Role in Health — Deterministic or Indeterminate?. Today’s Dietitian, Vol. 16 No. 7 P. 48 <>
  6. CDC. (2020). Sun Safety. Skin Cancer, <>
  7. Singh, S., Jha, B., Tiwary, N. K., & Agrawal, N. K. (2019). Does using a high sun protection factor sunscreen on face, along with physical photoprotection advice, in patients with melasma, change serum vitamin D concentration in Indian conditions? A pragmatic pretest-posttest study. Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology, 85(3), 282–286.
  8. Saanijoki, T., Tuominen, L., Tuulari, J. et al. (2018).Opioid Release after High-Intensity Interval Training in Healthy Human Subjects. Neuropsychopharmacol. 43, 246–254.
  9. Cohen, S. (2004). Social Relationships and Health. American Psychologist, 59(8), 676–684.


Writer: Rachel Buenemann


Rachel Buenemann

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