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What’s your vacation destination situation? If funds are low or time is short, you may be resigned to not getting a summer break from your regular life. In that case, this word is for you: microtravel. Microtravel means experiencing your own town or province as a visitor or explorer would, putting aside your usual routine, and embracing discovery. (Yes, it’s pretty much the same concept as “staycation,” but without the hint of inertia.) Travel comes with health and wellness benefits, and our happiness comes from our experiences, not our stuff. Microtravel is a sure way to add to those experiences.
In a recent survey by Student Health 101, 61 percent of respondents said they’d had at least one microtravel experience or staycation. “It’s a great way to see what your province has to offer. (There’s plenty.) Plus, if you’re a student on a budget, it’s much easier on the wallet,” says Samantha K., a recent graduate of Nova Scotia Community College.
6 motivations for microtravel
1. You won’t spend much money
“A big plus is that you don’t have to spend much on travel or accommodation!” —Harri P-W., fifth-year graduate student, University of Windsor, Ontario
2. You’ll minimize travel stress
There’s little risk of flight delays or missed connections. And if the prospect of travel makes you anxious, this is a great way to start. “Sometimes they’re better than a ‘real’ vacation because you actually get to relax!” —Female third-year undergraduate, University of Guelph, Ontario
3. You can easily go solo or social
The logistics, time, and costs of microtravel are not too onerous, making it easy to team up with partners, friends, and family—if you want to.
4. Your discoveries will enrich your regular life
Those new eateries, friends, and activities—they’re keepers.
5. You’ll get to be spontaneous and flexible
Ever felt obligated to visit the ancient relics, or devastated that the volcano you came for was hidden in the clouds? When you’re microtravelling, the stakes are lower.
6. You can cherish your roots and your locality
Microtravel is a way to honour your family traditions (or make new ones) and explore your local heritage.
The freedom, health, & happiness of travel
Students associate travel with freedom—for example, a break in academic and work expectations, a boost to emotional health and relaxation, and an opportunity to experience nature—according to a small study by researchers at California Polytechnic State University (2010).
Physically active leisure helps people maintain physical and mental health, especially during times of stress, according to a study of 20,000 people in the Canadian Journal of Public Health (2001).
Love your life
Even the anticipation of vacation travel makes us feel good about our lives and health, according to a 2002 study in the Journal of Vacation Marketing.
Go global (with moderate expectations)
Students expect travel to make them more “global”—i.e., expand their knowledge, perspective, and social and cultural connections—according to the same California Polytechnic State University study (2010).
Knowing people from other cultures makes us more creative in tasks that draw on multicultural influences and more receptive to new ideas from outside our own experience, suggests a study from Harvard Business School (2011).
Your microguide to microtravel
Consider a quirky theme or idea
A theme or project can help shape your microtravel explorations. “Think outside the box. It doesn’t need to be a tourist attraction necessarily; it just needs to be something fun that you have never tried or experienced in and around your hometown,” says Stephanie B., a fourth-year undergraduate at the University of Guelph, Ontario.
Students: Ideas that made our microtravels
“My parents have a book called ‘City Walks’ that highlights all these amazing walking routes around Calgary. When I take a staycation this year, I would like to go on more of these walks to explore my city and fall in love with neighbourhoods.” —Rachael J., doctoral student, Mount Royal University, Alberta
“I recall visiting the downtown streets of Guelph that I had not been to because I spent almost all of my first year in university on campus and the places around my residence. It was interesting to see cafés, stores, and other buildings that were so close to where I lived, but felt like an entirely different place because they were less known to students.” —Edda W., second-year undergraduate, University of Guelph, Ontario
“My boyfriend and I were both broke. We bought disposable cameras and drove around town taking pictures in front of different things or places that started with each letter of the alphabet, like Rockin’ Robin’s Cafe and Ice Cream Parlor for the letter R. It was so much fun and basically free! We got to experience the little town where we grew up in a whole new way.” —Brittney B., second-year undergraduate, University of Central Arkansas
“Think of something that your state [or province] isn’t really known for, then try to find a way to do that.” —Casey S., first-year undergraduate, New Jersey Institute of Technology
“During my undergrad in Atlanta, I loved exploring the city to find the urban art murals by street artists. It’s always fun to take a picture in front of it and admire their talent. It’s completely free and gets you out and about. You can do it walking or in a car.” —Nilza S., second-year graduate student, Clemson University, South Carolina
“My girlfriend and I just decided to take off to the mountains and see how many small little nowhere towns we could visit. It was fun, scary at times, but overall very memorable.” —Tanner S., third-year undergraduate, Metropolitan State University of Denver, Colorado
Remember to do all the things
Microtravel means finally having time for that stuff you can’t usually do. Make a list or look online for ideas. “Lots of my ideas have come from finding random people on Instagram in the area doing cool stuff and then trying it myself,” says Lara D., a third-year undergraduate at the University of Waterloo, Ontario.
Students: What we did with that time when we got it
“During March break of one of my high school years, we decided to stay home and see what Kingston had to offer. My favourite part of the weekend was going to the Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation Area to experience Maple Madness—so much maple syrup!” —Korrah B., third-year undergraduate, Queen’s University, Ontario
“I’ll be back in my hometown for the summer. I plan on visiting or revisiting my favourite spots, from breweries to art galleries, as a way to reconnect with the region and to see the places I’ve missed while I’ve been studying away.” —K. D., fourth-year undergraduate, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Newfoundland & Labrador
“I would love to go to camping without any electricity and experience the beautiful wilderness and amazing views that lie just outside the city.” —Janna W., third-year undergraduate, University of Regina, Saskatchewan
“I went downtown on a nice day and read all the information cards on the sidewalks and learned a little bit more about my city.” —Ryan L., second-year graduate student, Algonquin College, Ontario
“I live in Calgary, so a popular ‘staycation’ around here is travelling to our backyard (Banff) for a day or a weekend. One memory that stands out is when we went skiing for the day. After an amazing day on the hill, we drove to Banff to spend an hour in the hot springs. This was the perfect way to relax our muscles and end our day. After that, we just drove home. Being a tourist in your area is a great way to build a sense of community in yourself.” —Rachael J., doctoral student, Mount Royal University, Alberta
Seriously consider leaving home
When you microtravel, it’s vital to establish boundaries to protect against the distractions of regular life. That’s especially important if you’ll be based at home.
Students: When to lose (or keep) the homing instinct
“It’s hard to be on vacation mode when you’re home. You see things and people who remind you of the stress life creates.”
—Third-year undergraduate, Fleming College, Ontario
“Another [drawback] is having work readily available, since you are at home or close to it.”
—Second-year online student, Fort Hays State University, Kansas
“I booked a hotel room for a weekend so it felt like I was away somewhere. Then I explored the city on foot.”
—Second-year undergraduate, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology
“It’s nice to be close to home, but not actually at home.”
—Second-year undergraduate, University of New Brunswick
Unless being at home is the point
“My favourite staycation was when my husband was away from work travelling one winter. My kids and I set up a tent in the living room, started a fire in the fireplace, and camped for several days.”
—Tessa M., third-year undergraduate, Concordia University of Edmonton, Alberta
Got public transportation? Use it
Even if public transportation doesn’t feature much in your regular life, take another look at the routes and schedules (if you have access to them). Buses and trains can deliver you affordably to many adventures.
Students: How we got around
“I would ride the bus routes all over Fredericton, and enjoy the ride throughout the entire city. This would allow me to see parts of the city I haven’t explored yet.” —Chiara M., first-year undergraduate, University of New Brunswick
“I often take the bus, when travelling, and I make a point to try to engage one person per trip in conversation. ‘Where are you heading?’ can lead to a 3-hour talk with a stranger, who may become a new friend or offer some ideas [about] a place I’m going to for the first time. My mum did this and formed a friendship with someone which lasted over 20 years!” —Karl J., fourth-year undergraduate, University of Lethbridge, Alberta
“[My most memorable staycation experience was] checking out how the bussing system worked and visiting areas I never noticed before.” —Kayla S.–T., recent graduate, Algonquin College, Ontario
“My best staycation was shortly after I moved to Toronto. I wanted to learn how to use the subway, bus system, and basically know my way around the city (mostly downtown). My staycation lasted a couple days while I hit major attractions such as Ripley’s Aquarium, the Eaton Centre, etc. While at the same time I explored cute coffee shops and other locally owned businesses. All in all, learning about the city I was living in was a great experience, and I would recommend it to anyone who doesn’t want to break the bank but wants to have some fun/ adventure in their lives.” —Mikayla S., first-year undergraduate, University of Guelph-Humber, Ontario
“[I did a] tour of Portland using all modes of transportation available—train, car, walking, hiking, streetcar, and elevated tram.” —Dave S., fourth-year graduate student, Oregon Institute of Technology
Plan your plan
Figure out your policy on planning. The risk of going planless is that the demands of routine life may encroach on your precious exploration time. “It is good to plan it out so you can find things you’ve never done before,” says Emma K., a second-year undergraduate at Saint Mary’s University, Nova Scotia. On the other hand, spontaneity is a rare pleasure. “Just go with the flow,” says Samantha G., a first-year undergraduate at the University of New Brunswick.
Students: The pros and cons of planning
The plan plan
“…You have to write it on the calendar and say ‘OK, this is what we are doing this day.’ Make sure you don’t work, don’t make any other plans, or else other plans will be made.”
—Rachel W., third-year undergraduate, University of Guelph-Humber, Ontario
“Staycations can become fun as long as they are thought out decently; otherwise you just view your time off as wasted.”
—Aron A*., second-year graduate student, University of North Dakota (*Name changed)
The no-plan plan
“You just have to let yourself go wherever you feel your feet are taking you. If you have no idea where you are, that’s even better. It makes the experience more enjoyable and chances are, when you are trying to find your way out, you will find something amazing that you would never have even seen.” —Elizabeth S., first-year undergraduate, University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire
The part-plan plan
“Plan ahead, but be spontaneous.” —Camille K., fourth-year undergraduate, University of Guelph, Ontario
“I have an ‘essentials’ pack that I take on every trip; a small bag that fits in with the rest of my other stuff, that I know I would need wherever I go. I put things in it like medication, a toothbrush, retainer, cell-phone charger, emergency cash, snack, etc. When I get that packed, I know I can go anywhere in the world and be OK. Then, it just depends on which road I decide to take!” —Karl J., fourth-year undergraduate, University of Lethbridge, Alberta
Switch off when you can
To protect your downtime and your headspace, try a remote campsite or B&B beyond the reach of phone signals or wifi. You probably won’t get irretrievably lost in the woods—and a printed map (remember them?) is great for getting found again.
Students: How to disconnect
“During a weekend, I may turn off all of my social media and leave my computer behind before taking a drive out to the mountains (an hour from my university). I take my phone along for emergencies, but disconnect the mobile-data so I’m not tempted to surf.” —Karl J., fourth-year undergraduate, University of Lethbridge, Alberta
“It was a three-day backpacking trip, and I went with a group of six. We packed all our food and belongings into four large Tupperware bins and canoed out for about three hours to a desolate island in the middle of the Everglades. No phone service, no water, no electricity. It was great!” —Andrea W., graduate student, University of Miami, College of Arts and Sciences
“Rather than taking out your phone to take photographs and video, use a disposable, digital, instant, single lens, or any other type of camera. Another option is to not take photos or video at all, to allow oneself to immerse fully in the present.” —Amy N., fourth-year undergraduate, Western Washington University
“There are literally no negatives. Even if you think you hate where you live, you’d be surprised how much there is to love no matter where you are.” —Kristen T., third-year undergraduate, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Newfoundland & Labrador
“Staycations reignite your interest in where you live and allow you to be fascinated with your surroundings.” —Brandon R., second-year graduate student, University of Windsor, Ontario
“I live on Prince Edward Island. My friends and I rented a cabin in Cavendish and took in all the touristy attractions. It was great to feel like I was on vacation, only close to home. People, including myself, definitely take their immediate surroundings for granted.” —First-year graduate student, University of New Brunswick
Solo, pair, or group?
“While living in Vancouver, I decided to be a ‘visitor’ for a weekend. I stayed at a local hotel and enjoyed the amenities, walking instead of driving through the city. It gave me a new perspective of the place I called home for 27 years.” —Second-year undergraduate, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology
“Last year for fall break I stayed in St. Louis and explored the city on my own. It was a really nice experience and more relaxing than having to fly or travel to another location.” —Kriti P., third-year undergraduate, Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri
With a friend
“I believe staycations are best enjoyed when you have someone to share the experience with.” —Amelia B., third-year undergraduate, University of Guelph-Humber, Ontario
“My friend and I always go on adventures around town, sometimes driving around the scenic routes or walking around some well known places in town.” —Rose L., first-year undergraduate, University of New Brunswick
In a group
“I find it’s better to go in smaller groups than in larger groups. It makes things more intimate, and people tend to not split off into smaller groups.” —Arnaldo M., fourth-year undergraduate, Florida International University
“Planning it with special people makes it more memorable and enjoyable” —Haley R., third-year undergraduate, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Newfoundland & Labrador
“One of my favourite staycation experiences has been exploring Toronto with my family. Simply taking in some of the amazing assets our own city has, like the beach, the CN Tower, the ROM. Exploring your own city gives you a new appreciation for living there.” —Third-year undergraduate, University of Guelph-Humber, Ontario
“My most memorable staycation would be when my friends and I drove past Brantford to go cliff jumping in the summer. It was an amazing experience, and I did not know that it existed in that area.” —MacKenzie P., first-year undergraduate, Trent University, Ontario
What we brought back with us
“I went to a different state where food and hospitality was very different from mine. It was new and refreshing, and I took stuff home and integrated it into my daily life.” —Second-year undergraduate, University of Maryland, College Park
“I made it a goal to eat at a brand-new place every day of the week. The experience really opened my eyes to how much more my hometown has to offer.” —Eddie F., third-year undergraduate, University of Massachusetts Lowell
“It opened more doors for me as far as networking and social events. I got the chance to explore the best restaurants and social clubs.” —Rahul S., fourth-year undergraduate, Northern Illinois University
“It was Christmas break, and I was volunteering at the local food kitchen. After it was all done, I saw an older woman who had missed the event, so I took her home for dinner. The next day I drove her all over some of the neighbourhoods to look at the Christmas lights. We remained friends until she quietly passed away four years later. At her memorial, I got to meet her kids and grandkids and could share some of her with them. They knew who I was!” —Manon P.-M., third-year graduate student, University of the Pacific, California
Traditions and surprises
“It’s so easy to become smitten with other glamourous places that you forget that excitement, charm, and culture could be hiding right in your hometown.” —Second-year undergraduate, University of Illinois Springfield
“We went to the visitors’ centre of our hometown and actually found a bust of my great-grandfather and a story about his contribution to the city’s development. It was very moving and inspiring.” —Mary M., second-year undergraduate, Hofstra University, New York
“Many of us take for granted family time, as well as our local communities. Some have an annual trip to the beach or an amusement park. While those trips can be fun and exciting, it’s also important to experience your local community and the sights it has to offer. Many times you can also experience these sights with close friends and family.” —Scott V., third-year graduate student, The University of Memphis, Tennessee
“My friends and I went geocaching here in my small college town. We ended up going to a cute little log cabin and actually discovered that there was a movie about the founding of our town. While we were there, a person who was actually born in the log cabin, a historical site, pulled up and took a picture with us.” —Derick S., second-year undergraduate, Texas Lutheran University
“This was inside a sculpture in Madison Square Park. It’s easy for a native New Yorker like me to hide behind 8 million people and stay comfortable with where I am without ever leaving my neighborhood. But then I remember that I can always be a tourist in my own backyard, if I let myself.” —Persephone Tan, first-year graduate student, University of Pennsylvania
Follow us on Instagram and don’t forget to use the hashtag #Microtravel
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Chua, R. Y. J. (2011). Innovating at the world’s crossroads: How multicultural networks promote creativity. Harvard Business School Working Paper 11-075. Retrieved from https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/6645.html
Gilbert, D., & Abdullah, J. (2002). A study of the impact of the expectation of a holiday on an individual’s sense of wellbeing. Journal of Vacation Marketing, 8(4), 352–361.
Iwasaki, Y., Zuzanek, J., Mannell, R.C. (2001).The effects of physically active leisure on stress-health relationships. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 92(3), 214–218.
Smith, C. E. (2009). Students’ beliefs about the benefits of travel and leisure: A qualitative analysis. [Unpublished] Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1005&context=rptasp
Student Health 101 survey, February 2016.