Winter is here and that means new opportunities to re-think what a ‘staycation’ can mean, in this episode of Out Travel the System.
From setting up a little oasis of self-care at home, to strapping on some snowshoes and heading out into the frosty blue yonder, it’s shaping up to be a great time to get in touch with some of the things you’ve always wanted to do… but haven’t had time to do.
Host Nisreene Atassi gets tips on planning a winter staycation and how locals are being courted by attractions from Nathan Lump, Expedia VP of Customer Marketing, and Olly Stringer, Director of Partnerships at Expedia.
Wonderful Winter Staycation Inspiration
Nisreene Atassi: Have you ever had that moment where all of a sudden you feel this intense need for a break from the routine. It’s that moment when day- to- day responsibilities become too much, this results in a desperate need for a change of scenery. Here at Expedia, we call that your tripping point. Back in October, we did a study and found the Americans were reaching their tripping point 27 days after a stay- at- home order went into effect. Self care and spending more time outside were some of the ways that Americans were managing through these feelings, but let’s be clear, a vacation is really what we all needed. So how do we balance this during a global pandemic? Easy, you plan on a staycation. I’m Nisreene Atassi, and this is Out Travel The System.
As always, I’ve brought together the best team possible for tips in planning the ultimate staycation. Nathan Lump is a Vice President of Customer Marketing for Expedia and the former editor in chief of Travel and Leisure, hey Nathan, welcome to the show.
Nathan Lump: Hey, Nisreene, It’s great to be here.
Nisreene Atassi: Also here with us today is Olly Stringer, Expedia’s Director of Partnerships and the end all be all for all things vacation related activities. Hi Olly, welcome to the show.
Olly Stringer: Hello. Thank you for having me.
Nisreene Atassi: All right. So let’s start with you, Nathan. The term staycation might mean different things to different people. What exactly does staycation mean to you?
Nathan Lump: Well, for me, a staycation is essentially when you leave your home, so the place that you live and sleep, and stay somewhere else, that is not super far away. I tend to often define it quite locally, being an urban dweller in the United States, and often use the term staycation to refer to staying in my own city, but not in my own home or in the immediate vicinity, but you can use it also, I think, to mean something regional, my friends in the UK for instance, will use it to mean almost anything within the UK itself, so not leaving the country. So, as you said, it means different things to different people, but I tend to think the overall way to think about it is something that is local or quasi- local and where you are. For me at least, not sleeping in your own bed.
Nisreene Atassi: When we talk about a winter staycation, do you have a specific type of image that you’re really picturing?
Nathan Lump: For me, I go for cozy in that kind of environment. I’m seeing a fireplace or an indoor, fun, atmospheric environment.
Nisreene Atassi: Yeah, for sure. Olly, what about you? How would you characterize a winter staycation?
Olly Stringer: I’m with Nathan, I agree on the cozy element for sure. And for me, I think, staycation could mean just making your time at home a staycation, so you could be at home and still be having a staycation. So it’s creating that holiday vacation experience from your own home.
Nisreene Atassi: I tend to find people (inaudible) two camps when they’re on vacation. There’s one type that really likes to relax and takes it easy. There’s the other type of traveler who like to run around and do everything. So when you’re doing a staycation, are you still falling into one of those two camps? I know I personally feel like I’ll call something a staycation, and what that actually means is that I end up running a bunch of errands, which isn’t really exactly how I would spend a vacation. So I don’t know why I call that a staycation, but it happens. What are some of the first things that you take into account when planning a staycation so that you don’t end up doing what I do?
Olly Stringer: I too, am someone that tries to get a lot into a vacation. I often say that when I’ve had my vacation, I need another vacation to get over the vacation. So although I love the idea of relaxation and doing nothing, the reality is just that I kind of want to go out and see and experience everything. So when it comes to a staycation, and especially a winter staycation, we can kind of take our time a little bit, right? The days in the winter are shorter, the weather is colder, talking about the Northern hemisphere now.
So it is less enticing to stay out all day and try and fit in as much as possible and exhaust yourself. For me, it’s about mixing it up and trying to do a couple of things at the weekend and take experiences in to the fullest. So instead of running around and trying to do three museums in one day, I might just do one and spend a good few hours there and really try to cram in as much as I can, and spend longer to really soak up that experience as a one- off, rather than trying to fit everything in.
Nisreene Atassi: Yeah, that makes sense. Nathan, what about you? How do you start to plan a staycation so that you can get the most out of it?
Nathan Lump: Well, for me, I start with a hotel, but I will say I’m a hotel junkie. I love hotels. I’ve stayed in probably 2000 in my life, based on my last reckoning, and so that’s where I start, could be vacation rental as well, but I happen to particularly like hotels. So that’s where I start, is kind of where do I want to base myself? And attached to that is also the idea of what’s that location? So for me, for instance, living in the city, if I’m going to do a staycation in a city, what I’ll often do is think about what neighborhood am I going to be in? I’ll almost always choose a different location from where I live. Something that is a part of town that I’ve always wanted to explore more, or get to know better.
With a staycation, you can be much more easygoing about it, right? Because you’re not necessarily someplace that it’s strange to think about going back to, so you can kind of give yourself more time to immerse. And that also leads me to do sometimes is to think about themes, maybe there’s something I really want to dig into over the course of a couple of days, maybe I really want to do a food thing or maybe I really want to do an art thing, and kind of build my activities around a particular theme or interests that I want to explore. And that’s another way that I think about starting to put it together.
Nisreene Atassi: What’s a theme that you’ve done recently or that you’re planning to do?
Nathan Lump: I love designing, walking tours around great buildings, buildings from different periods and really taking that time to learn about those buildings, soak in the details. One of the things that I also love to do is house museums. This is, I think, one of the great things about staycations is that I love going to house museums and most places have them, there’s usually one, even sometimes in small towns, there’s oftentimes one of these historic houses that has been preserved the way the people lived when they were there. And I love doing them. When I lived in New York, I used to walk by, in the East twenties, Teddy Roosevelt’s house. I walked by it all the time. I didn’t even know it was there. I didn’t know it was a museum. And one time we were staying in that part of town on a staycation. And I happened to be looking at a map and I was like, ” Wait, Teddy Roosevelt’s house is there. It’s right here under my nose.” And so we went to it, it was super fun, just to get that picture of Teddy Roosevelt’s home and the way that he lived.
Nisreene Atassi: Do you try to come up with themes that everybody is going to want? I know you’re married, so are you trying to think of themes that work for both of you together?
Nathan Lump: It’s always a good idea, whether it’s a friend staycation or a romantic staycation, to think of the interests and hopes and dreams of the people or person that you’re traveling with, for sure, or staycationing with. I know some people who have a deal, they’re a couple and they have a deal where they switch off on their trips and each one basically gets to plan one, according to what they want. And so that’s also kind of an interesting idea sometimes, which would be to give your partner the freedom to basically plan it the way that they would do it, if they were on their own, let’s say. It becomes an interesting way to connect with what motivates them and what’s most exciting for them, and that can really be fun too.
Olly Stringer: Generally for me, if I’m traveling with my partner, we generally tend to agree on most things. So we’ll do the same things and plan together and experience the things together on our trip. But sometimes it’s nice to kind of break away and do things on your own, especially while we’re in lockdown mode, while we’re working from home and we’re kind of under each other’s feet in our very small Brooklyn apartment. So it’s nice to be able to have a little bit of time for yourself. So for me, that would be running, which is something I prefer to do alone. So even if it’s the winter, I can still go and run around the local park here in Brooklyn, even if it’s snowing, I can still make it out. Just having that alone time really kind of helps you reset and it makes you forget about the general day- to- day life of working home and dealing with the pandemic.
Nisreene Atassi: I really liked this idea of trying to zero in on what you want to accomplish during your staycation and being able to let things happen based off of those. Olly, what kind of themes do you typically do for your staycations?
Olly Stringer: This fitness element would sometimes come into my staycations. I can’t say that it’s everyone that I do, but often this is a kind of theme that I like to get involved with. If I’m in a new city or a new area, I would definitely incorporate some running into that, and I think it’s a great way to see and explore a place and it’s fine to get lost, right? You can just kind of get your running shoes on, you can get out into the open and you can really do that the first day or so in your new destination. You can go and experience it, you can get yourself lost in the streets. As long as you have your phone with you to get your home when you need to, you can really just go wherever you like. So I really enjoy having running as an element of being in a new destination.
Nisreene Atassi: When we come back, we’re going to explore how you can get virtual with your winter staycation experience. So stay with us.
This is Out Travel The System, and I’m your host Nisreene Atassi. In every episode this season we’re sprinkling in some of Expedia’s signature travel hacks to help you get the most out of your trip, whether it’s coming up or even a year from now, from leveraging the deep insights from Expedia’s data to deep diving into specific destinations, we’re bringing travel inspiration and information every single time. Don’t miss a minute, make sure you subscribe to Out Travel The System on your favorite podcast player. Winter staycations seem like a great opportunity to get into the great outdoors, something that’s been top of mind for lots of people in recent months. Is that a priority for you this year, Nathan?
Nathan Lump: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think one of the nice things about traveling in this period, whether it’s a staycation or frankly, whether you’re going somewhere else is there are very few things that are as socially distant as being in the great outdoors, particularly if you can get yourself into a wilderness setting of some sort.
Nisreene Atassi: Yeah, I’m a big outdoor winter person. I think obviously being outdoors in the summertime is beautiful and all, but there’s just something about that cold crisp air and it feels very energizing to me.
Nathan Lump: And if you’ve never tried snowshoeing, if you live in a place where there is snow, snowshoeing is super fun, it’s really great exercise, but it’s also, for me, it’s very meditative because you have to move quite slowly. And so you just kind of get into a different rhythm. I love it, for people who haven’t tried it.
Nisreene Atassi: Olly, you mentioned that you live in New York now, but you also spent a decade living in London. What are some of the big city attractions that you can suggest for travelers who are looking to do a winter staycation?
Olly Stringer: Yeah, absolutely. So, I moved from one really big city to another really big city. So I’m a big fan of city living and the kind of awesome attractions that you can do on your doorstep, because I’m relatively new to New York, I’ve been living here now for about 18 months, I’m really not ashamed to say that I’ve been ticking off those big ticket items. And I’ve been trying to see everything, all of those big tourist attractions. One of my favorite of the newer attractions is called The Edge. It’s a new observation deck, and obviously there’s a lot in New York.
You’ve got the Empire State Building, you’ve got the Top of The Rock, you’ve got the One World Observatory, but this is the newest and it’s the tallest open air. So you can go out onto the deck and it has a glass floor, if you’re brave then you can kind of step over Manhattan. You’re about a hundred floors above the ground, so it can be pretty daunting, but it’s on the Western edge of Manhattan, at the new Hudson Yards development. So you can really see the entire city right in front of you. So the views are absolutely incredible.
Nisreene Atassi: Did you actually step out onto the edge and look down?
Olly Stringer: I did. I did it with trepidation. The edge kind of goes out into a point, so think of a giant triangle that sticks out the side of the building. And there’s a triangular glass see- through floor. So some people are brave enough to go on it, I was brave enough to go on it, some people were sitting down, laying down face first and looking straight down, which I didn’t do. I kind of tipped out onto it and then tiptoed off.
Nisreene Atassi: I just got that feeling in my stomach, when you do look over the edge of something, and the idea of that sounds so terrible. I definitely don’t want to do that. But also I had this vision of people laying down on the ground in a public place where everybody is sort of like walking around and that just seems gross, but hey, people got to experience it the way they got to experience it.
Olly Stringer: And this was pre- pandemic, so I don’t think it would be the same now. Some of these really big attractions are really trying to entice the local market. So whatever city you’re in or wherever you are, there’s probably local attractions that are trying to do something to get customers back in through the doors. For example, here in New York, The Edge that I just mentioned is running a special New York resident ticket. The Met and the MoMA are both doing something similar, so special deals if you are local in the area. So it’s really worth checking those out in advance as well, and getting some discounts and going to these attractions while there are no crowds, which is something that doesn’t happen very often.
Nisreene Atassi: Yeah. I will say that I think we’ve been talking a lot, sort of over the course of the season of the show, about how things have changed in the travel industry for the better, as a result of the pandemic. And I do think that for some of the attractions, they’ve put a little bit more rigor around how many people they’re allowing in at a time and it almost has made for some better experiences I think overall, because things aren’t as crowded, it’s a little bit more structured. So I do think that, that’s been a nice evolution and something that I hope actually sticks around. Olly, when you’re doing a staycation, and maybe you’re going to sort of two towns over or a place that you’ve never been, how do you go about researching what things to do in that area?
Olly Stringer: I would definitely go to Expedia to check out what is on offer. We have a great selection of tours and activities, attractions in most major cities and destinations globally. So it’s a great resource to kind of do your research. There are great tourist board websites, most major destinations have what’s called a CVB or a Convention Visitors Bureau, which is where the destination showcases itself to customers. And that’s really where attractions and tours, sightseeing, attractions, events, things like that, are loaded and you can read and you can research and you can find all that information on there as well. So there’s lots and lots of resources out there. You can watch YouTube videos of destination highlights. We have some virtual experiences on Expedia as well, where you can learn about the different things to do in the destinations.
Nisreene Atassi: Nathan, what tips may you have for someone who’s starting from scratch?
Nathan Lump: The beauty of a staycation for me is that I don’t feel the need to over plan, but I think it’s good to have some of those key points where you kind of know where you’re going to be or where you want to be, and then you can build things around that. And that’s what I tend to do. And I actually use maps a lot for this as well. So if I know I want to be at that museum or at that restaurant, let’s say, then zoom in on the map and really see, okay, what’s around there? And start to kind of do my research that way. And that can be an interesting way to start to build a little bit of a walking itinerary, perhaps, depending on the nature of the location.
Olly Stringer: I’m dreaming of that cabin in the woods, heading up North with snow covered mountains and a roaring fire. That’s my idea of having right now. So for me, it’s as much about escaping the city as enjoying the city. And there’s really something to be said about creating that kind of vacation feel, that vacation state of mind in your own home. So it’s not necessarily about going out there and doing all these things. You can maybe set up some things at home that give you that vacation feel without having to go anywhere. So maybe it’s about doing some pampering or some self- care, creating that little oasis and getting away mentally, even if it’s just for half a day.
So if I wanted to go to that cabin in the words, I can try to create that same experience at home. So it might not be exactly the same, but I can make my tiny apartment pretty cozy by putting on the fire on the TV, cooking my favorite dinner and having a glass of wine and maybe playing some board games, and disconnecting from social media and all those other distractions of the day. So you can kind of create some of these things at home, as well as going out and about
Nisreene Atassi: Virtual experiences are really sort of the way of the future, and they’ve certainly become incredibly popular during this pandemic. What have you really found on this front?
Olly Stringer: At the beginning of the pandemic, our travel partners, so the partners that we work with at Expedia that provide tours, attractions, and other activities, they really had to rethink how they’re going to continue to inspire customers, despite not being able to have them physically go through their doors. So that’s when these virtual experiences were born and at Expedia, we created a Things to do From Home page, which is dedicated to all things virtual. So they could be historic or cultural, virtual walking tours. They could be city immersion tours, or they could even be live experiences, like cooking classes and all of these things you can do from the comfort of your own home. The thing that ties these all together is inspiration. So although we know that customers can’t travel in the same way that they used to, there’s some really great ways that excitement can be created for the future of travel, and when they’re able to get back to traveling in the way that they would previously.
I attended a tours and activities conference this year, and as part of the conference, we were taken on around the world mixology masterclass, which was really fun and really engaging. So we went around the world to meet some of the live guides, who would walk us through the drink specialties of their country. So we started off at a hole in the wall bar in Amsterdam to learn about the best types of beer to drink. We then went to learn how to make a pisco sour in Lima, Peru. And then we finished in Venice where we learned how to make the perfect aperol spritz. So really fantastic to get these real, live experiences, but being able to do that from home.
Nisreene Atassi: So you did all of those things virtually?
Olly Stringer: I did. Yeah.
Nisreene Atassi: Wow. That’s so great.
Olly Stringer: They advise on which ingredients you can buy so that you can actually have those ingredients ready to go so that you can make them live, in person, with that guide.
Nisreene Atassi: I did do a virtual cocktail class, sort of at the beginning of the pandemic and our bartender was actually based out of London. And so it was like two o’clock in the morning for him, because obviously we weren’t going to be making cocktails here in Seattle at like noon. I mean, we could, frankly, it’s a pandemic so anything goes, but it was a little bit later, but they sent us a list of all of the things that we could get. My husband and I did it with another group of friends who each dialed in from their own home, but there were all of these other people who were doing the experience as well. So we started to chat with them and got to meet them, and they were from all different parts of the United States, which was really, really cool, but we got to learn the history of some drinks, and the bartender told us a little bit about the place that he worked at.
So it really was a very immersive experience and the drinks were kind of gross, but that’s mainly because my husband and I just sort of stopped paying attention, we were like, ” Oh, add a little bit more rum. What about this drink?” So I’m sure if we had followed the instructions a bit more detailed, we would have ended up with some better tasting drinks.
Olly Stringer: There you go. Yeah. It’s fantastic, isn’t it? Because I think the joy of it is that any of us can go onto YouTube any day of the week and watch a cocktail making class, right? That’s something that’s easily available, but being able to do it as a live experience where you have that person in front of you, who’s actually able to engage with you, so you can ask a question if you like, or if you’re curious about what the best type of rum is for that drink, then they can advise you. So you really get that interaction as if you were there. It’s obviously not the same as being in that bar with that person in front of them and where you can cheers in person, but it’s the next best thing.
Nisreene Atassi: Tell me a little bit about what you’re seeing from a virtual tours perspective, Olly.
Olly Stringer: These live experiences are much more engaging, they’re much more interactive. If you have questions, as if you were on a tour, you can ask those questions, the guide will interact with you. The guide will be local, so much more engagement from those kinds of products than the kinds that are just prerecorded, which you can find, like I said, on YouTube, they’re available everywhere. They were invented as a temporary measure, just while the customers couldn’t travel, but maybe there’s a need for this in the future. So when we think about accessibility or budget constraints, not everybody can do those experiences, right? Not everybody can go to Venice to learn how to make aperol spritz, not everybody can go to the Hole in The Wall in Amsterdam, it’s not accessible for everybody. So these virtual experiences are a real way for customers to experience those things without actually having to travel. So there could be a future in these virtual tours after the pandemic is over. And for us working in the travel industry, it’s our responsibility to enable that and to really offer these experiences to customers that are not necessarily able to travel.
Nisreene Atassi: I do hope that these things do stick around because I think you’re right, it sort of opens up the doors for a lot of people that may not have the budget or the time, maybe they’re not into traveling internationally. So I do love that it can give them exposure to places that they may otherwise never get a chance to see. We obviously didn’t invent staycations because of COVID- 19, right? So staycations were a thing long before we were in the midst of a global pandemic, and they’re going to continue to be here even when the pandemic is over. Nathan, both in your personal life, but also you were an editor in chief at Travel and Leisure, so you were traveling a ton. Did you ever work in a staycation while you were traveling so much?
Nathan Lump: The staycation has always been part of my travel arsenal. The staycation is a great way to get that feeling of adjustment from your daily routine, having some fun, doing something novel, without necessarily having to take a lot of time. Frankly, for me as well, I mean, I used to travel probably on average a 150, 160 days a year. And there were times also where I would crave that feeling of being away from home, but I just didn’t want to get on a plane. I just didn’t want to subject my body to a time zone change, or just even have that experience. And the staycation would often be a good alternative to that, to feeling something special and doing something special, but not having to… Just to spend that time and also have that experience of moving through space. You can do all kinds of travel affordably, but a staycation can often be done very affordably. And so it’s also sometimes just a nice thing to do when you don’t want to put as much money on the line.
Nisreene Atassi: We just did a whole episode about made for TV holiday movies, and how travelers can recreate that quintessential holiday vibe at home. What are you both looking forward to, either watching or reading or doing over the next couple of months, as you’re curled up under a blanket in an armchair, on your winter staycation? Olly, why don’t you go first? You’re obviously watching the Yule Log TV, but what else?
Olly Stringer: Of course. So when I’m not watching the Yule Log TV, I’m trying to get through some shows that kind of passed me by over the year. So I recently finished Mad Men and that was seven seasons.
Nisreene Atassi: That’s a real commitment, seven seasons and each episodes like an hour.
Olly Stringer: Yeah, it was a big commitment. But also some things that remind me of home, things like the great British Baking Show, which is the perfect show to watch if you’re sitting in on a rainy day. And also, since I’ve moved to the U. S., trying to learn about the different shows that are great to watch here, so American guilty pleasures, like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, that gives me hours of great viewing. And then in terms of reading, it’s been a great opportunity, right? To tick off some of those books off the reading list. I actually have a copy of War And Peace that I’ve been meaning to read. I bought it about 10 years ago, it was one of those things where I said, ” Yes, I can read this. I can get through this.” And I maybe got through a few pages before I put it down. So, that’s one of my goals.
Nisreene Atassi: You are such a liar, Olly. You are not going to read that.
Olly Stringer: I promise you.
Nisreene Atassi: I feel like that’s what people say on a first date, ” Oh, I’m in the middle of reading War and Peace, because they want to sound intellectual.
Nathan Lump: But it is a great book.
Olly Stringer: I promise you I’m going to try. How about that?
Nisreene Atassi: All right. We’ll do a mini episode just to recap, Olly’s review of War And Peace. So we’re going to hold you to it.
Olly Stringer: It’s going to be a dry episode, I think, if we did that.
Nisreene Atassi: Nathan, what about you?
Nathan Lump: There’s always fun stuff to do. I never watched the American version of House of Cards, so I want to do that. I have to get my husband to agree to watch it again, because he’s seen it, but I saw the British version when it was on TV a million years ago, but I never watched the American version, so I want to do that. I’ve also been trying to watch films from great directors whose works I don’t necessarily know as well as I would like, someone like Akira Kurosawa, where I’ve seen one or two, but not a lot of the great films. I’ve been doing some of that, and again, particularly I’m thinking about foreign films that make me feel like I’ve gone somewhere else.
Nisreene Atassi: You do have to be careful though, when you are planning a staycation and if you are going to binge watch all seven seasons of Mad Men or something like, that’s the theme for your staycation. You’re not going to do anything else besides binge- watch that show, and you know what, folks? That’s absolutely okay. I think my biggest tip for people is, don’t try and binge watch a new season of something while also wanting to do something else, because it just doesn’t happen. You end up sort of glued to your couch and your TV, watching it over and over and over. That’s why we call it binge watching. So if you’re going to do that, plan for that to be the theme of your staycation, just so that you don’t miss out on anything else.
Nathan Lump is Expedia’s Vice President of Customer mMarketing and Olly Stringer is a Director of Partnerships for Expedia. Thank you both for sharing all of your winter staycation thoughts with me today. It has been a real pleasure having you on the show.
Nathan Lump: Thanks Nisreene.
Olly Stringer: Thank you for having us, Nisreene.
Nisreene Atassi: I’m Nisreene Atassi, and this is Out Travel The System, brought to you by Expedia. Please join us next time as we take you through the intricacies of booking a trip to Japan and everything you’ll want to explore while you’re there. All right, everyone, looks like the Yule Log channel is calling my name. Happy travels.