In Defense of the Low Key Vacation

by Katy on July 17, 2018 · 33 comments

My son and I drove up to Seattle for a lovely little three day vacation. This was prompted by an invitation from my friend Lisa whose family was out of town, leaving her with an empty house and a generous mindset. Never being one to turn down an invitation for a free vacation, I consulted my calendar and booked our stay.

I’m kind of paranoid about being labeled “a mooch,” (writing as “The Non-Consumer Advocate” can lead people to believe that I’m miserly) so I made sure to show my appreciation by paying for restaurant meals and being helpful around the house.

My older sister and I have a running schtick about being one another’s “Helmutina,” who is a vaguely Scandinavian au pair whose sole mission in life is to keep an immaculate house and entertain the children. It’s a good mindset for the ideal house guest, so yes, I donned my Helmutina persona and washed the dishes, swept the floor and attempted to have our presence be a gift instead of a burden. (Helmutina is also extremely sexy, but that’s a blog post for another day.)

Unlike a regular vacation filled with activities that empty the wallet and require post-travel recuperation, this trip was low key and straight up relaxing.

What didn’t happen:

Space Needle
Pike Place Market
Street vehicles that transform into boats
Sporting events
Touristy restaurants
Sitting in crappy Seattle traffic while driving from one activity to another.
Purchasing of souvenirs.

What did happen:

Capitol Hill farmer’s market
Walking through Volunteer Park
Groceries/goodies from Uwajimaya
Hosting a dinner that included another college friend. (Ed!)
Takeout sushi
Watching the World Cup soccer game from the comfort of Lisa’s couch.
Much, much conversation and laughter.

Truth be told, I prefer this style of vacation to one that costs thousands of dollars and involves extensive planning, sitting on the tarmac, exhausting activities and expensive admission fees.

Picture, if you will . . . a staycation in someone else’s house in someone else’s city. Ahh . . . .

Thank you, Lisa!

Katy Wolk-Stanley    

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa W. July 17, 2018 at 11:08 am

Lest my Southern mother somehow stumble upon this post, I have to make it known that the only reason I allowed a guest in my home to lift a pinkie to help with chores is that I was still semi-laid up from foot surgery. And it was only wild coincidence that my foot became painful whenever there were dishes piled up. Your visit was the highlight of my confinement, and you are welcome anytime. ❤️❤️❤️❤️


Sherry Blair July 17, 2018 at 11:15 am

Lisa W: I had to leave a note and let you know that your response made me smile oh!so much! “Lest my Southern mother somehow stumble upon this post…” had me smiling immediately! Love-love-love your “disclaimer”. Enjoyed reading the post a lot, but enjoyed reading your comment even more. Here’s to a fast complete recovery from your foot surgery! (Dishes aside.)


Lisa W. July 17, 2018 at 11:33 am

I couldn’t take even a microscopic chance of having to sit though the “I though I raised you better than that” lecture!


Cindy in the South July 17, 2018 at 12:04 pm

Lisa, I am Southern, and I totally understand the “I thought I raised you better than that” lecture….my mom delivered it to me many times…


Lisa W. July 17, 2018 at 1:49 pm

Right?! I was brought up so that if a guest should ask for crystal meth, I run right out to the store for Sudafed (though, no matter what Martha Stewart says, I think that sometimes store-bought is just fine).

Vickey July 19, 2018 at 7:11 am

My mother and grandmother, both from the Southwest, used that same device. Only it was simply “I raised you better than that!”

Katy July 17, 2018 at 12:29 pm

“it was only wild coincidence that my foot became painful whenever there were dishes piled up.”

Causation or correlation?


Lisa W. July 17, 2018 at 7:56 pm



ouvickie July 18, 2018 at 9:34 am

Okay, you win the “Laugh of the Day” for that hilarious response!!!!


Bee July 17, 2018 at 11:37 am

I think that the best vacations have been spent with those I love. The simplest activities are special with my friends and family. It doesn’t take a large wallet to enjoy a hike, a day at the beach, or a great conversation. BTW, Helmutina would be a welcome visitor in my home anytime..


Kathy Hairston July 17, 2018 at 11:51 am

My sister is flying in from Oklahoma to visit me in So California. I’ve already planned our frugal or free activities including concerts in park, decluttering seminar, sorting thru family photos, visiting a cousin and aunt, dejunking my closet (think say yes to the dress) , a trip to see the jim Henson muppet display (senior prices). There will be no trips to Nordstrom’s.


Katy July 17, 2018 at 11:59 am

Decluttering seminar?



Stephanie July 17, 2018 at 11:59 am

Simple pleasures are sometimes the best ones. What a lovely trip, and how generous of your friend!


Cindy in the South July 17, 2018 at 12:35 pm

That is my kind of vacation! It sounds fabulous!


Tracy July 17, 2018 at 1:48 pm

I also love this type of vacation, which frequently occurs for my family at my mother’s Oregon coast vacation house or my in-laws Central Oregon vacation house, usually with extended family. I also have a wonderful set of women friends and we take turns hosting this type of vacation, usually 1 x year, which is wonderful. Because I try and live relatively frugally, and because I love to travel, I also on occasion take less frugal trips that DO involve museums, time on the tarmac and such. Even then though I generally prefer an AirBnb to a fancy motel, public transit over cabs/ubers, one meal out a day at a reasonable neighborhood eatery (and one or two prepared “in” using local foods bought at local markets) over hitting the “in” fancy restaurants, shopping at thrift stores over expensive boutiques or chain stores, and lots of walking and people watching over touristy venues. Travel is one reason I try and be frugal in other areas. And, I do try to be frugal or at least very value conscious about how I travel, which I think results in more insight into how “real” folks actually live in the places I visit.


Norma July 17, 2018 at 4:58 pm

I, too, live frugally so that I can travel. I love the idea of travelling on a whim as we are in the process of doing right now. We found out a week in advance when our new great-niece was being baptized and off we went 1000 miles away. We do try to be frugal while travelling. Packing a lot of our food and staying at very inexpensive (but nice) hotels. Always use my AARP or AAA discount.


Jill Chapman July 17, 2018 at 6:11 pm

I love that you were able to visit with a friend – and I also love the list of what did and didn’t happen. Sometimes I’m so busy trying to see everything on vacation – I tend to be a list checker offer such as things I need to see and where I think I need to go – that I forget to slow down and just enjoy where I am at the moment. It’s a good reminder for this work in progress.


That Other Jean July 17, 2018 at 6:41 pm

That does sound like a wonderful vacation. If I’d never been there before, I probably would have squeezed in a Duck-boat tour, just to get a feel for the place; but other than that, low-key house-guesting sounds perfect! Lucky you and your son to be invited; lucky friend, to have such thoughtful guests.


Bethany July 17, 2018 at 7:08 pm

We used to live in Federal Way, WA. I’m ashamed to admit we did every one of those things you said you didn’t do at some point or other while we lived up there. (I’m married to an experience driven man!)


Brooke July 17, 2018 at 8:35 pm

I’m amused that Pikes market was not on your list. It’s our favorite free thing to do in the city! One doesn’t need lunch after you sample all the goodies, and the lower level has some very niche stores that are fun to browse but not buy.

The other thing we love to do for free is visit the Central Library. They have a free cell phone tour (just ask for a map at the front desk), and some seriously crazy architecture.

Though, if visiting a friend recovering from surgery, I suppose both are totally optional, no matter how frugal 🙂 My favorite visit to Portland involved nothing more than visiting friends in their living room and just hanging out and chatting. I think we ventured out to the Farmers market and that was it.


K D July 18, 2018 at 4:18 am

It sounds wonderful. We had a similar trip last weekend. My husband had a few days off work. A friend with a beach condo offered for us to stay there (she thinks she owes me for a favor I did a couple years ago, I don’t agree). Anyway, we brought our own sheets and towels (though she didn’t expect us to) and cleaned up when we left. There were many meals in and a meal out with leftovers. We walked on the beach morning and evening. We laid low part of the day and did a minimum of touristy things. It was wonderful.


Katy July 18, 2018 at 10:44 am

That sounds like perfection!


Kate Logan July 18, 2018 at 5:02 am

Absolutely the perfect vacation! There are people who wonder how or why Goodwill is first on my list in a new city. Well, I say, what better way to know a city than to learn what they discard?


Angela @ Tread Lightly Retire Early July 18, 2018 at 5:05 am

Did you go in the conservatory at Volunteer Park?? That place is absolutely wonderful (especially in the dark cold days of winter).


Katy July 18, 2018 at 10:42 am

It was closed, so we simply peered through the windows.


janine July 18, 2018 at 12:56 pm

If you ever get to Minnesota be sure to visit the highly rated Como Park Conservatory in Como Park. Free with a donation. Open seven days a week. Next door is a small but wonderful zoo. Park is located in St. Paul.


Liz B. July 18, 2018 at 1:20 pm

Oh, Como Park (and zoo) are wonderful! One of my sisters lives in St. Paul, and we went there the last time we visited.


Marilyn July 18, 2018 at 6:37 am

Sounds like a lovely getaway. My daughter went to UW and we often took the train from Vancouver to Seattle to see her. We enjoyed several things on your list including Volunteer Park and Uwajimaya.


Katy July 18, 2018 at 10:44 am

We have an Uwajimaya here as well, but my friend needed groceries.


ouvickie July 18, 2018 at 9:16 am

I enjoy those type of vacations, too. I don’t mind sight-seeing, but getting in a car everyday of a vacation, to go somewhere “touristy” wears me out.

This Summer most of my PTO time has been spent on Physical Therapy after my shoulder surgery. I’ve scheduled the time-off in the late afternoon, so I can head home directly afterwards and do any necessary errands on the way.
Since Hubby has no vacation time available until next year, short staycations are what’s on the Calendar this year.
I’m thinking of taking the week off during our church’s Vacation Bible School, so I can spend time with my granddaughters before the school year starts. That would give us a chance to hang out at the pool and playgrounds after the church activities and we can watch movies together from my Prime subscription.
It’s been a very low-key Summer at our house.


A. Marie July 18, 2018 at 10:50 am

I think that ouvickie speaks for many of us who can’t take conventional vacations for various reasons. In my and DH’s case, it’s that DH’s early-stage dementia has made being away from home overnight very difficult.

But we’re compensating for this by doing day trips whenever we can, and by entertaining sympathetic relatives and friends for short periods. Our recent visit from my oldest sister and her DH (my favorite BIL) gave us an excuse for several day excursions, and my BFF from NYC will be coming up next month for what we’ve come to refer to as the TBC (Triple Birthday Celebration): She, I, and a Literary Society friend in the next city over all have birthdays in the second half of August. (There, have I set some kind of record for acronyms or what?)

And today has reminded me that when the conditions are right, our own property is paradise on earth. We have a gorgeous, sunny, breezy day today (following a glorious thunderstorm Monday night after a 10-day drought), and we’re reveling in actually being able to be outside without being baked. DH has been happily gardening most of the day, and I’ve just harvested a bunch of salad to go with the country ribs I’m preparing for supper. (This year’s beef is coming in this weekend, so freezer cleanout has been the order of the day.) Don’t cry for us, folks; things could be a lot worse.


Julie July 18, 2018 at 6:14 pm

A.Marie: you positive outlook is such a joy. And the evenings are lovely in this part of the world right now.


RR July 18, 2018 at 11:43 am

We are the lucky owners of a large lake home which is not our primary residence. We love having guests but only guests like you. We are not running a resort & I’m not the staff. If you’re willing to dig in & help you’re super welcome to stay. What’s worked so far for us is assigning people/families an entire meal that they prepare & cook. Everyone takes a turn. Also I have 2 sets of sheets for all beds so everyone strips their own bed & leaves with clean bedding on it even if they don’t have time to wait for laundry to be complete. It’s funny that some people seem to have an automatic nature to contribute & others don’t though.


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