“What did you do on your summer vacation?”

Come September, that question will be asked in classrooms and workplaces throughout the country. And while a few lucky souls will be able to say they spent their vacations on safari photographing wildebeests as they swept across the African plains, or sampling wines in Tuscan vineyards, most of us will be staying much closer to home.

Or even right at home. A tight economy has prompted many Canadian families to forego a traditional summer vacation and choose leisure activities in their own towns and cities.

But is a staycation really a vacation? I posed this question to a handful of Canadian moms. Opinions differ.

Pros and cons of staycations

“We love them,” says Erika David. “We go to museums and amusement parks, ride our bikes along the water, picnic on the beach, attend shows and festivals, and explore new neighbourhoods.”

David explains that at first, staycations were a necessity. “The kids were young, we needed renovations on the house and there was little money in the budget for travel.” But now, she says, they continue the tradition because they enjoy it so much. Each family member picks out his or her own special activity, and they make it a point to try something new each year.

“We’ve discovered so much about our city on our excursions, and it’s less stressful.”

Sheryl Walsh, who also frequently staycations with her three boys, can relate to the reduced stress.

“I’ve been on vacations where we spent way too much money on cramped accommodation and mediocre food, and let’s face it — all you need is one sick child and a vacation you’ve spent thousands of dollars on is ruined,” she says.

She feels more in control of her money and time when her family vacations close to home.

But not everybody agrees.

“A staycation is not a vacation,” says Lori Poon. “You have to escape. When I stay at home, I see all the work that needs to be done and it’s just not relaxing.”

“That’s a danger,” agrees Matt Wixon, author of The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!). But having interviewed countless families and taken numerous staycations himself, he believes that with the right planning and attitude everyone can save money, reduce stress and create lasting memories by staying local.

“You have to get it into your mind that it’s not just time off,” says Wixon, “and treat it like a real vacation.”

Here are some tips for a successful and memorable staycation:

Just say “no” to work

It takes discipline to do this. Write “vacation” on the calendar for a set number of days and be vigilant about protecting them. Set up an out-of-office reply for your emails; clean your house and get chores out of the way before the vacation starts. As tempted as you may be to check in at the office, organize the garage or rearrange the living room — resist.

Seek out new experiences

Yes, you probably have local faves when it comes to restaurants, swimming holes and attractions, but to have a memorable break, it’s essential to get out of your comfort zone.

Research guidebooks and websites such as Canada Cool to find out what tourists do when they visit your region. Check local papers for concerts, events and summer festivals, and ask friends and colleagues what they like to do.

Whether it’s attending a symphony, wakeboarding, hiking in the moonlight, catching a fish, touring a gallery or stargazing, unique experiences will ensure that a staycation is truly a fun escape from the everyday.

Be frugal — but not cheap

You’re saving big money on transportation and accommodation costs, so don’t nickel and dime other indulgences. Enjoy a dinner or two at a restaurant, book a local hotel room for a night, or splurge on a cool tour or a spa treatment.

By all means, save money on these types of treats by using loyalty reward points, coupons for attraction passes and group deals, but don’t give them up. You can find deals on sites such as Travelzoo and Attractions Ontario.

Cherish your memories

Take lots of photos. Create a scrapbook, a home movie or a digital photo album. Record how you spent your vacation days the same way you would if you went to Disney World.

And when people ask you what you did on your summer vacation, tell them with pride all the places you discovered and the fun you had in your own backyard.