Vacation. The prospect is delicious; the reality often disappoints.
Try to get away, and you seem to spend more time planning, packing and driving than you spend relaxing. Kids get restless, everything costs too much, and you come home wound up tighter than before you left.
But spend your vacation at home, and the days fill up with chores and errands.
There must be a way to savor summer without going away -- and to avoid turning a stay-at-home vacation into a menial marathon of drudgery. We think it can be done, and we're offering a few tips to send you on your way.
Most important is the mind-set. This is your vacation. Purge your mind of any thoughts of cleaning the garage, catching up on ironing or helping your brother-in-law paint his house. Resolve to spend the week relaxing and enjoying yourself.
Freedom and a sense of choice over how you spend your time are the keys to a pleasant vacation -- whether it's at home or away, says Dr. Seppo Iso-Ahola, a University of Maryland social psychology professor and author of "The Social Psychology of Leisure and Recreation" (Wm. C. Brown, $42.05).
However you decide to spend your vacation time, try to choose activities that are rewarding in themselves, not ones you think you should be doing, Dr. Iso-Ahola says.
* Plan ahead. The week before your vacation, wash enough clothes to get you through vacation week and the first few days back on the job. Tidy up the house and stash unfinished projects out of sight where they won't tempt you.
* Turn off your daily routines. Unplug the television. Let the answering machine take your phone calls. Stay up late to watch the stars or get up early for a sunrise. Have your morning coffee in the garden instead of at the breakfast table. Don't cook anything more elaborate than a hot dog or an ear of corn, and just for this week, let the family use paper plates. Make every meal a picnic -- even if nasty weather confines you to the living room floor.
Breaking out of the usual rut makes a big difference in people's sense of satisfaction with their lives, says Dr. Iso-Ahola. "We just had a conference on leisure and mental health . . . and based on the papers presented, it's very clear that those kinds of breaks are important."
* Don't forget to write. Buy a stack of postcards and spend a lazy afternoon in a relaxing retreat, writing a few lines to all the friends whose letters you never have time to answer. Now you won't feel so guilty when you don't have time to send holiday cards in December.
* Travel back in time. Who makes more of a summer day than kids? Think back to the things that used to make summer seem like summer when you were young -- catching fireflies; sprawling on a blanket to watch clouds; taking a long bike ride; hanging around the pool all day. Now, don't just think about it, do it.
* Play tourist. When was the last time you went to the zoo? Think where you would take out-of-town guests; then take yourself there.
* Need ideas? Stop by your local chamber of commerce office. You can pick up brochures on local attractions, ask for sightseeing tips and get a free fun kit with a map and calendar of events.
* Let go a little. People do all kinds of things on out-of-town vacations they rarely think of doing close to home. But go ahead -- have your palm or tarot cards read; rent a flashy car for a day; take a hot air balloon ride; try a different flavor of ice cream every afternoon.
* Treat yourself to a spa day. After your morning workout, go get that professional massage or manicure you've been promising yourself. Spring for a new haircut or make-up lesson. Or just take a long bubble bath, give yourself a facial and paint your toenails.
* Get back to nature. Area parks may have nature trails, bicycle and boat rentals, bike paths, playgrounds, picnic areas and beaches.
* Splurge on a special lunch -- the kind you usually have only at your favorite getaway. Sunshine, a scenic view and a leisurely pace are the essentials.
* Get in the swim. Can't afford a backyard pool or country club membership? Look into pool club memberships at hotels in your area. For a yearly fee, you can swim any time the pool is open.
* Gloat. Just once during the week, call the office to find out how everyone else is spending the week, and let a smug smile spread across your face.