Grad School Survival Guide: 10 Things To Do on a Staycation

One thing I have been advocating for lately is taking a break when you need it. It is really easy to burn out fast in grad school, especially if you have multiple 12 hr days a week (or multiple weeks of 12 hr days, I know it, I’ve lived it!). The grad student guilt kicks in, and sometimes I get burnt out fast even though I had just taken a vacation a few weeks or months before. It is more than ok to take short breaks, as long as you are getting your work done. Short breaks and time off from thinking about work will actually make you more productive. Breaks have been shown to increase productivity and lessen the chance of mistakes. I know when I am overly tired and burnt out, I make more careless mistakes, which can lead to a lot more wasted time! Take a day off on a Friday and make yourself a special three day weekend, its amazing what an extra day off can do! Or, if you were burnt out like I was, I would suggest taking a whole week (or two) off to recharge. When I went back to lab I was more energized and excited to tackle my work!

But what’s one to do on a grad student budget when you can’t really spend hundreds of dollars for a plane ticket and hotel somewhere magical?

No need to splurge on an expensive vacation to recharge. What about exploring your own backyard? Having a stay-cation can be just as fun and valuable in recharging your batteries. Once I finished my dissertation and finished in lab, I really was itching to travel. But, with an impending cross country move and no more incoming paycheck until I started my new job, a fancy european vacation like I envisioned was not in my financial plans. Instead, I decided to have a staycation, and explore parts of the Greater Los Angeles Area that I never had time to explore.

You don’t have to do it all at once, but you can take weekends to explore in short road trips or excursions! Here are my ideas for 10 things to do on a staycation, if it is in season for you. A lot of these are outdoors and thus, free, or you can usually get a student discount, so make sure you bring your university ID with you! In addition, check out your University’s ticketing office – they usually let you book discounted tickets to museums and theme parks!

1. Go Fruit Picking 

Look online to see what types of fruits are in season, and check out where the nearest orchard is! I recently got obsessed with fruit picking, and have gone cherry and peach picking! It is also a cheap way to get bulk fruit, usually organic, and you also support local farms! Even better! This is mostly a tip if you live somewhere where there are orchards and farms; if there aren’t any near where you live, check out other pick-your-own or DIY opportunities!

2. Have a beach escape.

Again, this mainly applies if you live in a city/town near the beach, and lucky for me LA has tons of beautiful beaches within reach. One of the destinations I wanted to go to was Hawaii again, mainly to relax on the beach, and while the beaches in LA are no where close to the beautiful beaches of Maui, it wasn’t a bad replacement 😉  I did day trips where I packed my beach bag – a towel, swim suit, sunscreen, water bottles, and my iPad with a book to read – and I drove to Santa Monica Beach. It was rather nice and relaxing, and when I unplugged from my phone it really helped me get on the vacation vibes.

Instead of using a beach towel, I used this really cute round Beach Throw from Sammy Dress – I’ve been seeing it all over instagram, and it was super stylish to have on the beach! And opened up much more space to put my things, and freed up my beach towel to use for when I actually went into the water – and skipped all the sand 😉


3. Explore interesting and cute cities nearby.

Heard about that cool city thats about an hour away? Not sure if there aren’t any cool hidden towns? Do a quick google search for “Interesting things to do near [your city], and see what pops up! I planned many a last minute trip this way. I found a hidden Danish town called Solvang, near Santa Barbara, about a two hour drive away. I quickly researched things to do there, and I drove up there in the morning, was a tourist, checked out bakeries, ate some authentic Danish food, had some Danish pastries, and even went wine tasting. It was a great day trip, and I got home just in time for dinner with the boyfriend. Highly recommend visiting small cities around your city, and take in the culture and new things to do!


Yesterday’s day trip to Solvang was an awesome little getaway. Ever since I’ve been done with lab and my Phd I’ve felt a sense of relief and it’s really done my self so much good. Reduced stress, reduced bloat, my brain doesn’t feel fried anymore, my creative flow has restarted and I feel refreshed! I highly recommend taking short breaks throughout the Phd process – don’t feel guilty taking a day off if you really need it, as mental health is just as important as physical health. I’m going thru a lot of emotions and realizations right now and im telling myself it’s ok to feel all the feels. I’m just human. And I definitely recommend taking time off post Phd, just a month even can do a lot of good! #gradschool101 #phdfashionistastaycation

A post shared by Dr. Andrea | 📍Boston (@phd_fashionista) on

4. Check out free museums! 

I forgot that a lot of museums have free entry (most of the time), and if you can use public transportation, you can avoid traffic stress and parking fees! I had a list of museums I wanted to see in Los Angeles, like the Broad Museum, the LACMA – and I went on a random Tuesday afternoon. I spent most of the day walking around the museum while I waited on the wait list for one of the main exhibitions, the Infinity Mirrored Room. All of it was free! I got in a taste of modern art, and got to really soak in the exhibitions! During the week is usually less busy. Make an effort to explore museums in your area. A lot of them have free shows too, so you can attend an interesting talk and learn something!


5. Check out Gardens, Arboretums, Botanical Gardens, Parks

Being out in nature unplugged from your phone can be so relaxing. Try it. I have a problem with always being on my phone, so exploring some pretty gardens and parks has been really uplifting. I put my phone on silent, and walk thru the park and it was so nice. Some of them have a small entry fee that goes towards the maintenance of the garden, but they can be relatively cheap if you have a student ID! Make sure you bring your student ID card with you!

6. Explore street art in your city. 

Another thing that I loved to do while on my staycation was exploring street art. Another thing to google – “best street art in [your city]” – and go find it! Word of advice, make sure it is in a safe location, and make sure you go in the daylight with a friend. I found main street in Santa Monica that had tons of cute shops and street art on the sides of the buildings, so they were really easy to access while window shopping!

I loved wearing cute clothes while exploring the city – and I particularly loved this Ethnic Sleeveless Roundneck Printed Dress from Sammy Dress – that I wore as a longer top – I wore shorts underneath it, and it was super comfortable to walk around in and spend time exploring!


7. Explore a Theme Park in your city.

I recently went to Universal Studios in Hollywood, and it was SO MUCH FUN!! I was questioning myself why I hadn’t gone sooner. The entry ticket was rather expensive, but I got a student discount, and it was such a great day. I had fun going on all the rides and they have definitely upgraded rides from when I went to theme parks as a kid. Universal Studios in Hollywood did an AMAZING job with virtual reality roller coasters, where you weren’t actually moving except for the car shaking and moving back and forth, and most of the falling motion that was felt was thru the 3D video you were watching in front of you!

8. Stay at home and do ANYTHING you want.

I found this highly therapeutic. Waking up at my normal wake up time, enjoying a coffee on the couch, no rush or stress to go to work – and I had the whole day ahead of me to do anything I wished! I could workout, binge watch Game of Thrones, work on my blog posts, online shop, play with my makeup, cook good food. I thought I had to have my days filled with activities, but this was just as fulfilling as going out!


9. Eat delicious food you’ve been eyeing on Pinterest/on the web.

This one really depends on your budget. You can do your own Dine week/day, where you can eat out at all the restaurants you’ve been wanting to try new foods, or you could make a list of recipes you’ve been meaning to try and cook at home (the much cheaper option!). Pinterest is where I get a lot of inspiration, and I’ve been checking out different types of cook books and blogs to find some healthy alternatives for my favorite dishes. Go experiment in the kitchen!

10. Have a Spa day!

This one again depends on your budget. We all wish we could go get some amazing massages, mud baths, facials, manicures and pedicures (some day!). But you can still pamper yourself at home. Check out Ross/TJ Maxx for some cheaper face masks, manicure sets, and more, and do it at home! You can also look for groups for massages and spa days – those are also super handy and can be an easy way to pamper yourself. I love getting my nails done, but in LA a gel manicure and pedicure can cost a pretty penny. So when I feel like splurging on myself, I will only do my nails and do my toes at home! A good massage can also release a LOT of built up tension in places you didn’t realize. Getting a lot of headaches? Could be a lot of tension in your neck and other parts of your body. You’d be surprised!

Do you have any other ideas of things to do for a staycation? These are all things I have recently done during my month off since finishing grad school and my new post doc!

Let me know if there is anything you would add or if you think splurging on a true vacation is worth it!

I will have some more travel tips on a budget coming up in a special post for tomorrow!





  1. October 4, 2017 / 2:21 pm

    Loved the tips, dear Andrea and you look amazing in Solvang and swimming pool, and so on! It’s true, staycations can be very good – I was going or am going to write an article about it, too! Loved the museum, art spotting, cities nearby tips… I totally do this, I think that is so underrated, sometimes we don’t pay attention to things that are just in front of us! I hope you are fine,and like you said, after short breaks we feel energized! Hugs, dear Andrea!

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