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Away on Staycation: Traveling without a passport, or a lot of money

If you're planning a stay at home vacation nowadays, you don't actually have to stay home. However, you do need a strategy.

Traditionally, a "staycation" is time off spent locally. With gas prices remaining relatively low, the distance you can travel cheaply opens more options for expensive time away for your time off, according to experts.

"Look at it as though you're new to town. The best way to approach it is you're discovering or rediscovering your own backyard," Jill Gonzalez, analyst at personal finance site WalletHub, told CNBC's "On the Money" in an interview.

"Just because it's a staycation, and it could be very laid back, doesn't need to be," she said, adding that preparation and research were critical to having a good time.

Gonzalez added that the best staycations are when you get creative and make plans in advance, and having no plan is going to cost more money.

A staycation "certainly does not mean you should wing it," she added.

Couple driving through a town, vacation, staycation
Thomas Barwick | Getty Images
Couple driving through a town, vacation, staycation

Your options depend on where you live, but if you live in Florida, you're in luck. WalletHub ranked the largest 150 U.S. cites as best to worst for staycations, and with theme parks, beaches and warm weather, four Sunshine State cities ranked in the top ten.

Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa took the top three spots, while Tampa's twin city, St. Petersburg, checked in at number nine. In the interior U.S., Minneapolis (known for its freezing winters) ranked one spot higher, at number 8, while Salt Lake City came in fourth.

For their criteria, Gonzalez tells CNBC WalletHub judged each of the cities by "28 different metrics….including scores for rest & relaxation, food & entertainment, and recreation."

Yet on the flip side of the study, the two biggest cities, and some surrounding cities, came out poorly. New York City and nearby Yonkers ranked near the bottom, at 148 and 146 respectively.

Separately, six California cities Fremont, Los Angeles, Fresno, Santa Ana and Oxnard took spots among the bottom ten. Chula Vista took the last spot at number 150. Gonzalez explained there was a logical reason behind why the Big Apple and key Golden State cities brought up the rear.

"Costs are so much of a factor of a staycation, that's why you're probably doing it in the first place," she said. "Big cities like New York, like Los Angeles are just not going to be wallet-friendly at all. "

She suggests "a month or so before hand" you scour sites like Groupon and Living Social in advance to find local discounts, such as "amusement park tickets, show tickets for anywhere from 40 percent to 70 percent off."


On the Money airs on CNBC Saturday at 5:30 am ET, or check listings for air times in local markets.