The new staycation

Staycations in 2011 are sexier, sandier and surprisingly accessible. They still involve a home you own, just your home away from home.

Need some inspiration to secure your own sliver of paradise? Check out these staycationers’ stories, along with their tips and tricks.


Heather (56) and Fred (54) Gallagher, Mill Bay, BC


House at Bighorn Golf Club in Palm Desert, CA, a 40-minute drive from downtown Palm Springs

Closest Airport

Palm Springs, CA

Heather and Fred Gallagher originally went down to Palm Desert, CA, for a short stint of sunshine.

It sounded innocent enough when some friends, who had property in the Bighorn Golf Club, suggested they take a gander at some available properties.

Fast-forward a month and the couple became happy owners of a villa with an outdoor bar and grill, stone-edged pool and a stellar view of the mountains.

“People think Palm Springs and they think golf,” says Heather. “We’re not big golfers, but there are dozens of hiking trails in the area and in the summer, this place just explodes with colour when you get up in the hills.”

She jumps up to show off a hallway that’s filled with framed fauna photos awash in canary yellows, lilacs and cerise pinks.

“I keep bringing paperbacks down here with this lovely idea of reading in a lounge chair, but there’s always something to do,” she says. “And the people are great. It’s like going to camp as an adult.”  

Best part

“There’s an energy in the desert. You just want to go, you just want to move," says Heather.

Hindsight is 20/20

Palm Springs is not just for old seniors and golf enthusiasts. “This place is a jewel. There is so much to do. And there are no insects!” says Heather.  Fred laughs and adds, “We just wish we had bought sooner.”

Advice to newbies

Read the local and community papers to get a sense of the sort of people in the area.


Francis Gingras (43), Montreal, QC


4,000-sq.-ft. condo, in a 165-unit complex, a three-minute walk from the Caribbean Sea, Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

Closest Airport

Cancun, Mexico

Quebec’s wicked winters drove this software developer south three years ago. Now, as Gingras looks out to the Caribbean from his condo, he admits he made the decision quickly, but did his homework. Before plopping down his flip-flops in Mexico, he explored real estate opportunities in Panama, west Mexico and a few islands in the Caribbean.

“I found island life [the Caribbean] too isolated and other spots too Americanized for my taste,” he says. “I was looking for a place that was cosmopolitan and in the Eastern time zone for work, and I found it here. If you walk down Fifth Avenue, you’ll hear people speaking 12 different languages. And the expat community here is very tight and is extremely active—Friday night movies on the beach, lots of concerts, fundraisers galore. I’m as busy as I want to be.”

Best part

“The moment I step outside, I relax,” says Gingras. “It’s just the opposite in Canada where people stay home to relax. Here, everyone is on holiday or happy to live here. With the weather so great, you want to be outside. Everyone is always smiling.”  

Hindsight is 20/20

“Maybe I got lucky, but there’s nothing I would have changed.”

Advice to newbies

It can be scary buying property in a foreign land. But remember, you’re not the first. For starters, hire a good lawyer and get references from other clients. And be patient. It takes a long time to get property titles here (Gingras is still waiting for his) and to investigate the owners. The bigger the project, the safer it is.


Nancy (50) and Larry (52) Mayo, Calgary, AB


1,500-sq.-ft. house, 29 kilometres south of Marsh Harbour on Abaco Island, Bahamas

Closest Airport

Nassau, Bahamas

Nancy Mayo’s version of paradise: two deck chairs on a patio overlooking the ocean. And now she owns a patch of it. How, exactly, did this couple make it happen?

“It’s a piece of cake,” she says. Originally from the east coast, Nancy and her husband,

Larry, are two Calgary professionals both in their early 50s. They were initially hoping to get a vacation property closer to their roots but, financially, that wasn’t viable. So she went online. And then she went to the airport for the Bahamas.

“You fly in at 1,500 metres over the [Abaco] island, and you just see beauty everywhere,” says Nancy. She went house-shopping solo and brought her chequebook

—“just in case,” she says. The only thing, now, between her family of five’s new getaway and the ocean is their front yard, which is part of a 12-kilometre beach.

“It’s a great learning experience,” Nancy says of living on one of Bahamas’ many islands. “Everyone is so friendly and polite. No one is in a rush to do everything.”

Best part

“The skinny-dipping,” says Nancy.

Hindsight is 20/20

Go with a local real estate agent, since British law applies on all Bahamian islands, which makes transactions a little different here.


Advice to newbies

There are higher tax rates on items brought into the Bahamas, so buy locally for renovation materials and other items.   


Grant (42) and Rhonda (43) Berg, Sexsmith, AB


Four-bedroom home in Goodyear, AZ

Closest Airport

Phoenix, AZ

When the thermometer dropped to -45˚C a few winters ago, Grant Berg, a father of two teenagers and a radio-marketing guru, hit the Internet. He and his wife, Rhonda, had some money saved and they wanted something tangible they could enjoy.

Prices for popular Alberta getaways such as Sylvan Lake were beyond their budget, so they looked further south.

And then they hit the jackpot.

“You almost feel like you won the lottery,” Grant says of the property the family finally chose after a marathon search in the Greater Phoenix area. The couple split the costs with his wife’s parents. The four-bedroom home they chose was so below their budget, they were able to add a pool and do some desert-themed landscaping.

When he’s not in the pool or hiking in the nearby mountains, Grant says he can visit more than 60 galleries or cheer on the area’s four major sports teams. “Down in Phoenix, there is so much to do and see—you feel alive,” he says. “It’s a matter of what aren’t you going to do!”

Best part

“Being 10 minutes away from the Goodyear Ball Park. The fact I can get to a spring training baseball game for about US$20 amazes me,” Grant says.

Hindsight is 20/20

Do the onsite searching together rather than calling in reports to your partner after every viewing. This way, you avoid $1,000 cellphone bills.

Advice to newbies

“Find a realtor with a Canadian perspective—the American realtors were very professional, but weren’t grasping what I was looking for,” says Grant.



Judy (60) and Chuck (71) Crockatt, Vancouver, BC


600 sq. ft. studio apartment in Cabarete, Dominican Republic

Closest airport

Puerto Plata

After only looking at three places, Judy Crockatt did something she never thought she’d do in a million years—she bought a fixer-upper in the Dominican Republic.

Initially, the place was such a dump, she and her husband, Chuck, immediately sunk $10,000 into their unit and had it completely gutted. They put in new walls, tiles, mahogany shelves, kitchen, bathroom, windows and doors—in other words, the works.

The Vancouver retiree admits it was a pretty easy decision to buy a property here.

“Once I saw what the place did for my husband, I was sold,” says Judy. Eleven years her senior, Chuck suffers from peripheral artery disease (PAD), which reduces blood supply to his legs, making it difficult to walk. After vacationing in the Dominican Republic for a month, he was walking two hours at a time. When the couple returned to Canada, he was limping again within a week.

“It was quite miraculous,” says Judy. She credits the combination of heat, sea air and moisture on the island for alleviating her husband’s symptoms. But she’s not just there to loll about on the beach and revel in her hubby’s better health. They both volunteer at a local pediatric hospital, the Transformational House, where she takes care of abandoned babies while Chuck builds cribs and beds.

Best part

It’s just 30 seconds from the beach. And now that the renovations to their fixer-upper are complete, the couple loves their home as much as the location. The Crockatts also love the local laws that protect foreign titles from being seized.

Hindsight is 20/20

The Crockatts wished they had learned a little more Spanish (the country’s official language) before travelling there.

Advice to newbies

Worried about safety? The Dominican Republic’s electricity is “hit-and-miss.” Buy property in a complex with 24-hour security, and also look for a place with a back-up generator. And don’t buy on spec—visit the place before investing.

Mary (55) and John (56) Jansen, Muskoka, ON


RV in Sanlan RV Park, Lakeland, FL

Closest airport

Tampa, FL

“We took a year off and just kept sort of taking it,” quips Mary Jansen. She and her husband, John, both butchers and parents of two, worked to the bone for many years in the Lucan region north of London, ON. When their children flew the coop, the Jansens sold their house and moved full-time to their Muskoka cottage, where they earn their keep as satellite television installers in the summer.

So, why would anyone who lives in Muskoka need a vacation home?

“We bought into the atmosphere,” Mary says, explaining their instant attraction to Florida. The list of activities at the RV park is endless—shuffleboard, organized card games and quilting. The area boasts kilometres of shaded trails for anyone to enjoy, from birdwatchers to runners.  

While they don’t own the land, the Jansens can upgrade their trailer, including adding features like an insulated living room. A good thing, too, because the park has alligators!

Best part

Many people from their hometown have places in the area, so it doesn’t seem so removed from Canada.

Hindsight is 20/20

RV prices shot up when the bought it, so it would have been cheaper to buy a little sooner than they did.

Advice to newbies

Look for options to rent out your property when you aren’t there and make some extra cash.


Related links:

Top tips for buying a home abroad


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Holly Hofmann

A recent journalism grad, Holly Hofmann has spent the last seven years meandering around the world.  Always looking to tackle a new recipe, it's no surprise that her favourite place to visit in a new city is a grocery store. When she's not travelling, Holly can be found behind the lens capturing images of the curious and the mundane.

Marija Dumancic

Marija Dumancic is an Alberta native, born in Calgary and raised in Drumheller. Having lived and worked all over the world, she's currently posted in Ottawa with Canadian Geographic magazine.