Prescription: Day Trip
If you’re an American who’s been tuned into the news lately, you’re probably finding it difficult to paint a picture of travel in 2008 that’s anything but bleak. You’ve seen the stack of travel-associated fees rise. You’ve been privy to the latest airline fiascos. You’re aware of the sobering decline of the dollar. And if you’re anything like me, you’re still trying to wrap your head around the series of crises related to the US economy. It’s all a virtual kick in the shins to the avid traveler, and I count myself among the injured ranks.
We all keep hearing that domestic travel is the way to go, and while I’m down with that—I’m a little embarrassed at how much of my home country I haven’t seen—I’ve found that staying even closer to home is a great way to get some instant relief. And the relief, it turns out, isn’t just temporary: a day trip done right can be a powerful cure for the ailing traveler.
Photo by IgoUgo member Constance
The doctor’s orders:
1. Take it easy.
Pick a spot within a few hours of home, and don’t go nuts with the planning. A day trip will easily save you money and time, but keep it simple: save yourself the headache(s) of planning too. On a recent day trip to Woodstock, New York, a friend and I passed on anything that required advance planning (a monastery tour, dinner reservations) and set out with nothing more than driving directions, a few restaurant ideas from a quick online search, and no intentions other than to find a place to park and just wander, seeing where the day would take us. It turned out to be an excellent approach.
2. Drink plenty of fluids.
Day trips are the perfect chance to linger over a cup of coffee or hot chocolate (perfect on a snowy day in upstate New York), take lots of little breaks throughout the day, and go for that beer at 4pm. One caveat: if you’re driving, you know to allow yourself plenty of time to sober up before driving home. Better yet, make drinking the one thing you plan ahead of time—if you don’t want to worry about that third glass of wine with dinner, opt for a bus or train instead of driving. You can make the trip a bonafide part of the vacation by bringing your own picnic along for the ride (I recommend coffee, pastries, and a bottle each of Prosecco and OJ for on-the-spot mimosas to take the edge off an early-morning departure).
3. Lay off the bad habits.
They are: constantly checking your cell phone (or, worse, your BlackBerry); bringing work with you “just to look over on the way there”; engaging in any type of work talk; or keeping a rigid schedule. Yes, it’s just a day trip, but treating it as an item on your to-do list defeats the purpose entirely. For best results, treat it as you would a real vacation: turn off your phone, leave work at home, and get into that relaxed mindset. In a way, a day trip is the best kind of trip there is: no hassle, no packing, and no need to plan for (or freak out about) being away from home—and work—for any consequential period of time.
4. Try an alternative treatment.
With only a day to enjoy your destination, the absolute best way to make the most of your time is to put away the guidebook and experience it as the locals do. Tried-and-true travelers, I know I’m preaching to the choir, but this is especially important when you’re packing a vacation punch into a small timeframe. My friend and I took advantage of the slow pace of this quiet winter weekend and spoke to everyone we met. We got some excellent advice on where to stop for lunch—and what life is like after New York City—from an NYC expat who now owns a cozy little bookstore, The Golden Notebook, on Woodstock’s main street. We got the scoop on Woodstock’s local character from an intern at the Center for Photography, a lovely museum that showcases New York artists’ work and offers classes and programs for locals. We even indulged in Woodstock’s hippie culture with a tarot-card reading (apparently I worry too much—reason enough for another day trip in the near future). Had we not made the extra effort to start conversations with the people we encountered, it would have been just another day of shopping. Thanks to these small encounters, we stepped out of our element and immersed ourselves—if just for a short time—in a different way of life.
5. Savor your recovery.
Take pictures. Buy souvenirs. Relish those familiar feelings of excitement and intense satisfaction that can only be stirred to life through travel—they will make an appearance. After a fantastic day of wandering around Woodstock, my friend and I planned to drive home and stop for dinner somewhere along the way. At the last second, though, we decided first to make a detour to nearby Big Indian for a drink at Peekamoose, a restaurant we’d read about recently. We ended up loving the atmosphere—and the menu—so much that we stayed for hours. After dinner, we roasted marshmallows over a campfire on the patio in the gently falling snow. This unplanned detour made for a longer drive home and a last-minute call to extend our car rental, but it ended up being the most memorable part of the trip. I felt weightless, happy, and tired in that way that preludes a wonderfully satisfying night of sleep. I felt like I was on vacation.
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