Technology in transportation options shrunk the crossing of oceans from an ordeal of many weeks to a six hour ride and a little jet lag. The drive to the airport can take longer than a flight across half a continent. The latest hot spots beckon us: Belize and Bali, Cancun and Costa Rica. Some of us traded in a cottage on the Cape for a timeshare in the Caribbean. The quality of a vacation experience nowadays appears to be directly proportional to the distance traveled.
A New Englander in March might well argue that it’s not the miles but the sun that seduces. However, it clearly isn’t just a pineal gland “pick-me-up” we travelers seek. Regardless of the season, we go to peer at our ancestors’ gravestones in Scotland rather than visit with living relatives in the Adirondacks.
Few of us can begin to describe the wonders of the bioregions in our own communities. The magic in the remaining primeval hemlock groves remains a mystery to most of us. Have we already watched Atlantic salmon battle up the fish ladders and seen the flights of raptors following New England ‘s autumnal coast?
The active or waning wanderlust of youth might explain the appeal of a long journey. Yet as I move into my second half-century, I have become more interested in collecting experiences closer to home. With a little less seat-warming and a lot less global warming, I’m traveling fewer miles and enjoying them more. A bike trip to a nearby bed-and-breakfast that serves legendary muffins has great appeal.
After the thaw, there are numerous opportunities for water sports within an hour of home. Scudding across Androscoggin Lake on my sailboard on the edge of control before an oncoming storm is an experience that needs no improvement. A few years ago, my daughter and I took a trip to Screw Auger Falls near Grafton Notch. A short swoosh downstream, and we found ourselves delighting in a desperate effort to resist the full force of the water’s flow as it thundered into an immense granite cauldron. Releasing our grip, we’d give ourselves to the stream and allow the current to stir us about only to return to the excitement of the driving torrent. Though just a hundred meters from a busy road, we couldn’t sense anything beyond the urgency of the Bear River’s rush to the sea. This experience rates right up there with hiking the swollen Virgin River in Utah’s Zion Canyon, but it cost thousands less.
So, is saving money a good reason to take more hometown vacations? The savings might mean the mortgage gets paid off early or a comforting cash cushion. But the serious issue here is not money. The value of the low-mileage vacation is found in the connections that develop as a result of our willingness to invest ourselves in the local community. If we canoe down local rivers, we will be more likely to advocate for their responsible stewardship.
Why do we spend so much for “free” access to foreign beaches while at home we complain about the expense of day-use fees that don’t cover the management costs of our own shores? Is earning the ability to flee our circumstances more important than working toward the creation of a healthy, supportive community that we are content to immerse ourselves in for the long haul?
In July, the absolutely crystal clear, fresh water glacial ponds on Cape Cod offer one of the best swimming experiences found anywhere. One is suspended in water so transparent that a glance down gives the sensation of falling as in a dream. With a little planning, you can find yourself bicycling for miles along 19th century routes while avoiding most 20th century traffic. Expanding Rails-to-Trails bikeways offer a near-complete respite from the demands of sharing the road. You won’t find these experiences at your local travel agency; they are out your front door and a few miles down the road.
Why then, when we need a vacation, do we travel so far? Does it matter that we see a spotted salamander near Bryant Pond, ME, or a poison arrow frog in Ecuador? Is the experience of seeing a flying squirrel in the Poconos worth less than watching a lemur in Madagascar? Is an August walk down the Piscataqua River with a bunch of wet but happy neighbors less satisfying than snorkeling in Aruba?
There are differences, of course, but isn’t how closely we look more important than how far we travel? With closer friends and shorter trips, the itinerary is unlimited, the luggage is rarely lost, and seat-backs are never in the upright position.