7 Dream Vacations Close To Home


by Diana Laskaris


In this day of ever-increasing gasoline prices, travel hassles and scarce time off, sometimes the best idea for a vacation is a stay-cation. No matter what continent you call home, whether you live in a small town, a large metropolitan area or somewhere in between, with a little creative thought and planning you can follow your own posh passions without straying far from home. If you love food, art, music, sports, or just about anything else, you can tailor a little dream vacation that will allow you to enjoy the richness every destination has to offer - even your own! Remember, people visit places all around the world searching for memorable experiences that make a great vacation. If you're like me, there are worlds of wonder you have yet to explore just around the corner!





I have lived a lot of places and traveled to some wonderful destinations. Travel is a passion for me, as it may be for you. But sometimes I forget that I live in a world full of wonderful sights, sounds, smells and tastes that seem so familiar that I take them for granted. If you're looking for a change of scenery, you can change your viewpoint to that of a visitor and look at your own vicinity with fresh eyes, you'll be surprised at what fantastic surprises await you.



For several years I lived in New York City. I looked out my window every day and saw the Statue of Liberty. But not once in all the years I lived in New York did I actually go to see Libby, as a friend visiting from another country called her. Nor did I go to Ellis Island. Or Coney Island. Or Staten Island. Or many of the places that visitors to New York City rush to see. Are there places that visitors go to see when traveling to your neck of the woods? Have you been to them yourself? You might see where I'm headed.


But that's just one example. I'm going to give you some ideas of how, wherever you live, you can create a self-guided tour that will open your eyes to the great resources around you, spark your imagination, and give you an opportunity to enjoy the richness of travel without the hassle and expense of going on a big trip. Once you get the idea, you'll be able to come up with tours of your own for places nearby that you may have overlooked.



These 7 tour ideas are just a starting point. Think about what your passions are and follow them. A little creativity, some planning, a look at the calendar of events in your local paper or online and you'll become your own best travel planner. I'll give them fun names because I like to do that. But you can mix and match the elements here or add your own. I'd love to hear about your favorite ways to add culture to your life and enjoy the experience of your own locale so please feel free to comment and share.



1. Foodie Paradise - If you live in a place with ethnic diversity and you love to cook or eat or both, (and, really, who doesn't?) you can make a tour of local ethnic grocery stores. You can go to various ethnic restaurants and try a dish in each, or make yourself a progressive meal with appetizers one place, main course in another, dessert in another. Think about visiting gourmet shops or specialty food stores. Or, if you're looking for opportunities to interact and maybe pick up some new skills, check out  the local adult learning center, a nearby college or food retailers for a cooking class or demonstration. If you live somewhere that has well-known chefs, pay them a visit. Many upscale restaurants offer lunch as well as dinner if you're looking for a way to get even more value for your experience. You could also find a local farmers or green market and pick up a few fresh items to cook at home. A central market for fish or meat or produce where chefs go in the early morning can be fun - if you're an early bird. And, don't forget that some of the best food experiences can be found in unlikely places. Food trucks are becoming more popular by the day in many places and some of the classic diners, food stands and carts also have unique specialties. There are also food festivals in just about every town on Earth. Take some time to think about what your foodie instincts are telling you, then follow your nose (and stomach) to a tasty little stay-cation!



2. Artist At Heart - For those inspired by visual beauty, a world of posh awaits you by opening up your artist's heart. Art museums and galleries, from the grandest to the tiniest make a good starting point. Local artisans and craftsman provide opportunities to see artistic achievements of those nearby. If you'd like to give your own artistic expression a voice, how about taking your camera or video recorder along with you as you explore. A video of your artistic journey could become a work of art itself! Sign up for a class that will take you outside to see the beauty in everyday scenes and capture them through painting, sculpture, photography or another artistic discipline you've been wanting to try. Many hotels and office buildings now boast incredible art collections in their public spaces. Sculptures can be seen in parks and public squares as well. If there are areas such as hiking trails or beaches or mountains nearby, why not take a drive or a bike ride to enjoy their beauty and capture it in art. Schools, community centers and museums offer tours or lectures on various artistic topics or survey's of an artist's work. Check one out or find a special exhibit that speaks to you. Visit a store that sells art supplies or a library or bookstore with books about art and artists and let yourself roam freely. Be inspired and feel creative on this lovely little dream vacation!



3. Shop Til You Drop - If your idea of a dream vacation is a shopping spree, then I've got some ideas for you. First off, don't think that everything has to come from a high end retail store in order to be a prize. In fact, many of the poshest purchases these days come from everywhere but there. So, think about making your shopping spree an adventure. There are so many places to look! Whether you're into antiques or watches or clothes or toys or whatever else, there are opportunities for you to experience the thrill of the hunt. Estate sales are a part of many communities and you can find listings even with pictures of what's being sold. Garage or yard sales sometimes include several households in the mix. Some of my most treasured books (such as a signed edition of a Julia Child cookbook!) came from the shelf of a house that was doing a massive cleaning. I really learned the meaning of "one person's trash is another person's treasure!" See if there are any happening around you, usually on the weekend. There are flea markets, swap meets and antiques malls, craft fairs, book fairs and more.  Consignment, thrift or vintage stores offer intriguing options and items of nostalgia that sometimes are worth the trip just to see. I remember getting a Pillsbury Doughboy cookie jar for about a buck that I discovered later was worth over $50.  And, of course, if you like the big department stores or high-end specialty stores, go for it. Sometimes they offer trunk shows or fashion shows with designer duds that you can watch and get insider views of the latest trends. Check your local paper to see what's happening and when. If you are looking for something unique or that's difficult to find, don't forget to scope out the classified ads in your local paper or places like Craig's List or eBay online to see where you can get exactly what you want. If you want the perfect fashionista dream vacation, make yourself the star of the runway.





4. Music Lover - Singing a happy tune can take you to another world. If music gets your juices flowing, why not make a little dream vacation devoted to musical pursuits? From indoor concerts to performances in the park, many communities make music an important part of their scheduled events. Jazz and blues clubs, symphony orchestra halls, performances by school bands and church choirs are readily available. Most local newspapers have announcements of musical events, and there are many such music happenings listed online at places like CitySearch. If you play an instrument yourself, why not go and visit a store to see what's new? A great set of strings, a pair of new sticks, can inspire you to make some music of your own. If you like, pick up some sheet music and learn how to play a new tune or two. If you're feeling particularly ambitious, invite some friends to listen to you play. Make your own "garage band" for a day with other friends who like to play. Try a new radio station and see if there's anything you've been missing. Or break out the old favorites and take a musical trip down memory lane. And, if dancing is your thing, then get out there and shake it. So many places offer dance floors and DJs or live music. It's great exercise and a wonderful way to do some socializing. Some large cities have their own symphony orchestras and opera guilds. Look for an opportunity to show up about an hour before the performance and see if you can get an available ticket at a steep discount. If you'd like to add a little global flair, look for a club or restaurant that offers international music and enjoy being transported around the world. Music soothes the savage beast, and also makes for a great stay-cation theme. Rock on!




5. Bevy of Beverages - Whether you're a wine lover, beer drinker, single-malt Scotch fan or other beverage believer, there's an opportunity for you to craft your very own special tour. Start with a survey of local establishments. Pub crawls have a long tradition and as each place is different, an opportunity to enjoy a wide array of options. If you like local craft beers, check out if any of the brewers have tours of their facilities or gastropubs attached. Winemakers have stepped out of the confines of France or California and now small wineries exist all over the world and throughout the United States. Many have tasting rooms and even bed and breakfasts with special meals that allow for tasting a variety of their offerings. Some of the larger liquor retail outlets have full schedules of tastings and educational presentations. Wine clubs are proliferating and wine dinners are available just about everywhere. Think about getting some friends together for your own themed wine or beer appreciation session. Courses and companies are cropping up to teach you how to make your own wine or brew your own beer. And there are certainly wine and beer festivals in abundance. Check your local paper or online to see what's happening in your area. Some social groups combine pub crawls with other activities. For example Hash House Harriers in many states combine running with pubbing (or as they like to say, they are a drinking club with a running problem). A visit to a small wine store will likely yield a list of tastings (Saturdays are popular), dinners and events as will a local liquor warehouse store.




6. The Great Outdoors - Adventurous or just with a bit of cabin fever, an outside tour may be just the thing to make your nearby vacation dreams come true. Plan an outdoor trip by packing up a picnic basket and heading to a park, beach or camping area near you. If you like to hike, fish, bike, kayak, swim, camp, jog or just walk and smell the flowers, chances are you're not too far from a destination where you can throw caution to the wind and let it blow through your hair. You can use the time as a way to refresh, renew and rejuvenate. Or, take along family or friends and enjoy each others company without the noise of traffic or the pressures of work. One view of the sunrise or sunset from outdoors and you will feel incredibly energized. Let yourself dream and be peaceful for awhile. Visit a botanical garden and walk through the plants and flowers. Enjoy an arboretum or nature park, trees and grass and leaves. Go for a nice long hike, walk or bike ride and enjoy being outside. There are organizations that plan gatherings in the outdoors, like the Sierra Club's moonlight walks or the Audubon's birding events. Visit a national park and enjoy the majesty of mother nature. If you are overseas, find an open space you find appealing, take a loaf of bread, some cheese and a beverage, and relax in it. Sometimes just watching a fountain or seeing the trees sway in the wind provides refreshment of mind, body and soul. The great outdoors can provide a beautiful way to relax and de-stress. No need to get a vacation from your vacation!




7. Sweets for the Sweet - Some of us are disciples of dessert. You love them all - pastries, cookies, ice cream, donuts, candy, cake...You are the ones that were told when young, you have to eat your vegetables if you want dessert. When you grew up you realized that there was a lot of logic in the saying, eat dessert first, you never know what's going to happen. And so, your appreciation of the fine art of dessertery has only grown. So, why not be like a kid in a candy store? In fact, why not go to a candy store? Or a bakery? Or several bakeries? You can visit the local hot spot, which today may mean anything from the latest cupcakery to gelateria. Even some of the restaurants you've been intrigued by have unique desserts for which they receive great praise. There are French bakeries, Polish bakeries, Italian bakeries, Greek bakeries and many others all specializing in the sweets of their homeland. There are cupcake trucks and donut vaults, ice cream parlors and frozen yogurt carts. Cookies, brownies, apple and cherry slices, truffles, caramels, pies, and more have made it into the stream of everyday life just about everywhere. So why not try out some of the very best? Whether the original soda shoppe on a corner or the newest organic baker, raving fans will let you know where to find the best of just about every category of dessert. Why not put some of them to the test and see which ones you like the best? If you like, enlist your family and friends to go along. Sampling and sharing is often part of the fun. Sweet beginnings and sweet endings make for a delicious little stay-cation treat!




I've only begun to touch the types of self-styled dream vacations you can create for yourself without straying too far from home. Whether you're a book lover or architecture admirer, transportation devotee, movie buff or sports fan, you can make a wonderful holiday to suit your personal style and tastes. I hope these ideas inspire you to find ways to enjoy the sense of adventure, fun, pleasure and richness that you can find nearby. Bon Voyage!