We pulled into a highway truck stop somewhere in the Great Plains long after midnight. I steered our ancient motor home toward a long row of semis parked in the oppressive August heat. My wife clicked out of her seat belt and drifted into the back to check on the sleeping kids. I closed my tired eyes and wondered why we had strayed so far from Traverse City.
That two-week vacation contained a mixture of joy and worry. The camper was a source of much chagrin: The starter went out in the Upper Peninsula, the air conditioner stopped working in dramatic fashion (flames were involved) in South Dakota, and the power steering pump belched fluid puddles in Idaho. Chronic overheating — which caused the engine to randomly stop without warning at highway speeds — plagued us the entire trip. But our sons were able to see a large swath of the American landscape and, hopefully, inherit some of my appreciation for road trips. (Despite the problems, or perhaps because of them, the excursion certainly was memorable.)
Every trip I’ve taken, long or short, has helped educate and entertain. I understand the urge to fill every vacation with an epic journey.
This week, though, I’m in the middle of a staycation. My wife and I have two weeks off together, and we hope to make the most of it — by staying close to home.
Staycation benefits are many. No pet-sitting arrangements. No need to suspend mail or newspaper delivery. Less money spent on transportation, lodging and meals. A familiar and comfortable bed to sleep in every night. Less time consumed en route.
On our staycation, we have instant access to a well-established, high-profile, up-and-coming tourist destination: Traverse City.
We couldn’t ask for a more diverse set of tourist offerings: Some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, rivers for kayaking and tubing, scenic bike trails, forests to explore, small towns to browse, artisan shops, interesting restaurants, brewpubs, wineries, museums, art galleries, state parks, state forests, a national park unit. All within an hour drive. Incredible.
The Record-Eagle earlier this month printed a column by nationally syndicated writer Froma Harrop that addressed “dromomania,” which the Miriam-Webster dictionary defines as “an exaggerated desire to wander.” Wikipedia goes further and provides this non-clinical definition: “a strong emotional or even physical need to be constantly traveling and experiencing new places, often at the expense of their normal family, work, and social lives.”
I’ve always felt a pull toward the open road. But the necessity to earn money overpowered wanderlust — most of the time.
The urge to travel seems to be driving more people to venture away from home. The travel industry is growing around the globe. Well-known destinations like Venice, the Louvre Museum, Yellowstone National Park and Machu Picchu are feeling pressure from overcrowding. A colorful superbloom of wildflowers in the southern California desert this spring attracted so many tourists that foot traffic trampled a substantial portion of the blossoms.
The term “hypertourism” has appeared to describe conditions at some popular destinations. Symptoms are full parking lots, long lines, overused facilities, crowded points of interest and sometimes negative impacts on the attractions themselves.
Last summer, I witnessed the result of hypertourism at the Lake Michigan Overlook on Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. We pulled into the parking lot late in the afternoon on what I suspect was the busiest Sunday of the year.
I noticed damaged grass and snapped-off young trees where multiple people had parked where they shouldn’t. A pyramid of trash surrounded the garbage cans. I saw families thoughtlessly trampling dune grass. I heard multiple groups yelling loudly among themselves.
The atmosphere was more appropriate to a carnival than a national park. But maybe that’s just me. I view the dunes and other national park units as places of reverence for nature, places I yearn to protect and preserve and enjoy in their natural state. I like to absorb the silent mystery and majesty of the Lake Michigan shore from the overlook. So, I believe, do most visitors.
I’m not anti-social. I enjoy hearing children loudly express their joy at running down a dune or spotting a freighter far out in the lake. My quarrel is with adults who use public parks as a venue for heated political discussions or running family arguments. Things happen, I know. But I wish they’d keep the verbal battles short so the rest of us could relax in relative calm.
Social media overflows with posts from people traveling to exotic destinations. Glowing trip reports can make the rest of us feel like we’re missing out if we don’t spend our hard-earned cash flitting from San Francisco to Rome to Rio de Janeiro.
My wife and I decided this year to make our vacation together a relaxing interlude instead of a hectic rush across the country. We chose to skip the travel and take a close look at one of the most beautiful regions on Earth — right in our backyard.
We are enjoying a world-class destination alongside vacationers who have journeyed hundreds or thousands of miles to experience Traverse City.