What I Did (and Didn’t Do) On My Summer Vacation

As a child growing up in Greece, my favorite poem was “Ithaca” by the Greek poet Cavafy. My sister Agapi and I recited it long before we could properly pronounce the words or understand its meaning. It begins:

When you set out on the voyage to Ithaca,
Pray that your journey may be long,
full of adventures, full of knowledge.

Some of my happiest moments came through travel. I still remember the excitement of my first trip out of Athens — a visit to Paris when I was 11 — and the indelible memory of my first taste of the world outside my homeland. And I have the most amazing memories of my first trip to America, when I was 16, as part of a program called the Experiment in International Living, and of my time, a year later, studying comparative religion at Visva-Bharati University, outside Calcutta.

Today, much further on in my own life’s journey, I have a fuller sense of the rich wisdom of Cavafy’s lines. And the long journeys that carry us toward our own Ithacas don’t necessarily have to be long ones. There are adventures and knowledge to be found very close to home — actually, without even leaving home. Maybe it’s because I travel so much for work but, for all the allure of distant and exotic places, there is still something even more magnetic to be discovered in my own backyard.

Even before The Great Recession, “staycation” — which the New York Times called a “tarted-up pseudoword” — captured something real: our collective realization that adventure and discovery don’t have to involve boarding a plane. And that there is no correlation between the recharging benefits of a vacation and miles traveled.

Maybe it’s the rushed, hyper-connected, always-on aspect of our lives that has led us to appreciate the joys of unplugging and recharging at home. And there’s no better time than these waning days of summer to redefine travel by pausing, reflecting, and looking around our homes and hometowns with fresh eyes before we gear up with our next big travel plan taking us to a faraway land.

A fun way to start is by buying a guidebook for the place you live (and, of course, checking out your local Patch). You’ll be surprised at the number of amazing local destinations you never knew about, the landmarks you see every day but never visit because you’ve always dismissed them as tourist traps or have seen them so much you no longer give them a second look. And, though it may sound strange if you are not going anywhere, go ahead and set a budget for your time off — and enjoy the satisfaction of realizing your vacation money goes a lot further when you don’t have to spring for plane tickets and hotels.

Part of the benefit of a vacation comes from breaking routine, getting out of habits, and experiencing the world around us in a new way. The essence of travel is not found in the number of stamps in our passports — to really travel is to better understand a place through exploration and effort.

As an added benefit to exploring near home, there’s no threat of lines, delays, TSA workers grabbing your junk, or the myriad inconveniences of air travel like having an Airbus 330 grounded for 5 hours due to a stowaway mouse.

This summer, with all of HuffPost’s new launches and international expansions, I’ve had no time for a “traditional” vacation. So I created my own vacation here at home, with weekend massages, facials, yoga classes, and explorations of my new neighborhood.

I realized, for example, that I live just blocks from the High Line, New York’s magnificent park set on a former elevated train track. Or, tucked away on a small street, the Cherry Lane Theatre, where I just saw a beautiful new play, Manipulation. Then, Cafe Cluny, where I discovered the best pistachio ice cream (with real, whole pistachios inside) — better than any pistachio gelato in Capri.

Just around the corner from HuffPost’s new office is the legendary McSorley’s Old Ale House, which did not admit women until 1970, and whose gas lamp chandelier was covered with World War I-era dust until April, when the city’s health department demanded that it be cleaned off.

I made a conscious effort to see my home neighborhood with fresh eyes and those nuggets of rich local history were my immediate reward.

All in all, my travel-less vacation has left me with more time to unplug and recharge, meditate, and enjoy one of my favorite things: piling up all my work and staying in bed on a Sunday morning, making calls and answering emails. It’s a quiet reminder that when it comes to travel, the journey to knowledge and adventure need not be long.

For more unique, informative and inspirational takes on travel both on the home front and abroad — both redefined and traditional — be sure to check out HuffPost Travel, Gadling, and, for great deals and to book a trip, AOL Travel.


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