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The Newest Tiny Luxury: The Micro-cation

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All too often, I hear people complain that they need a vacation, but they have neither the time nor the money to take one. I, too, fall into that boat far too often, but I have discovered what I call micro-cations.

It all started last year when my sister-in-law and I were chatting about how she always wanted to go on a Circle Line boat tour of Manhattan Island, and I always wanted to take one of those super-touristy double-decker bus tours of New York, but our kids and spouses refused to indulge our whims. Mind you, both Robin and I have lived almost all of our lives in the New York metro area, and yet we had never taken the time for these outings. A deal was struck—last year on a blustery day, she and I circumnavigated Manhattan by boat…and this past weekend, we, along with my mother, hopped on the top of the “Big Bus” for a tour of lower Manhattan. Four hours later, we had learned that the Fifth Avenue Library annex was once a mansion owned by William Vanderbilt…that iron-framed buildings allowed larger windows and more light inside…and that Alexander Hamilton was buried at Trinity Church. By the end of the day, one more thing happened—I felt refreshed and as if I had been away for days.

Between family obligations, home-maintenance projects and basic chores like groceries and stopping at the dry cleaners, weekends are rarely relaxing. Instead they are filled with a different kind of “work.” But it always amazes me how just a few hours away from “normal” can feel like forever. Sometimes all you really need to refresh and recharge is a total change of scenery and mind space. Being out of the house and away from those piles of clutter works wonders.

Even if you don’t live in or near a big city, there are plenty of micro-cations to be had. And I don’t mean simply taking a walk in the woods or going to the movies—although those are always wonderful ways to recharge. For me, a micro-cation is where you actually play tourist in your own backyard. In Connecticut, where we live, there are many “real” tourist attractions such as Mystic Seaport (one of my family’s favorite places), the Pequot Indian Museum and Foxwoods Casino, which are great for full- or half-day outings. But there also are local attractions like our town’s historical society and the many walking tours…or the Glass House, an example of midcentury residential architecture with beautiful grounds around it.

My friend Kelli and her husband amaze me with their adventures. They’ve been married for 10 years but still act like they’re dating. One of their favorite things to do is to go on a road trip to a nearby town for lunch or dinner, discovering new places to visit and dine.

Several years ago, I was actually meeting Bottom Line Expert Jill Miller  for dinner at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, where Jill was teaching. It was two hours away from my home, and there we were sitting at dinner when I saw Kelli and her husband peek in the window and enter the restaurant. What are the odds?!?!

There are countless reports and studies about the benefits of taking vacations, including stress reduction, lower heart attack risk and improved sleep. We all know them. But how often have you come back from vacation and said that you need a vacation from your vacation, because, ironically, big travel vacations can include quite a bit of stress from planning, family squabbles and the aggravation of getting to and from your destination, especially if you are traveling by air. Not to mention all the catch-up you have to do when you return from your week away. However, if you are simply playing tourist for a few hours in your own backyard, there are no planning challenges…no family squabbles from too much togetherness time…no air-travel stress…and no catching up when you get back. You simply get to detach from “normal life,” put on your tourist persona and be totally free from all those home obligations for a brief period of time.

As we drove back home from New York City last week, Robin and I made a list of the many other touristy things we have never done, and now we plan to have semiannual micro-cations. I am excited to visit places I have never been to because I used to think of them as “for tourists.” And now that my kids are older and my weekends are freer, I am also excited to explore my own beautiful Connecticut and the many places I put on the shelf while I focused on field hockey matches, dance recitals and birthday parties. Now I will think of them all as places for me to play.

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