The travel game

One writer's strategy for choosing a yearly anniversary getaway



Original illustration

Josh Flanigan

My husband and I play an annual adventure game to celebrate our July wedding anniversary. Granted, it is a little riskier than a typical romantic interlude like a cruise or an all-inclusive resort, but we are both up for new challenges. It keeps us communi- cating and solving problems as a couple. (That’s a win-win at any stage in a marriage if you ask me.)

Rule one: the location must be within a 150-mile radius of our home.This year, it’s my turn to close my eyes and point on the map. I pick and open my eyes: Ithaca. My husband, Larry, laughs lightheartedly at this spot—it’s not as strange as some of our previous locations.

Rule two: a two-night stay is arranged. A bit of initial research is essential for familiar- izing ourselves with our destination. We’ll go with the flow and the rest will be left to experience as the location unfolds—like when we spent a delightful vacation in Erie, Pa., hiking the vistas at Presque Isle State Park and visiting the city’s public library overlooking the lake, an architectural beauty that I would love to claim as my own. There are a lot of “what-ifs,” and that’s where Larry and I find we have to pull out all our travel skills—like when we nearly froze to death in July at a rustic, rundown motel with malfunctioning heating on the eastern shore of Lake Ontario. The roads were flooded from a steady rain so we made do cuddling with books and conversation. The bonus was the best-ever set of fireworks for the Fourth of July when the sky cleared the following evening.

After playing “Where in the world are the Thomases?” for more years than readers would want to know, we have become adaptable, flexible, and practiced managing our trips.There is something about navigating our way and talking with local people that gets beneath the surface of a place—like when we stopped to chat at the newspaper office in Montour Falls (near Watkins Glen) and left with a complete two-day itinerary.

Once, we landed in downtown Rochester, and we decided to play as if we were tourists and only visit sites we ashamedly had never toured.We skipped the easy outs of familiar shopping malls and favorite restaurants and took advice from travel guides and hotel clerks for a fresh look at our city. As it turns out, Rochesterians are very friendly people.

Tiny, rural Prattsburgh (south of Bristol) was the other extreme. How would we fill the hours? By luck, we found a cheese shop where the owner gave us a complete walking tour of the family farm, an arts and crafts festival on the village square, and a gourmet restaurant to honor our special day.

Admittedly, our game isn’t a vacation idea for everybody. But if couples develop the proper attitude when traveling, they’ll have richer and more authentic memories to talk about for years to come.

So, let’s see. Where to go for dinner in Ithaca? 

Kay Thomas is a freelance writer living in the Genesee Valley. She blogs at overaroundhills.blogspot.com and is the author of a book of travel essays called A Smidgen of Irish Luck

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