Art of the Trip
The joy of seeing places over and over again
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Holidays make me think of certain things. Grilling, fishing, weekend trips, all-you-can-eat crab legs. Getting stuck in traffic. I’m old enough now to have my own, and our own, traditions apart from the ones I grew up with.
A visit to Virginia Beach became a regular trip—semi-regular, every other year, in May or June—with mostly the same sightseeing and restaurants.
I think of taking our kids there one day, in the way that some of the things I grew up doing must have been my parents’ own little things first. I know which table we were given at the crab leg buffet our first time there. If it’s open the first time we go there with children, I’ll ask to sit there. If the restaurant is still there, which it probably will be.
There’s always a line to get in. And I always wander around the property and the strip mall next door, taking pictures of the neat old neon and art deco façades. I have four sets of these pictures, one from each long weekend here. They might be subtly different—the supermarket in this strip is vacant now, the restaurant’s neon sign used to be red—but it’s the same place.
We do the same thing in Pennsylvania Amish Country, where we go to the touristy but fun Shady Maple Smorgasbord and walk around the massive store/gift shop downstairs after dinner. During the pandemic, when we ended up in a little Airbnb instead of a hotel, we found an excellent ice cream parlor where we make sure to go now. The Lancaster area is changing a lot, but some things stay the same. If it’s winter we time our visit to see the migrating snow geese, which stop at a large wildlife preserve nearby.
There’s the wine trail trip between Staunton and Charlottesville, which might find us staying in either lovely small city, and hopefully one day the bed and breakfast (currently operating as a vacation cabin) on the site of a tiny microbrewery. (Don’t ask about the “spider cabin.”) There’s an above-average Motel 6 with a little mosaic in the walkway to the office. We love driving down the same country roads, where the only development might be a new tasting room.
There are so many things I first see and then remember. The goat in the small vineyard at the berry winery. The signs for the garlic festival we’ve never gone to. The homemade ice cream made with nothing but cream and milk and fruit in a tabletop Taylor soft serve machine in a little shack off a small road.
The repetition of these trips is, in some ways, the point. Making memories in different places, that come back to you when you return. Turning the excitement and stress of travel into a kind of ritual.
I’m thankful that my parents taught me (showed me, really) how to go on a daytrip or long weekend. I think of how grown up I felt the first time my wife and I went somewhere overnight. I realized that was one of the first times I sort of unselfconsciously did something that had been modeled for me as a kid. You really are, in many ways, your upbringing, and I can only say I’m very happy for mine.
What is it about road tripping or long-weekending that feels so special? I’ve seen it called a “context switch”: changing your surroundings and sort of resetting your brain. I guess there’s a certain reality to why vacation feels different than day-to-day life. (Moving, or starting a new job, or having a kid feels like that too.) Spending just a day somewhere familiar but special is like the best of both worlds.
We didn’t go anywhere this holiday, and it wasn’t exactly a long weekend (Tuesday off is fine by me nonetheless). But I am thinking about the next stay in some wonderful place we’ve been before.
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