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Posted on Tue, Aug 25, 2009 : 3:22 p.m.

Recession Blues: Where <em>Didn&#8217;t</em> You Go on Summer Vacation?

By Sarah Smallwood


You can feel it in the air: people are reluctantly donning sweaters, children are scowling about school supplies, incoming students are wandering down State, asking directions to Blimpy. No denying it—summer is coming to a close. The question is, how do we spend that last glorious weekend before the tundra descends?

While pricing flights to Boston to visit old college friends, I came across NPR story on buying tickets to minor league games to avoid the high cost of Fenway. As Labor Day approaches, I wonder: are local vacations something we settle for, or are they just as good—or even better—than the real thing?

The most obvious “Michigan” activities revolve around the water—late season beach trips, fudge treks, hiking and leaf peeping. Rather than work these into a vacation, they can be made the reason for the trip; skip paying a fee to tour the Grand Hotel—snap a few pictures of the outside and hit the shore. Any number of northern Michigan cottages can be rented reasonably for the remainder of the summer—with a fishing dock and perhaps even a boat, it’s the ideal retreat.

A weekend in Leelanau can be had for less than the price of a single plane ticket, and covers food, gas, housing rental and reasonable expenses. Most activities—sitting on the beach, hiking, reading, relaxing—are free. The pinkie is loaded with wineries, many of which offer tastings, usually free of charge. If you plan on bringing a few bottles (or cases) home, book two nights in a motel to save on the wine budget, and book the last night in a fancier place where you can open a bottle of two to celebrate: Great Wolf Lodge, with its full-scale indoor water park, makes the ideal end to a long weekend whether you’ve brought the kids or not.

Some make the journey part of the destination. When coworker went to visit family in Chicago, instead of driving straight back she took a detour through Wisconsin and took Highway 2 across the bottom of the UP—a shoreline longer across than Indiana. If you don’t feel like driving, the megabus runs twice daily from Ann Arbor to Chicago for just $15 each way. In addition to costing less than the price of gas, the four hours on the road are a great time to catch up on summer reading--or, if you vacation like I do, get some work done on the free wi-fi.

If you’re having trouble narrowing locations down, some easy Googling will lead you to a few Labor Day-only events: for the intrepid and (un-agoraphobic), the free Mackinac Bridge Walk is an annual trek across the five-mile bridge. If the walk doesn’t suit you, there are special events in Hancock and Escanaba, or hit up McClean State Park for some swimming in Lake Superior. We may only have five “great” lakes, but beaches and parks run down all shores: Lake City, Saugatuck, and Lake Linden are a few popular spots for local and tourists.

And if you just want a literal ‘retreat’—a backing off of the stress of daily life—you can embrace the cheapest and easiest version of the no-frills vacation: the staycation. Four days at home doing laundry and goofing off instead of hitting the road for any change of location. For those who live out in the country—and by that, I mean rural property in Milan, Dexter or Saline—there’s plenty of room for bonfires, lawn games and easy grilling.

Staying at home is just as rewarding for the city mice: unplug the phone, order some movies, go for a bike ride and watch the trees on your block start to yellow—it might be enough to convince your college roommates to give Beantown a pass for the mitten. Photo: October foliage in Leelanau (Brian Walline 2008)

Sarah Smallwood is a freelance writer living and working in Ann Arbor. She is currently rewriting her first novel, keeps a daily blog at The Other Shoe and hosts a podcast at Stuff with Things. She can be reached at heybeedoo at gmail dot com.


Top Cat

Tue, Aug 25, 2009 : 3:48 p.m.

I did a 15 mile canoe trip on the Huron River a few weeks ago from Bell Road to Argo Dam. The Huron is a very underrated river to canoe on.


Tue, Aug 25, 2009 : 3:41 p.m.

A vacation at Grand Hotel would be my first choice. Have you seen the deals they are offering this year? My family and I went up there and received 1 night free for staying 2 nights. I also saw a bed and breakfast deal for $249. You can't beat that, especially considering the high end service, meals, and accommodations. Trust me as a guest taking pictures from the porch or in the Cupola bar on top of the hotel provides an unforgettable experience that is worth much more than standing down below trying to "snap" a picture.