For the first decade or so of our marriage, my husband and I didn’t have a designated vacation spot. Oh, we love to travel, but just couldn’t seem to find one place that fit us. In the Army and as a contractor, Graham has seen a handful of deployments, and often, after he’d come home from a tour, we’d treat ourselves to an adventure: Italy, Brussels, a Caribbean cruise, The Farmhouse Inn in Sonoma. As our family grew, these long-distance trips became less conceivable, and, thankfully, Graham’s deployment years finally ended. We traded in wine tours for sand castles and began looking for family friendly vacations. As we searched beautiful places around the country, we asked ourselves, who are we as a family? What are our loves? What are our non-negotiables? We decided, for instance, that we must have water nearby, though we don’t need to sit on a beach from sun up to sun down because we also decided we like adventure and history.
At the end of our search, we found a place with water and beach and history and amazing food and uncompromised natural beauty.
We found Maine.
The charming New England towns of York, Kennebunk and Bath are lovely and historical and full of ice cream shops which is a real bonus if your family is anything like mine. Downtown Portland is a gem, the harbor overlooking lobster boats and lighthouses. But our absolute favorite town is Bar Harbor. Going that far north—Down East as the locals call it—requires driving time, but the views from Acadia National Park are worth it.
The adventurous side of our family wanted to keep moving from town to town, but the we-need-some-downtime side knew to relax for a few days at what’s become my favorite hotel, Inn By the Sea, in Cape Elizabeth. We truly unplugged here with early morning coffee on the deck overlooking lush landscapes, boardwalk strolls to the shore, and s’mores roasts in the fire pits, watching the sailboats come in at sunset.
If you’re in the midst of planning a late summer vacation or already dreaming of next year, keep these tips in mind:
1. Think about who you are as an individual, couple, or family. What do you love to do? What are your vacation must-haves? Rate the importance of these words: comfort, adventure, relaxation, exploration, natural or aesthetic beauty, affordability, history, proximity to home.
2. Look at your travel options. If affordability is a factor, you may look at vacation spots within a day’s drive from home, but don’t forget to price compare train tickets or cheap airfare. In our case, inexpensive and direct daily flights from Richmond to Boston opened up options into New England we didn’t know we had.
3. Think outside the box. Maybe you’ve been doing the same family vacation destination for years and you LOVE it. Places can become so special and full of memories and I don’t discourage you from continuing to go back to those sacred family spots. But if you are wanting something new, try thinking outside the box based on your taste and preferences. If proximity to home is a non-negotiable, consider alternatives for your dream vacay. Instead of a cross-country trip to Yellowstone National Park, look at national parks closer to home. Rather than a white-sand beach in Florida 12 hours away, try a body of water closer to you that would be similarly beautiful and less headache (don’t forget the Great Lakes!). And if you can’t make it to Napa in the fall, jaunt over to Charlottesville, Virginia (shameless plug) where 30 wineries are within close proximity of the city and each other.
4. Do your homework. With a plethora of travel blogs, Pinterest pins, and articles available, you no longer have to travel uninformed. Even the most laid back among us may want to know where a few good restaurants are before we go on that next adventure. I don’t tend to put a lot of stock into Trip Advisor or Yelp anymore since I may not share the same preferences with other reviewers. But I do pay attention to Travel and Leisure articles and the 36 Hours feature in the Sunday Travel section of The New York Times. The best part about doing your research: relaxing once you arrive!