Sometimes The Best Travel Is Closest To Home

I’m not a member of the “100-countries” club, aka the Century Clubbut I have been around. I’ve been to every continent (except Antartica), 55 countries and, closer to home, all but seven U.S. states. I’ve been known to fly halfway around the world on a few days’ notice for a week-long trip. If I have my way, someday I will join CC’s elite travel community.

Despite all the traveling I’ve done as an adult, I led a rather parochial life growing up. Our family didn’t venture far, mostly just to visit relatives further north in New York. I think I crossed state lines exactly once — to Hershey, PA. — an obligatory vacation for families in that part of the country. We took that other de rigueur trip, to Niagara Falls, though I can’t recall whether we dipped a toe into Canada. Even if we did, we would’ve stayed in a cheap American motel and eaten at familiar chain restaurants.

I officially caught the travel bug right after college, when my beau invited me to accompany him to Germany, where he’d spent his junior year and now had a three-month job. I jumped at the chance. When time was up, we got teaching jobs, extended our stay by a year, visited 10 countries and dubbed our VW beetle “Wanderlust.”

Once back in the States, I was chomping at the bit to get out again and returned to Europe at least once a year for some time. Once I got into scuba diving, my horizons widened (or should I say deepened?), and I traded megalithic cathedrals and cobblestone pedestrian zones for warm water and great reefs. During really busy travel periods, I kept a suitcase half-packed and my passport ready to grab on a moment’s notice.

I wasn’t uninterested in places closer to home; I was just young and impressionable and always in search of the next Big Wow.

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A New York State of Mind

This past summer, my sister and I were planning to attend a multi-class reunion in our hometown upstate. Since we both had some vacation time, we decided to turn a fun weekend into a sensational week.

We set some logistical parameters and I immediately suggested the furthest realistic-yet-most-exotic place — Canada! — all the more compelling because my sister had never seen Toronto. (“It’s like driving to Europe,” I told her.)

Then we had a brainstorm. Growing up, we knew about the Finger Lakes, all of 60 miles away. I’d always heard people gush over their beauty, but aside from a couple of trips to Watkins Glen, I’d never quite made it there.

Planning the trip was a whole other animal. For starters, there are 11 lakes in the group (with exotic Indian names like Owasco, Otisco, Honeoye and Seneca) and 650 miles of shoreline. The 9,000-square-mile region sprawls from Lake Ontario to the Pennsylvania border. But I knew exactly how to plan the perfect trip: I’d let my sister do it.

We realized that four days wasn’t nearly enough to squeeze in everything we wanted to do: hiking, eating, doing water activities (there are 1,063 waterfalls in the region!), horseback riding and antiquing. In addition to drinking in the natural beauty, there was going to be a lot of actual drinking. The Finger Lakes, that blue handprint smack in the middle of western New York, are home to more than 100 winemakers.

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Getting a Handle on the Finger Lakes

We reached the area at noon and kicked off the trip with a wine-tasting lunch at one of the premier tasting rooms, Fox Run. The former dairy dates to 1865, but for the past 23 years, it’s been cranking out a very different kind of drink.