“Vacations provide the opportunity to change our ideas, experience new things, meet new people, bond with our loved ones [and] give our nervous systems a muchneeded rest,” travel journalist Judith Fein said.
Vacations interrupt the work pattern and are a chance to try new foods, drinks, places to visit, cultures and languages, she said. “Vacations are sacred. They are not a casual luxury. They are a necessity,” Fein said.
Choosing a destination can be overwhelming, given the many variables to be considered, including the budget. But if one is searching for an easy-to-reach destination, the task of choosing can be simplified. Deciding between cities and the countryside, or between beaches and the mountains, narrows the options. Whether seeking relaxation or adventure, several destinations are within easy reach of central New Jersey. A beach getaway to Montauk, New York, offers vacationers an escape to Long Island, the largest and longest island in the United States. With beaches and water sports to please every member of the family, Montauk is located at the extreme tip of the South Fork of Long Island, and is accessible by car in about three-and-a-half hours.
“Montauk is not like a typical town. It is an eclectic town,” Laraine Creegan, executive director of the Montauk Chamber of Commerce, said.
“Montauk is not a drive-through town,” Creegan said.
Montauk is home to the Montauk Point Lighthouse, the fourth-oldest active lighthouse in the U.S. It is located in Montauk Point State Park, which offers views of the Atlantic Ocean where it meets Block Island Sound.
Creegan recommended the Seal Haulout Trail for a family-friendly hike.
Fishing, hiking and surfing are popular in the area. A premier freshwater and saltwater fishing spot, Montauk also offers whale-watching boats and golfing.
A mountain excursion to Pine Creek Gorge, known as the “Pennsylvania Grand Canyon,” provides visitors with breathtaking views of the Allegheny Mountains. Almost 50 miles long and more than 1,000 feet deep, Pine Creek Gorge is located in Tioga County, Pennsylvania, along the north-central border with New York, and about five hours from central New Jersey.
Pine Creek runs through the gorge and is ideal for canoeing, kayaking and rafting, according to Lori Copp, executive director of the Tioga County Visitors Bureau. The area also has seven lakes for water activities.
“Visitors can walk to see the views at lookout points on the east rim and drive to them on the west rim,” Copp said.
Hiking trails throughout two state parks — Leonard Harrison State Park and Colton Point State Park — offer miles of trails. Barbour Rock Trail in Colton Point State Park is a handicapped-accessible 0.7-mile trail. The Pine Creek Trail offers 64 miles for hikers and bikers, and horseback riding is available in some sections.
With gas-lit streets and Victorian mansions that date back to the early 1800s, the nearby town of Wellsboro provides tourists with historical charm.
For a more urban experience, Washington, D.C., about a four-hour drive from Central Jersey, presents visitors with the opportunity to see some of the most historic and iconic government buildings in the U.S.
For those who have never visited the nation’s capital, exploring the National Mall is a must. The Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, World War II Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, along with others, occupy this 2- mile tree-lined stretch on the banks of the Potomac River.
Liberty Travel consultant Liz Mattioli said Washington, D.C., offers more than 100 “free and almost free things to see and do,” from the United States Capitol to the White House. She said it is an “amazing city, which represents what our great nation stands for.”
The Smithsonian Institution, made up of 19 museums and the National Zoo, includes 11 museums on the National Mall. The National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of African Art, the National Museum of American History, the Freer Gallery of Art and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden are popular attractions that draw in visitors with myriad interests.
Near the southwest side of the Capitol Reflecting Pool, the National Museum of the American Indian — with its curvilinear architecture and indigenous landscaping — introduces visitors to Native American culture.
“The National Museum of the American Indian recognizes the importance of indigenous peoples’ connection to the land. The grounds surrounding the building are considered an extension of the building and a vital part of the museum as a whole,” Leonda Levchuk, the museum’s public affairs officer, said.
The native spirit is alive in the exhibits and available for tasting in the authentic native food fare at Mitsitam Café, which means “Let’s eat!”
The Living Earth Festival is one event the museum will highlight this summer. Running July 17-19, the festival seeks to inform visitors about issues of environmental concern, and focuses on traditional agricultural practices, renewable energy, green technology, living healthy, active lifestyles and the importance of native foods in diets. It incorporates celebration through music and dance, according to Levchuk.
Nearby is the United States Botanic Garden, one of the oldest botanic gardens in North America. With free admission, visitors can wander around the exotic plants in the glass-domed conservatory.
Across the conservatory on Independence Avenue, Bartholdi Park offers a respite from the hustle of the city streets. The 2- acre garden park features the Fountain of Light and Water, in addition to rocking chairs under the pergola shade of woody vines.
Central Jersey residents may want to take advantage of the abundance of easy-toplan options to help preserve their own well-being.
“We run the risks of emotional and physical exhaustion” without vacation, according to Dr. Anthony F. Tasso, chair and associate professor in the Department of Psychology and Counseling at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Tasso said vacations provide an opportunity to regroup and recoup psychologically and physically. Although people are often reluctant to vacation for practical reasons, such as financial concerns, other times it is “based in a belief that they don’t have the time, and need to push forward with life,” he said.
Americans left an average of four unused vacation days from work in the past year, according to a 2013 study by Expedia, an online travel website. That means that the average American is only using 10 of the 14 days provided by an employer.
The Expedia survey also revealed that Europeans are afforded more vacation days than any other region of the world. French adults vacation three times as much as Americans, taking and using all 30 of the vacation days available to them, the survey said.
“It is crucial to realize that vacations actually allow one to be more productive both on a personal and professional level,” Tasso said.
“People want to explore. No one wants to just sit,” Mattioli said.