(ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: JULY/AUGUST 2005)
When you think "vacation, " which side of your brain is in charge? The rational left side, sticking to the itinerary, or the intuitive right side, ready to just start driving? Either way, the Midwest offers plenty to satisfy both travel mindsets.
LEFT BRAIN You must remember this lesson about a productive vacation: It all starts with proper planning. For left-brainers, a successful trip begins with laying out a careful regimen for what will happen while you’re getting away from the daily routine. Left- siders gravitate toward careful analysis, logic, mathematics and science. The more detailed the plan, the better. With vacation time in such short supply, after all, you can’t leave a minute to chance.
Transportation; maps; accommodations; tee times; health club, spa and pool hours; museums; concerts; shows; meal reservations, all are researched, scheduled, booked and confirmed. Then it’s packing, checked and double-checked against your list. Print out the web’s point-to-point driving route and travel-time estimate.
If it predicts three hours and 17 minutes of driving time, that’s not just a suggestion but a fact. Indeed, it’s a goal. So keep the kids moving at gas stops along the way. You want to have bragging rights when the guy at the hotel desk asks how long it took to make the drive.
Once at your destination, unpacking and settling in is a matter of simple organization. That’s the comfort in having a framework and knowing what’s what. Right-brainers might call you stiff; you think of it as well-prepared.
Now, let the unwinding begin. Whether it’s hiking a mountain trail or swimming laps in the pool, it’s all about fun with purpose. How many steps up the mountain? What’s the history of the old section downtown? What time are we due back at the hotel?
Techie destinations like science and space museums offer statistic-laden guides with facts and figures about how spacesuits work, about the power of NASA’s rockets, and the number and variety of subcontractors involved in building a space station. (That figure they quoted for Jupiter’s temperature seemed a little low, by the way. Make a note to check it online when you get home.)
The rational mind seeking an art fix might enjoy one of the most concrete forms of expression: architecture.
Join a tour and revel in the engineering marvels that mark America’s skylines. You might get the right-brain types in your family to tag along to savor the beauty of architecture while you talk specifics with the tour guide.
Even on ventures into explicitly right-brain enclaves like art museums, lefties find mysteries to solve, and learning is exciting. The logic of M.C. Escher provides a tantalizing diversion, along with the mathematics that underlie one of Alexander Calder’s mobiles and the multi-dimensional depth revealed in Pablo Picasso’s paintings. At the medieval arms and armor display, lefties can’t help but wonder: How long did it actually take those armorers to make a protective suit of metal and mail?
Be sure to set aside some time for spontaneous interaction with the locals. That half-hour of free time between tours should be perfect for chatting up a few street vendors or grabbing some literature on the historic local cathedral.
Just don’t lose track of time. Check the plan. Move on. You still have a lot of work to do if you’re going to get the most out of this vacation.
Staying on schedule has its rewards, after all. If things go well, you'll squeeze in the 30 minutes allotted for those true-crime books you brought along for relaxation.
Left Brain Vacation Ideas
2005—Your own space odyssey: The Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchison puts students in the driver’s seat with overnight and multi-day camps. A Mars Academy teaches participants to build robots and helps them learn how they would survive on the Red Planet; an Astronaut Training Program has spaceflight simulators. You’re never too old to learn, so the center offers adult and Elderhostel programs, too. Or, just visit for a day and enjoy exhibits, experiments and shows in the IMAX theater and planetarium (800/397-0330; www.cosmo.org).
Give me science, straight and simple How does an earthquake happen? What makes my heart beat? How can I make a volcano right in my own kitchen? Curious minds want to know, and that’s what makes the Science Museum of Minnesota in Saint Paul the perfect fit. Visitors find hundreds of exhibits and hands-on activities, and even can create their own weather systems. Special classes explore the world through scientific experimentation (651/221-9444; www.smm.org).
Animal science, in motion Textbooks can’t hold lessons like this. The study of the manatee comes to oversize life with a sleepover next to their tank at one of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s Nocturnal Adventures. These creatures, whose closest relatives include elephants and aardvarks, survive on more than 60 types of green plants. Learn how the lungs, heart and bones of the 1,500-pound giants work, and find out secrets of other animals on nighttime zoo prowls. Other overnights study wolves and wildlife adaptations (800/944-4776, ext. 7767; www.cincinnatizoo.org).
Right Brain Traits
RIGHT BRAIN So, what’s going to happen, Day 1, of your next vacation? You’re not sure? Perfect. Then your right-brain-friendly adventure is ready to begin. If you have learned anything from life, it’s that you can’t always plan the experiences, surprises and those one-of-a-kind moments that stay with you for a lifetime. Of course, it takes a little planning to get started. You need to pin down the destination, the beginning and end dates and how you’ll get there and back. But the key to a vacation tailored for the right side of the brain is allowing plenty of free time and space for unscripted discoveries. The right-sider admittedly craves emotion. Living in the moment. Finding surprises. And knowing that sometimes, a journey can offer as many memories as the destination itself.
Traveling right-side-style means trusting your intuition, being inventive and creative and enjoying the company of others while savoring the freedom to explore alone. If you happen to write down a daily agenda, it.s full of wonderfully empty blocks of time. Those detail-oriented left-brainers might call it a little careless; you call it carefree.
Some people just don’t get that there’s an art to doing nothing. Its payoff is feeling stress fall away as you drift into the soft rhythm brought on by a cool pool, warm sun and chats with fellow sunbathers over a frosty beverage.
When the time feels right to get moving, craft demonstrations and workshops are a draw, as well as tours of local landmarks. Why not? These are chances to meet and enjoy new people and new things.
On your trips, passion is always ready to grab the reins. Who cares if you’ve stood on the same cliff overlooking the same lake a dozen times before? It reminds you of that scene in your favorite movie, and that’s reason enough to hike back up there. Goosebumps are, after all, worth going out of your way for.
An art museum is a no-brainer for the right-brainer. Wander out of the lobby; get to know the painters at your own pace and, hey, doesn’t that sunlight on the floor look a lot like a Whistler work? Get up-close to contemplate the light resting on Claude Monet’s water lilies or Edgar Degas’ dancers.
And it’s not like science and space museums are off-limits. Dr. Selden Beatty, a neurologist at the McFarland Institute in Ames, Iowa, says a right-brainer’s emotional bent can even provide a learning advantage. Take spaceflight: Beatty says "right-brainers can fantasize the emotions of an astronaut. " Translation? Connecting with the exhilaration astronauts feel during a launch or hurtling through space helps make the facts about spaceflight seem more real and memorable.
If you need to keep some lefties in your travel party happy, try a bookstore. It’s a place where the People of Logic and the People of Emotion happily co-exist. Poetry for you; history for them. Cafe latte and comfy chairs shall bring you together.
Just don't worry too much about the clock. There’s always time to head outside and feel the wind. Sample an ice-cream cone. Take a side trip to discover a new shop. Find a great mom-and-pop restaurant and indulge in their signature pie. Snap photos of the beautiful vistas for your scrapbook waiting at home. And if you feel like it, why not stop by the tennis court? You’ll probably find someone else who just showed up, hoping to find a game. It’s what vacation is all about.
Right-Brain Vacation Ideas
An explosion of art, lakeside It’s morning at the cottage. Dew clings to the grass, the sun flirts with still White Sand Lake and a morning walk to the shore inspires the artist in you. It’s a picture to take home. Participants in Dillman's Creative Arts Foundation at Dillman’s Bay Resort, Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin, will do just that after a week of painting, photography or some of the other 27 week-long workshops. All this and vacation, too! It started with one watercolor class for resort guests nearly 30 years ago. Since then, the course list has grown, and families gather for artsy vacations, staying in lakeside cottages, swimming, boating, beaching it and connecting with their own creativity and each other (715/588-3143; www.dillmans.com).
Living the life of literature It's that dreamy imagining of simpler times and places that captures young minds (and older ones, too) when they read the real-life stories in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. A trip to De Smet, South Dakota, puts devoted fans right in the family’s house, thanks to tours given by the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society. At the Ingalls Homestead, a living-history site, learn the 1880s way in the schoolhouse and take a covered-wagon ride across the prairie Laura knew so well (800/776-3594; www.ingallshomestead.com; 800/880-3383; www.discoverlaura.org).
A hands-on music fest Families spread their blankets in South Bend, Indiana’s, St. Patrick’s County Park on weekends from mid-June through July and soak in music, dance and theater at the Firefly Festival for the Performing Arts. This year’s lineup gives lots of options, including a performance of South Pacific, a dance company, a symphony and the Charlie Daniels Band. At the popular Family Fest (July 16 this year), workshops that may include drumming or dance let visitors explore their own hidden talents (574/288-3472; www.fireflyfestival.com).
Quiz: Which Side of the Brain to Travel With
Don’t know if you’re a more logic-driven, left-brain tourist or an intuitive, right-brain traveler? Take our quick quiz to find out which hemisphere you call home.
1. You think of packing for a trip as: A. Unnecessary planning that just clutters your life. B. Something best done in a huff before high-tailing it to the airport. C. An exercise in efficiency. D. An underappreciated art form; as long as there are plastic zip-top bags involved.
2. Your favorite suitcase looks like: A. Um, suitcase? B. An antique tweed bag covered in stickers from around the globe. C. A black carry-on distinguishable only by the address tag. D. A reinforced metal briefcase with fingerprint-activated lock.
3. You absolutely can’t leave on a vacation without bringing your: A. Travel-size scrapbooking kit. B. Noise-canceling headphones. C. Book of crossword puzzles. D. International atomic alarm clock.
4. When putting together a schedule, you: A. Freak out because "schedule" isn’t in your vocabulary. B. Pick a couple of activities per day but leave room to explore. C. Rank activities by interest, educational value and distance from the hotel. D. Always remember to add in 2.4 minutes per hour for bathroom breaks.
5. In a hurry, you get on the wrong bus, and you: A. Scream like a 6-year-old girl. B. Decide to take a ride and see what happens. C. Quickly assess the schedule and determine the next stop and return bus. D. Locate yourself using GPS and call for a cab.
6. Driving toward Fargo, North Dakota, you see a sign for Darwin, Minnesota, home of the World’s Largest Ball of Twine. You: A. Slam on the brakes "Dukes of Hazzard"-style and head for that mound of string. B. Ponder the Zen-like dedication it would take to wind so much material. C. Have an urge to measure it. D. Grunt in acknowledgement and then say, "Hey, we gotta stay on schedule, people! "
7. When you say "This is God's country, " you’re looking at: A. A small cabin by a lake. B. The Milwaukee Art Museum. C. The Mall of America. D. Chicago.s Museum of Science and Industry.
8. Looking down a street full of hotels, you: A. Go for the "rustic" hostel with "all those interesting people" out front. B. Choose the modern one because you love its sleek design. C. Find a sensible hotel with reasonable rates. D. Scoff in superiority because you booked a room at a bed-and-breakfast six months ago.
9. An exotic meal for you means: A. Eating something that just might still be alive. B. Trying a popular regional dish though you’re unsure what it is. C. Finding an old favorite with a new twist. D. Ordering McDonald’s in a different language.
10. You’re on a guided tour of an art museum. You choose to: A. Wander off like a puppy without a leash. B. Only seriously look at those works that hit you at gut level. C. Consider the detail and technique of each canvas. D. Ask questions or take notes like you’re prepping for the SAT.
11. Your wallet gets stolen on your trip, so you: A. Shrug it off. Money is just a construct of a capitalist society trying to keep you caged. B. Start singing show tunes for cash in the subway. C. Call the police and hope for a miracle. D. Kiss the American Express agent when he brings you your new traveler’s checks.
12. When you utter, "I can.t believe we’re actually at this place, " you’re: A. Buying bulk food at Wright City, Missouri's, Elvis Is Alive Museum and Wholesale Grocer. B. Staring at Arcola, Illinois', "Hippie Memorial. " C. In Lebanon, Kansas, at the geographic center of the lower 48 states. D. At the Degenhart Paperweight Museum in Ohio.
13. When you buy a souvenir, you look for a: A. Colorful tie-dyed T-shirt made by local children to benefit needy charities. B. Handcrafted frame to hold your favorite photo from the vacation. C. Book that details the history of the region. D. Slide rule with the resort’s logo on it.
14. A vacation is a chance for you to: A. Relax and discover yourself. B. Explore a new place. C. Learn something while also having fun. D. Test the range of your wireless connection.
15. A perfect vacation evening includes: A. Dancing on the bar of a local pub. B. Tickets to a musical. C. A quiet dinner and a family Scrabble tournament. D. Curling up with a glass of Merlot and a guidebook.
Now it’s time to tally the results. Al worth 1 point each. Bl worth 2 points each. Cl worth 3 points each. Dl worth 4 points each. Add them up.
If your total score is between: 15-25: You’re so right-brained that you probably haven’t added up your quiz score. 26-37: You’re a right-brained free spirit who knows that limits aren’t all bad. 38-49: You’re a left-brainer willing to take a chance. 50-60: You’re so left-brained, Spock worships you.