(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.