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The summer of staying close to home

For cash-strapped vacationers, time off this years means exploring ... locally. A report from Europe, Japan, and the US on the return of the road trip, backpacking with a burro, and growing beets.

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That’s a common refrain being heard around the world as wanderlust becomes something closer to wanderbust. A recently published survey by the Ipsos polling company told a sobering story in the US: Half of those who normally go somewhere in July or August said that they would be staying home this year.
In Britain, at least on weekends, that means many people spending more time at the local library. Recent figures released by 118-118, the main telephone-inquiry service in Britain, suggest that residents are spending more of their weekend time indoors.

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The number of callers seeking phone numbers for nightclubs, pubs, restaurants, cinemas, and bowling alleys – one gauge of out-of-home leisure activity – has fallen sharply over the past year. Yet inquiries about take-home pizza outlets have surged 22 percent, and, striking even for the land of Shakespeare, inquiries about libraries has jumped 50 percent.

“That might be one positive spin-off of the recession: our rediscovery of the joy of spending a damp Saturday in the book-borrowing haven that is a free library,” writes Monitor correspondent Brendan O’Neill.

In times of economic crisis, it is true that people tend to rediscover hobbies and leisure pursuits that have long been forgotten. Many, too, tilt more toward “values vacations” – trips that, if you have to spend money, take on more meaning.

Consider Heinrich Nordmyer. He is among a booming number of Germans participating in the pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain, where, tradition has it, the remains of Saint James, the apostle, are buried. Thousands of people make their way, on foot or by bicycle – sometimes also on horseback – along the ancient byways.

Similarly, another German, Milos Vec, says he is now abandoning his days of exotic adventure travel. He used to backpack in South America and visit Greenland’s glaciers. This summer, he intends to go hiking with his family (and a donkey) in southern France. “We’re hoping to find each other in a positive way, to discover something together,” he says.

His choice echoes a decided move away from the “status” vacation that many pursued in more flush times. “What matters isn’t to be able to say, ‘Look, I just spent five weeks in the Caribbean’ anymore,” says Martina Peters of the Foundation for Future Questions in Hamburg, Germany. “People long for inner peace, for a type of vacation that brings serenity. They look for ways to find themselves.”