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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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.Skip to next paragraph
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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.”
For many Russians, that inner peace may come from growing beets. According to Komkon, a private Moscow-based consumer monitoring company, 73 percent of Russians described themselves in April as “cutting back” on major leisure and travel expenses. Around 60 percent said they have begun economizing on smaller diversions, such as cinema and restaurants, as well.
Those trends will probably translate into more Russians headed to their dachas this summer for more intensive bouts of gardening. In the recent boom times, Russians turned away from growing foodstuffs – potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, berries, beets – and instead harvested decorative plants and flowers.
Now, in the balky economy, they’re spading rows of vegetables again. Studies have shown that, in hard times, Russians grow as much as one-third of their own food.
“Last year I didn’t know anyone who was growing potatoes,” says Andrei Tumanov, editor of a Moscow-based magazine, Vashi 6 Sotok, that provides advice for dacha owners. “But this year, they’re growing a lot more vegetables. Sales of vegetable seeds are up by 40 percent.”
Yelena Illinguina, for one, intends to spend her entire summer at the dacha this year. “Traveling outside Russia was something we only recently began to experience, and now it’s becoming more difficult again,” says the pensioner. “But the dacha is always there; it’s the place to escape to.”
Some governments, however, aren’t comfortable with citizens giving up travel – at least not domestically. The Japanese are usually among those who can be found, sophisticated cameras in hand, on the streets of Hamburg or the beaches of Hawaii. Not so much this year.
Many are rediscovering the road trip, with the aid of the government, which has slashed tolls on major expressways to help boost the economy. The reductions can add up to a saving of $80 or more on long trips. For Yoshihito Kobori and his family, it will be a group outing. “This summer, we will head off to the western part of the country to see my father in Mie,” says Mr. Kobori, who lives in Shizuoka in central Japan. “My relatives and our family, 10 of us, will go together in three cars.”