Here’s a strange question for you, especially coming from me: What exactly is a vacation?My mind goes back to a parenting concept I well remember from when my children were small: time-out. The idea was to defuse a bad situation by demanding that the child who was acting up sit still, cool down, and consider—supposedly one minute for each year of his or her life. This very weekend I experienced a full-grown version of the phenomenon as my husband and I drove to a wedding in the Adirondacks from our home in New York City. We were crossing the Hudson River on the Tappan Zee Bridge, and I was on my cell phone with the office. The river is special to me for a variety of reasons, beginning with my love of 19th-century Hudson River School paintings (I recommend, in particular, the Thomas Cole series Voyage of Life, at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C.), yet I was too busy to take it all in. My time-out ultimately came not through my own resolve but through a 21st century–style intervention: my cell phone and PDA exceeded my service provider’s reach. So there I was for a couple of days, on a lake at a legendary Adirondack camp, chastened by what I had missed and mindful to take note of what I found.
Taking note of the world around you, rather than focusing on the demands that rest upon you, may be one of the truest hallmarks of a real vacation. This month we spotlight a dozen four-day escapes that provide a lasting positive effect ("The Mini Vacation"). The benefits of longer trips are undeniable, especially when you go as far as Patagonia, where former T+L features director Nathan Lump (who just decamped to edit the New York Times magazine T: Travel) reports on four new lodges for "Patagonia Inside Out," or as far as contributing editor Ian Buruma, a student of Japanese language and history, who found shelter and diversion in the dead of winter on Hokkaido, a distant island in the Sea of Japan ("The End of the Earth"). Grand Cayman has diversions of another sort, for both tourists and financial types, according to journalist David Samuels in "Grand Cayman Glitz." And right over that other fabled bridge from my world in Manhattan lies Brooklyn, which, as longtime resident and T+L special correspondent Peter Jon Lindberg reveals in "Brooklyn Bound," may just be the best place of all for a mini vacation—or, for that matter, a time-out afternoon.