I’m not much for those random, commemorative days, but there’s one next Tuesday which sounds very appealing.

It’s National Plan for Vacation Day. Ever heard of it? Me either, but I’m all for it. Apparently, this annual observance is the last Tuesday in January and is to remind us to plan our vacations for the coming year.

As if we needed a reminder.

As if anyone living in Central Illinois in the dead of winter needs a special day to encourage dreams of a warm weather getaway.

Even my fellow columnist Bill Flick is in vacation-planning mode. He’s promoting a European river cruise, “Medieval Treasures Cruise.”

Surprisingly, a lot of us don’t take our earned vacations. According to Project Time Off, an advocacy organization, Americans leave more than 600 million vacation days unused. We are too dedicated and hard working. Or we’re just procrastinators. People who sit down and plan the details of a trip are more likely to actually take it, says the group.

So maybe a special day focused on vacation planning isn’t a bad thing. As my editor at The Pantagraph dryly remarked when she learned of the national observance, “Should be daily.”

Personally, I love planning vacations. Reading about exotic destinations and looking at photos of faraway places is a great distraction. My parents and I can spend hours watching episodes of “Rick Steves’ Europe” on PBS.

Sometimes vacation dreams remain fantasies. There were years when I had no money, but plenty of time off, or, I had saved a little dough, but no vacation time. But when the stars align and I have both, look out!

I’m one of those people who plans every moment of her vacation. That may really annoy some, but my travel companions love it. We are always on the go.

I once worked with a man whose ideal vacation was to jump in the car with his wife and three kids and just drive. No hotel reservations, no commitments, no plan. Being tied to a schedule stressed him out. “Just drive,” he said.

Another co-worker said she tried this relaxed travel approach with her honeymoon. On their wedding night, she and her new husband assumed they would just drive until they were tired and find a hotel with a vacancy. They ended up spending their first night as a married couple in the cold back seat of their car, parked at a rest stop.

“It was freezing,” she said. Apparently love was not enough to keep them warm.

The idea of “just drive” would “just drive” me nuts. You don’t have to always follow a plan, I advise fellow travelers, but at least have one.

However, even I have been known to toss schedules out the window. (Especially if that window has a balcony overlooking the sea.)

Last fall, a small group of us visited the Puglia region of Italy; the southeastern tip or the “heel of the boot.” As usual, I had designed an itinerary packed with sightseeing, eating and shopping, and I had arranged for a guide to teach us about local history. Every day was something new.

But when we arrived at Monopoli, Italy, a charming coastal town on the Mediterranean Sea, I took one look at the stunning view from the hotel’s rooftop terrace and canceled everything.

I texted the guide, “I’m sorry we aren’t doing anything tomorrow but sit here and gaze at the sea and sky.”

She understood.

“Why don’t you join us?” I suggested. We had just met our guide, Anna, the day before, along with her parents and aunt who traveled an hour for coffee with us.

“What time?” she asked.

“Oh, it doesn’t matter,” I said. “Just come when you want.”

You know, just drive.

Contact Susan Hazlett at susanrhazlett@yahoo.com or write to her in care of The Pantagraph, 301 W. Washington St., Bloomington, IL 61702-2907.


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