Now that the weather is finally catching up with the calendar and suggesting that summer might actually get here sometime, my mind turns to the idea of a summer vacation.
I have friends who plan their vacations far in advance. One couple I know operates on a four-year cycle, each quadrennium ideally including one overseas trip and one cross-country trip, with economical close-to-home outings in between.
I'm not well enough organized for that kind of planning. I rarely know much in advance what I want to do (or what I can afford).
Besides, I'm a bit of a pessimist. Sitting in Ohio through a cold, wet spring, I always figure it would be a waste of time to plan a summer vacation until I'm assured we're going to have a summer.
As of today, with temperatures having reached the 80s within the past week, I'm ready to start thinking about this year's vacation.
Whenever that thought crosses my mind, I remember the family vacations of my childhood, like the time our family drove to Florida for two weeks.
Gasoline alone for that trip would cost $400 today. Flying wouldn't be any cheaper, what with airfare topped off with escalating fuel surcharges and new fees for checked luggage.
The challenge in 2008 is to find a vacation that won't bust the budget. I thought I might find some useful suggestions this weekend when The New York Times printed its picks of 31 places to go this summer.
With a bit of creativity "and perhaps a willingness to stay a little closer to home," the article said, it is still possible to pull off the traditional American summer vacation.
Well, I guess that depends on where you call home. The Times' choices stretch from coast to coast in the U.S. and Canada, meaning the savvy traveler won't take a beating converting dollars into euros.
But if you live in Lima, there's not a great deal of help in the way of a close-to-home vacation suggestion. Only one of the 31 is within 450 miles of Lima. That's Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, home of an annual summer-long theater festival honoring the memory of George Bernard Shaw.
The community's other attractions, according to The Times, include "a lovely setting on Lake Ontario, a clutch of charming B&Bs and some excellent wineries."
And only 325 miles from Lima, just north of Buffalo, N.Y.
I could stand a little Shaw and a little rest and relaxation on Lake Ontario, and 325 miles isn't far to go. But the truth, as I quickly realized, is that it's not going to happen.
When I began contemplating this topic, I wondered whether the traditional summer vacation, as I envision it, was being killed off by increasing fuel costs and other assorted aggravations associated with travel, particularly air travel.
Eventually I realized it wasn't the cost of gasoline keeping me home. It was just me.
Despite annual daydreams of getting away to some exotic locale for a week or two, I haven't taken a real vacation trip in years. I haven't been on an airplane since 2002. In 2005, I took a week off and never got farther away than Bluffton.
This year I have a standing invitation for a few days on Chesapeake Bay, another of The New York Times' recommendations. If I really want to save money and stay close to home, I have the appealing (really) possibility of a quick getaway with friends in beautiful downtown Cleveland.
I'm not likely to take advantage of either opportunity. Whatever vacation I take probably won't take me far from my own backyard.
It might turn out that I'll be a trend-setter for the typical American vacation of the 21st century.