The backyard vacation

One of the advantages of living in a resort area is that a vacation experience is always within reach. On the rare weekend that remains unscheduled on our calendar, my wife and I look forward to what the tourism industry refers to as "day trips."

We'll drive to Empire or Elk Rapids, Northport or Frankfort, Omena or Onekama, Fishtown of P'town… We go to the cities and towns of Pure Michigan. Your trip begins at (Whoops, kind of got off on that Tim Allen commercial thing there.) Even with $4-a-gallon gas, the cost of a round trip is less than $25.

This summer, why not vacation at home? You'll save money on lodging and give a big shot in the arm to the local economy. And you will have fun! Here are some suggestions for getting into the vacation frame-of-mind.

– Don't answer your phone. Mute the ringer and let the answering machine do the work. Check in for messages when you think of it.

– Don't do any laundry. Worry about it next week.

– Stop at a gas station and ask somebody for directions to Sleeping Bear Dunes or some other tourist attraction.

– Buy an "Up North" T-shirt and a pound of fudge.

– Ignore the news.

– Lie around and read a good book on your deck, porch, or the beach.

– Take lots of photos.

– Send postcards to your friends and family.

– Go out for ice cream every night.

Destinations? If you've never been to a Beach Bums baseball game, buy your tickets now. It's fun and affordable for the whole family. The PA system throws in some great music and sound effects, there's a lot of fun on the field between innings, the brats and dogs are grilled fresh, and they have a lot of giveaway nights! Shoot for a Fireworks Friday if it works with your schedule.

Empire has a great public beach, and it's not far from the Sleeping Bear Dunes dune climb. Stop for lunch at the Friendly and ice cream at Tiffany's. Go back to "your room," take a nap, and head out to the Cherry Bowl Drive-In for a double feature. You can't go wrong with cherry pie down the road at the Cherry Hut.

Rent some jet skis and explore West Bay. Laugh at the worker bees back on shore. Or take the kids out on the Nauti-Cat.

Spend a day shopping in Elk Rapids, Suttons Bay, Charlevoix, Petoskey's Gaslight District, Glen Arbor, or any other charming downtown. Eat lunch somewhere new. Pile up as many new experiences as you can. After all, this is your vacation!

Take your bikes out on the VASA single track, or take a hike down the VASA trail. Spend an afternoon on Lake Michigan (Otter Creek), go out to dinner, and return for a beach bonfire and sunset. If you have a boat, explore the Chain o' Lakes, or the Inland Waterway. If you don't have a boat, rent a pontoon! See the World Youth Symphony Orchestra perform at Interlochen. Dine at a new ethnic restaurant.

If you really must get away to make it feel like a real vacation, spend a few nights in a beachfront motel, or take the kids to the Great Wolf Lodge or Boyne's Avalanche Mountain. Or ferry out to one of the Manitou Islands for some backcountry camping.

The point of a vacation is to discover new people and new places and to relax! You don't have to fly across the country or drive to another state to accomplish that. Cue Tim Allen: Your trip begins at!

Ron Jolly has been on radio and/or TV in northern Michigan for 25 years. He has hosted the WTCM NewsTalk 580 morning program for 13 years and is the author of The Northern Michigan Almanac (U of M Press/ Petoskey Publishing, 2005). BN