North Carolina: Variety vacationland indeed

1965 tourism brochure

One of the questions I’m frequently asked is, “Where are you off to next?” That’s, of course, because I write about travel, along with a lot of other things (food, sustainable agriculture, the environment, artisans).

My answer a few years ago might have included Lombok (Indonesia) or Lofoten (Norway). But these days, I’m more apt to mention Laurel Springs or Lumberton, both towns in North Carolina. I spent much of 2008 and 2009 driving some 23,000 miles researching my guidebook “Farm Fresh North Carolina,” and this year I’m back on the road promoting it.

While some people seem disappointed and even sympathetic that I’ll be traveling around the Tar Heel state, as if my very life had been downgraded from first class to cargo hold, that assessment is far from the truth.

Cold Mountain in Haywood County in western NC

Absolutely, international and cross-country trips are fascinating, fulfilling, and fun. But so are adventures in your own backyard. I felt almost as giddy in 2009 exploring downtown Saluda (south of Asheville) as I did in 2006 walking around downtown Salta (northern Argentina).

So as my NC friends are contemplating their summer travels, I’d like to put in a plug for North Carolina. And, no, a trip to the same beach every year does not count, although it’s a lovely tradition and you should keep it up.

Outsiders have already figured out how great we are. Almost 37 million people visited last year, and we’re ranked an impressive sixth in the nation for tourism. Americans’ keen interest in our state has helped me sell dozens of NC travel stories to newspapers and magazines since returning to the Triangle in 2003. (I grew up in Raleigh in the 1960s, back when the state’s license plate read “Variety Vacationland.” Now I live in Durham, which, you might have heard, the New York Times listed among its worldwide “The 41 Places to Go in 2011.”)

Colorful ceramic wall at Penland School of Crafts

Here are some of my past travel-writing destinations in hopes that they’ll give you ideas. West of us: Waynesville and Cold Mountain, Asheville, Penland School of Crafts, Black Mountain, the Mast Farm Inn in Valle Crucis, The Edible Schoolyard and Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, and the US National Whitewater Center in Charlotte.

And of course I’ve written about my hometown, both its renovated downtown and the Duke Lemur Center. Heading south and east, I’ve done articles on Pinehurst, Manteo, Bald Head Island, New Bern, and Red Wolf Howling Safaris and hang gliding on the Outer Banks. One of my favorites was a story about camping on a platform over a swamp while following the Roanoke River Paddle Trail, which has been reprinted in several publications. And I visited hundreds more places for the book, which includes write-ups of 430 farm-related destinations.

Camping platform along the Roanoke River Paddle Trail

Next up, I’m doing stories about the eclectic offerings in Saxapahaw (go soon before the word really gets out) and “No Taste Like Home,” a series of “forage and eat” dinners in Asheville.

Even when I’m not writing, I’m exploring. While I’m in Charlotte on my book tour in May, I’ve set aside time to check out the new Levine Center for the Arts, Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, the Mint Museum Uptown, and the NASCAR Hall of Fame. I don’t care much for car racing, but I’m still eager to check out our state’s hallowed hall of horsepower.

Tourism will be in the news on May 10, NC Travel and Tourism Day, when state travel leaders congregate in Raleigh to tell legislators and the public how important the travel business is — visitors in 2010 spent a record $17 billion here.

Lemur at the Duke Lemur Center

But you’re not going to tour North Carolina because it’s good for the state. You’re going to travel our some 78,000 miles of blacktop because it’s good for you. Because it’s fascinating, fulfilling, and fun, no matter which of our 100 counties you venture into.

As for where I’m off to next, the list includes Southern Pines, Charlotte, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Flat Rock, Hendersonville, Wilmington, Asheville, Black Mountain, West Jefferson, and Boone.

Can’t wait!

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