The holidays are over, the snow has blown in and the slow crawl to Memorial Day has begun. There is less work available and fewer options for weekend fun.
Rather than fall victim to the winter blues, however, Islanders from Edgartown to Aquinnah are starting to plan their warm-weather getaways.
“It’s nice to break up the winter, to get an infusion of sun,” said Clarissa Allen of the Allen Sheep Farm in Chilmark.
The colder months and shorter days mean less work around the farm. For the past several years, Ms. Allen has joined family friends on their winter vacations while her husband, Mitchell Posin, does like the animals and hibernates here on the Vineyard.
“In the summer, you’re just so busy,” she said. “This time of year, people have a little more time, especially if you’re involved in farming. We have a down period. There is an opportunity to go away.”
Last winter, Ms. Allen joined friend Nancy Cole of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum and her family for a 10-day trip to Belize. The year before that, she went to Mexico.
“We like to explore, that’s what brought us to Mexico and Belize,” she said. “Yes, we like to go to the beach and swim and snorkel, but we also like to get out and about and see something different, learn something.”
If the shelves of Vineyard libraries and bookstores are any indication, Island streets will be noticeably emptier in the next few weeks as people pack up and ship off.
“This time of year, they’re always checking out travel books,” said Nelia Decker, librarian at the West Tisbury library. “People tend to go away and they tend to go to exotic places,” she said, noting that books on the Caribbean, Jamaica and Brazil were all out on loan.
The same was true up the road in Chilmark. “Quite a few travel guides have been checked out,” library director Ebba Hierta said.
She listed India, Argentina and Costa Rica as this winter’s hot spots. Even the outdated travel guides put out during the annual library used-book sale last month sold like hot cakes, she said.
Carlos Montoya, an Aquinnah landscaper, jumped on the bandwagon in late January when he left the Island to join his son in India for two weeks.
“Right around February it gets pretty dull,” Mr. Montoya said just before he left. “I don’t know if it’s light deprivation or the cold or just people hunkering down, but it gets a little thin. The spice of life is what it’s about and to get out to someplace warm and different is just exciting.”
In the next few weeks, Susan Mercier, manager and buyer at Edgartown Books, will change the store’s table display to highlight travel guides from the Caribbean. “We need to get people out of the February Vineyard doldrums,” she said.
With recent customers purchasing books on Alaska, Thailand and Viet Nam, Ms. Mercier thinks the pattern among local travelers is getting off the beaten path. “The trend, to me anyway, is a little more adventurous,” she said.
On the other hand, adventure may just be part of who Vineyarders, as a year-round Island community, are.
“I think Vineyarders are natural travelers,” said Holly Nadler, owner of Sun Porch Books in Oak Bluffs. “Because we’re fringe-y, living on the edge of the country, it makes us a little more adventurous.”
From her post on Circuit avenue, Ms. Nadler has noticed both a rise in the number of people heading to warmer climes and a decrease in those setting off for Europe. “People are having trouble negotiating going to Europe with the dollar being crummy,” she said. “Generally, we would be selling books on France and Italy.”
Starting a vacation from the Vineyard can be difficult. There is the ferry to take, the parking to plan and a shrinking number of travel agents, which used to dot the Island and help many local residents plan their well-deserved breaks. Nancy Gardella at the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce noted the change and speculates it reflects a national increase in using books and the Internet, rather than travel agents, to plan vacations.
From behind the stacks, Island bookstore owners and librarians are ready and willing to lend a helping hand to any novice or experienced traveler.
“Wherever you want to go, nine times out of 10 there’s a book on it,” said Ms. Mercier over at the bookstore.
Up in Chilmark, Mrs. Hierta said the travel guide to pick depends on the traveler.
“Rough Guide and Let’s Go are good for someone who’s looking for something a little different, who doesn’t mind hunting around,” she said. “Lonely Planet is also very popular. Frommers and Fodors and Discovery are all really good guides with good, basic information for places that tourists tend to go.” When she travels, she said, she takes a slew of guides to cover all the bases.
Whether they be traveling to South America, snorkeling in the Caribbean or taking in India atop an elephant, winter travelers from the Vineyard all have one thing in common: the homecoming. For Nancy Cole, the trip back to the Island is like the cherry on the vacation sundae. “Whenever I go away,” she said, “I’m always so happy to come home.”