Project Happy

Our happy places: The vacation spots we call home

Daphne Sashin, CNNUpdated 12th June 2015
(CNN) — As a construction engineer, Gabe Hayon feels like he spends most of the day with three phones pressed to his ear. It's much the same for his best friend, Justin, who works in sales across the country.
For one glorious week each summer, the guys reunite at a cabin in the Adirondack Mountains, where cell phones still hardly work. There are no texts, phone calls or emails to respond to; the only thing on the agenda is enjoying each other's company.
"My best friend and I met while we were at summer camp. He was from Connecticut, and I was from Long Island at the time. Summer was the time we got to spend with each other. It's where he and I learned everything we know in regards to the outdoors," Hayon said. "Being in the Adirondacks takes both of us back to when we were kids."
Hayon, who lives in Anaheim, California, will spend his 30th birthday at the New York cabin this month with his best friend and an assortment of spouses and friends who often join them. As they have for years, they will take to the Hudson River in a whitewater raft, hike familiar trails, sit around a campfire and do all the things that made them happy at Adirondack Camp on Lake George years ago.
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You can have your exotic resorts. When it comes to the ideal summer getaway, lots of people think the happiest places on Earth are the ones where time stands still, where they can swim, fish, unwind and reconnect with the ones they care about most. The places where you can bask in nostalgia and make new memories.
We asked readers to tell us about their "happy places," the travel spots they return to year after year. (Scroll through the gallery to see what they picked and why.)
The chance to disconnect from technology and breathe in fresh air, surrounded by natural beauty, was a common refrain.
Tom Murphine, 61, says Big Pine Creek in the Eastern Sierra Mountains has everything: towering pines, glacier-laced peaks, cool arctic breezes. The best part: complete solitude. About the only thing you can't get is cell phone reception, he wrote, and that's just perfect. He and his wife have been going camping there for over 35 years.
"You are left only with your thoughts and the smell of pine wafting down through the canyon, carried on breezes of cold arctic air .... the constant rumble of the glacially-fed Big Pine Creek always heard from somewhere in the canyon; your meditative moment interrupted by a group of deer strolling through your site."
"One grocery store, one gas station, The Sea Cow Eatery and a million and one family moments." That's how Kristi Metz introduces her favorite place, Edisto Beach, South Carolina.
"It's a step back in time to a simpler place and time. It does our hearts, souls, and family good every year about this time."
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Yvonne Owens, 54, says her heart will always belong to Payette Lake in McCall, Idaho, where she went to camp from age 12 to 18 and where her husband's father worked as a church camp caretaker. They spent their honeymoon camping on the lake at Ponderosa State Park and were baptized as adults in the "cold but wonderful lake."
Now, as empty-nesters living in Vermont, they try to go back with their in-laws and grown-up children to spend a week "swimming and basking in the sun."
"McCall is all about the nostalgia of the place," Owens said. "We have walked down those streets so many times. We have swum in that frigid water until we were pruney. We have hiked through those woods and picked huckleberries until our fingers were blue and our legs were sore. The people are wonderful and we enjoy shopping in the same stores and eating in the same restaurants every time we are there."
Working as a technician on a cruise ship has given 37-year-old Ruth Marie Garcia the opportunity to travel the world. But the place that makes her happiest is an RV camp not in any tour guides called Villa La Mela in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, where she grew up running through the mangroves and watching stars.
Her dad now owns a house there, and she visits whenever she is on vacation. Now, it's where she shows her niece and nephew how to fish, water-ski and play in the mangroves. They make a point to watch the sun set at least once.
"It might not look like the greatest place for some, but ... it's the perfect hide-out place where I go to relax, get my mind straight, enjoy the view and thank God for all of what he has given me."