Travel: explore your own region

Travel is one of those activities imbued with a dreamy sense of going far, far away and having a “once in a lifetime” experience.  You start to research travel and before you know it, you’ve decided what you really want is to live out of a backpack for a year while you travel across Europe and southeast Asia while living on $0.39 a day and escaping the droning hum of daily life.

And because this is obviously a huge undertaking, you do nothing.  Ok, maybe you change your desktop backdrop at work to something “inspiring” like a photo of Angkor Wat.  And maybe you grow a resentful little chip on your shoulder for a few weeks about working for the man and your “boring” life.  But you don’t take any action because you’ve convinced yourself that “travel” can only mean something unusual, spectacular, and complicated.  But that isn’t true.  

There are a ton of actually accessible options for getting out of your house and exploring the world.  You can do it in a weekend or even in a day trip.  You could probably do several small adventures for the price of one plane ticket for a more “exotic” vacation or trip.  And it’s just possible that some of these local trips will also be life-changing.  You may just discover that your own region has its own rich history, under the radar great restaurants, and unique culture. You may fall in love with the place you live.  The worst case scenario is that you spend a weekend day out exploring the world around you instead of binge-streaming episodes in your darkened living room, pausing only long enough to microwave something or call for pizza.

Maybe you’ve never noticed how many options there are for adventure right outside your own backyard.  Until I began traveling locally, I didn’t realize that within a few hour driving radius I could access zip-lining, whitewater rafting, presidential homes, kayaking, cypress swamps with alligators, farm dinners, skiing and snow tubing, world-class symphonies, hang-gliding, wild horses, hot air balloon festivals, and beach jeep safaris.  You might be surprised at all the adventures you uncover right outside your door.

Here are several ideas to get you started:

  • Pick a theme.

Sometimes the easiest way to plan a trip is to pick a theme and then plan several stops based on your choice.  It’s easy to make your own food tour based on a specific food such as BBQ, seafood, burgers, farm-to-table.  Or you could create your own personalized local brewery tour by finding several breweries within driving distance and doing a different one for several weekends in a row.  Or maybe you are into history but have never been to your local museums or historical sites.  Perhaps you are a nature buff dreaming of hiking the Appalachian Trail but you haven’t checked out your local parks, rivers, or hiking trails.

  • Pick a place.

Sometimes it’s best to pick a city, town, or village as a base and immerse yourself for the weekend.  Most of us live within a couple of hours of several small towns or cities.  It has never been easier to do some online research and plan a day trip to a nearby town.

When you focus on one town you can create a mix-and-match day that features maybe a historic home, a local restaurant, a new hiking trail, a boutique store or old hardware store, and a local brewery.  Staying in one place allows you to explore a little more deeply.

  • Pick an event.

A local festival or art event can be a great way to learn about your own community or explore a nearby town.  We once accidentally ended up in Charleston, SC on the same weekend as their biggest annual art festival, Spoleto Festival.  How did we miss the fact that this was happening?  Well, sloppy research!   But it turned out to be a cool event and made me think about seeking out events like it in the future.

You may also find that your own hometown hosts art, music, beer, or food festivals that you’ve never heard about before.  Perhaps there is a local home tour that you would enjoy.  Maybe that small town an hour away has an epic 4th of July festival and parade that’s worth attending.  We once attended a festival in a town we had never heard of that was devoted to peaches.  There seems to be a festival for everything these days and they can be a great way to spend time in a town you might otherwise miss.

  • Pick a purpose. 

By defining the purpose of the trip before you begin, you can better plan your weekend to fulfill that purpose.  If you need a weekend to recharge, plan activities that allow you to unwind.  Don’t pack your itinerary full to bursting if your purpose is to relax.  If your purpose is to explore a new city on foot, then plan to pay more for a hotel close to everything you want to do.  If you want to soak up some culture without crowds, choose a weekend when there are no other events going on to cut down on tourist traffic.  If you want to soak up nature, try a new place that’s off the beaten path.

It can be easy to get caught up in the idea that travel only means visiting exotic places or foreign countries.  But when we fall for that trap, we miss out on the world right around us.  We put off our travel plans until we have time or money or opportunity to take some trip that we have idealized as perfect, while missing the everyday opportunities that are in the next town over.

We get misled by all the Instagram and Twitter accounts showing prayer flags in India, or summit shots of some snow-covered mountain, or pristine beaches, or temples with monks in orange robes.  We think “that’s travel”.  It’s so easy to forget that our town has its own history, or to miss the local art museum bringing in world-class exhibits, or to never discover that hiking trail at the state park two hours away with the gorgeous waterfall.

What would happen if you closed Instagram and spent an hour researching travel opportunities within 2-3 hours of your front door?  What if you spent a few minutes each day over the next couple of weeks planning a day trip that you could actually go on?  What if you stopped thinking about travel as some inaccessible idea that will hardly ever be possible, and instead planned an adventure that you could do next weekend?  What if you stopped sitting on the sidelines and watching other people travel, and stepped outside to see what’s right around the corner?