Exploring Locally

We love to travel. Really love it. If we could, we’d do it full-time. I hope someday soon we will.

But right now is not that season. Right now we have an apartment that we call home and commitments to things like a job and a preschool and a church. We have routines. We shop at the same grocery store most of the time, dance class is on Tuesdays, and every other Friday we eat homemade pizza on the floor in the living room and have family movie night. Routines are good in so many ways and it seems to be human nature to find these rhythms. Even when we were traveling full-time around the United States for three months, we found our own set of routines. I like routines.

Except when I don’t. Sometimes they start to itch and chafe and I need to do something different. Often this strikes at about the same time as the travel bug bites and it’s time to break the routine for a while and explore some new part of the world. We haven’t been everywhere yet, but it’s on our list.

What about those times when the bug bites and we’re itching to pack a bag and head to the airport, but we just can’t. While I’m married to the king of “why not?” who can often poke holes in most of my “can’ts”, sometimes there are legitimate reasons to stay home. Right now, travel just isn’t in our budget. Right now, we’ve made a lot of commitments and naturally we will keep them. Right now, the suitcases will stay in the closet.

But just because we’re staying local doesn’t mean we aren’t exploring new things! Our recent visits with asylum seekers have given us a chance to explore the cultures, food, and languages of several other countries, all without leaving the county. We’ve learned and experienced so much, and while I still want to visit all of those countries for myself someday, at least I know that should I find myself lost in an Arabian desert, I know how to say food, water, toilet, please, thank you, yes and no in Arabic. Survival basics.

It’s got me thinking about other ways we can explore the world locally, since we won’t be taking a big family vacation this summer. Here’s some of what we’ve come up with so far, and we’d love to get even more suggestions!

exploring locally

Seek Diversity

Find a way to experience the diversity that is probably not as far away as you might think. Visit a church with a different tradition or racial majority than you might usually go to. Invite an exchange student over for a meal. Volunteer for something new. Skip the supermarket and try shopping at an ethnic grocery store. Go out of your way to find and interact with people who are different from you and see where it leads.

Break your Routine

Take an alternative route to get where you’re going, even if it takes a few minutes longer to get there. Park the car and try an alternative form of transportation, like a bus or train if it’s available, or even a bike. Try a new recipe. Listen to a new radio station. Take a bath instead of a shower. Put on your pants with the other leg first. Only you know your routine well enough to know how to change it. Don’t be afraid to be a little silly. The changes don’t have to be permanent, but it always surprises me how much of a difference a small change makes.

Be a Tourist

Have you ever had a visitor come from out of town and ask, “What should I see and do while I’m here?” Did you know how to answer? When we travel, we tend to research the places we’re going. We find the best museums, landmarks, historical sites, parks, markets, events, etc. How many of us do any of those things in our local areas? It’s always there and we can go anytime, so we don’t prioritize it and often it never happens. Go be a tourist where you live! Search online for travel guides, check out the visitor’s center or tourist bureau, and plan a vacation in your home area. Schedule a day to check out that museum exhibit you keep meaning to go to. Discover something you never even knew was there. Plan a picnic in that park you always drive past. Pretending to be a tourist might just help you see your hometown through new eyes.

I just downloaded the summer tourist guide for our area. Tons of stuff in here we’ve never tried and some we didn’t even know about. We’re ready to go!

Try Geocaching

This one might seem oddly specific to be given its own category, but few things have helped us explore our local area quite like geocaching. If you’re not familiar with this activity, it’s basically a treasure hunt using GPS coordinates to find a hidden cache. Caches vary in difficulty, size, and content. Check out geocaching.com for more info. When we first started we used a specific GPS device, but these days, there’s an app for that. So just about anyone can try it out without needing any special equipment. The thing is, just about anyone can place a cache just about anywhere, within reason. Most people place them close to home, so they can maintain them, but also somewhere of significance to them. You can search for caches near a specific address or near your current position within a certain radius. But in the process of pursuing the correct coordinates, we have discovered new trails, parks, bridges, and other locations that we never knew were there. It’s also fun for kids (of all ages) to be looking for a hidden treasure, following the coordinates and learning about maps, distances, and cardinal directions along the way.

Peter showing off a cache we found last fall

Visit Libraries

I love libraries. It always amazes me how few people go to their local libraries anymore. Sure most of us aren’t using the encyclopedias to write reports on Germany or blue whales anymore, but there are so many other great things about libraries that can’t be replaced by Wikipedia. Most libraries allow you to borrow movies and music, use computers to access specific software or databases, and let’s not take for granted that you can take books home and read them – for free. When it’s free, maybe you’ll risk trying a new author or genre that you’re not sure you’re going to like. Maybe listening to audiobooks on your daily commute is a way to find a little extra time to read. Our local library has even added a cafe that is the cheapest in town. A lot of libraries offer a story hour for kids and are gearing up for any variety of summer reading programs. I love taking the kids there and unleashing them in the children’s section. They can browse those books for hours, and even though I try to set limits on how many we will check out, they know they can usually convince me to add just a couple more. Yes, you have to keep track of the books you’ve borrowed and remember to take them back, but we’ve made it a part of our routine so it’s not that hard. And when things are busy or we get off of our routines, the library sends me an email when the due date is approaching. So if you haven’t explored your local library recently, add that to your summer explorations. Even if you have, why not try something new or ask a librarian for a recommendation?

stacking blocks
Our library also has boxes of puzzles and counting/stacking blocks if you ask the children’s librarian. Cannot believe that this picture is 2 years old already, but that’s a whole other story. Time. Sigh.


Anyone else sticking closer to home this summer? How are you still finding ways to explore and learn new things? What would you add to this list?

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