Be A Tourist In Your Own Town!
Go ahead. Laugh yourself silly.
Be a tourist in your own town?
"But I live here", you say incredulously while wiping away tears of laughter.
Well, unless you have friends or family who live less than a day's drive away who won't mind if you and your Beloved indulge in a bit of late-night rumpy-pumpy on their fold-out sofa because you can't afford a hotel, you'll probably have to forgo taking a vacation anytime soon.
Also, fish and houseguests begin to stink after three days, so unless a giant salmon happens to be iced down in the bathtub, fish don't tie up the one-and-only bathroom for hours on end like a house guest (or house guestS) would.
In the interest of preserving your bank account and staying in the good graces of the aforementioned friends and family, I'm offering a cheap and enjoyable alternative.
Honestly, how much do you really know about the town you live in?
Or the surrounding area?
My point exactly.
I was a 6th grader bused in from the boonies on a school field trip the last time I went sightseeing in my own city. That was many many years before I moved here twenty-some years ago.
Since then, I've done a lot of traveling and gathered quite a collection of what to see and do in other places.
On a warm summer evening in Omaha NE, it doesn't get much better than sipping a margarita at the railing of a paddle wheeler while cruising up the Missouri River with live Dixieland jazz wafting from the lounge.
Or... Texas really is a "whole other country" and should again be recognized as the Republic it was until1846 (and technically still is). When the urge hits to to visit a foreign country within driving distance, Texas is my first choice. No passport necessary (at least not yet).
Or... The best (and cheapest) food between Kingman AZ and Oklahoma City really is at the truck stops along I-40. Also, it's much easier to get up the east side of Flagstaff Mountain than it is to get down the west side.
Or... On the other side of the Pond, the Guards change at Buckingham Palace is wayyy over-rated. Except for the food halls, so is Harrod's. And the Pret a Mangers in London serve the best bottled lemonade in the UK, rivaled only by Fanta's, which for some reason isn't available on this side of the Pond. ???
But until recently, if you asked what to see and do in my own town, the answer would've been:
You're asking me? I live here for gosh sakes!
I'd developed my own favorite routes and ruts while turning a blind eye to anything that might interest an out-of-towner. I could point a first-time visitor to some fabulous parks, the public library and its wonderful cafe, a few interesting cemeteries and my favorite chain restaurants.
And naturally, being a long-time family historian, the Kansas Historical Society Library.
But that was pretty much it.
There's an art gallery?
Several, actually, but I won't bore you with that list. (Well, not this time.)
But I will show you how easy it is to be a tourist in your own neck of the woods.
First, pick your destination.
Your own city or somewhere within 50-75 miles of home so that you can sleep in your own bed each night.
Next, decide when.
Maybe vacation time you've already requested at work, or perhaps just a weekend. Either way, block out the dates on the calendar same as for a "regular" vacation.
Now pretend you've never been to the town you've chosen. Ever.
Find out what there is to see and do:
- Google your destination. Bookmark or write down everything listed as a landmark or tourist attraction (museums, art galleries, etc).
- Google each of those, or visit the website shown in the first search.
- Grab local attractions brochures from inside gas stations, convenience stores, and the lobbies of local hotels and motels. They're not there for decoration, and they're FREE.
- Same for those mini-newspapers inside the door of the grocery store, gas stations and convenience stores. They're meant to be read.
- If there's a tourism office or a visitor's center nearby, stop in for their FREE brochures and handouts. These are also the best places for local maps with more detail than a road atlas.
Now work out your itinerary
Set aside an evening to go through the brochures and notes from the internet.
To get into the spirit, make a Trip Book from a 3-ring binder. The pockets inside each cover will come in handy later. Decorate the cover if you like.
Make a pile of any brochures, etc. that interest you...and those that don't. You could be pleasantly surprised that places you've driven by a zillion times on the way to work or the mall are a lot more interesting than you thought.
Remember, the idea is to get acquainted with your part of the world.
Use a spreadsheet to enter each location, distance from home, and opening times. Or put the information on 3X5 cards. Either way, sort by distance and opening time.
Be flexible but creative. Museums and galleries near each other could be a day by themselves with lunch in between, then dinner after.
Rather than visit places like big city art galleries or the Barbed Wire Museum - yes, there is one! - explore the small towns in your area. The really small ones more commonly known as "wide places in the road" that you usually ignore.
Such places usually have at least one (albeit corny) "attraction" that residents are extremely proud of. They also have mom 'n pop cafes that serve surprisingly good (and cheap) food. Even if there's no "attraction" per se, the architecture on the town's Main Street and side streets can be pretty interesting. Same for the conversation at the cafe at lunch or coffee break time.
Pick a town 70-80 miles from home as your turn-around point. On a map, pick a route that'll take you in a circle to and from so that you won't go through the same town twice. GoogleMaps or any other online mapping site is ideal for this. Or simply get on the nearest interstate and going out, take exits to the towns on one side, and those on the other side coming back. Look for "scenic drives" along the way. Take them.
Don't forget B&Bs
My area has a lot of B&Bs, in town as well as in the countryside. If your budget can can handle it, being pampered in a local B&B is well worth the money. Use it as your base for a two-day excursion.
Contact those that look inviting and ask which part of the week is the least popular. These will be the nights with the lowest rates...and maybe even a special, much lower rate! Breakfast will be included in the price no matter the day of the week. Dinner the night before may be included too. Be sure to verify that it is or isn't.
One B&B where I used to live was next to a spa, and B&B guests got a discount. Some B&Bs have arrangements with local attractions whereby their guests get discounts in gift shops and such. Ask about them.
The day before The Day..
- Notify friends, relatives, and trusted neighbors that you're going away just as if you were going on a long trip.
- DO NOT tell anyone but the neighbors that you'll be home each night.
- Arrange for pets to be cared for. DO NOT take them.
- Print out your itinerary and visitor information such as opening times and driving directions from the websites of places you'll visit.
- Print out address labels of friends, family, and yourself to make mailing postcards a snap. Get a book of postcard stamps. Stash in Trip Book.
- Gather your Trip Book, camera, etc in a backpack or day bag and set them by the front door.
- If a B&B is part of the itinerary, pack your overnight bag.
More ideas on being a tourist in your own town:
- Follow the Itinerary you made.
- DO NOT combine the day's activities with anything you'd do if you weren't on vacation (like paying bills, grocery shopping, or a trip to the mall).
- DO NOT go home at any time during the day (except to change clothes for a fancy restaurant or the theatre). You don't live here, remember?
- Buy a few postcards at each place you visit and mail them to friends, relatives or yourself as you go.
- Above all, HAVE FUN!