Travel First Starts At Home

By Nomadic Matt | Published February 5th, 2009

Man walking in the snow in a cityIf you think travel is something that only happens when you take overseas plane flights, long bus rides, or cross-country train trips, you’re missing out on a world of opportunity much closer to home.

Of course, you’re forgiven for associating travel exclusively with foreign lands, exotic food, and curious dress habits. That is, after all, the image handed down to us from the days of Marco Polo, David Livingston, and other great explorers and perpetuated by the Travel Channel and countless glossy magazines.

But the truth is, what most of us find compelling about travel is the novelty of it. Traveling propels us out of our daily habits and into a different mindset where everything, even laundry hanging out to dry, seems revelatory.

As noted travel writer Pico Iyer points out, the physical aspect of travel is not nearly as important as the mental. It’s nice to find yourself halfway around the world, immersed in the commotion of a Moroccan market or the sounds of Mass bells echoing through a cobblestone plaza, but it isn’t the only way to travel.

There is unquestionably a very amazing sense of freedom that comes from beholding a foreign scene. I distinctly remember spending an entire afternoon just staring out at the city of Udiapur India from the Monsoon Palace thinking how amazing it was to be there, to be anything at all.

So is it possible to enter that remarkable travel-like mindset without ever leaving your hometown? That’s a question I asked myself a lot last year since, for a variety of reasons, I was unable to take more than a couple of short, two-week trips.

I’m happy to report that the answer is yes, there is a way to enter that travel mindset without really leaving your proverbial backyard, but it does take a bit more effort than just stepping off a plane somewhere new and letting the novelty wash over you.

Udiapur India Monsoon Palace at the golden hourIf travel to foreign lands is a sort of sledgehammer for knocking down mental walls, exploring your hometown is a bit more like digging out of prison with a spoon—it takes more work, but with some perseverance you can still get past the walls of habit.

The trick to entering the travel mindset at home is to get your mind out of the “I’m just at home” mentality. Too often we simply assume today will be much like yesterday, but there’s really no reason to think that. I’ve found that one of the best ways to make your home town seem like a foreign place is to turn to the traveler’s favorite tool: the camera.

Last year I tried to take a picture every day. I failed, but forcing myself to look closer at the world around me did change the way I saw things.

Everyone is different, but here are a few of the things I tried:

  • Plan excursions – Just about every town, no matter how small, has at least one museum, historical landmark, or other point of interest that you’re probably not familiar with. Find a few and visit them one by one in a series of weekend trips.
  • Talk to one new person every day – I’m a freelance writer and frequently work at coffee shops, but with my headphones on while deeply concentrated on something. I’ve started forcing myself to take breaks and introduce myself to strangers on those breaks. At first it’s weird, but along with seeing foreign things, meeting people on the road is one of travel’s highlights. I won’t lie to you, I’ve had some awkward moments with strangers at home, but I’ve also made some new friends. It’s challenging, but worth it.
  • Take walks – You might think you’ve seen everything there is to see in your home town, but changing your perspective, such as shifting from a driving commute to a long walk, often opens up whole new worlds.
  • Check out guidebooks to your hometown – You’ll learn one of two things from this: in the best scenario you might find some stuff you didn’t know about. On the other hand, this might primarily demonstrate just how wildly inaccurate and, er, misguided, guidebooks are. All those mistakes and bad tips for people heading to your home town? Yup, you’re following the same sort of bad recommendations when you travel.
  • Start a blog – While not necessary, I’ve found that writing a blog about your travels is good motivator to go out and find new things, which in turn makes you more of a traveler. Write up a short post on your trip to the local brewery or park. Sure, probably no one will ever read it, but that’s not the point, this is primarily for you, not the audience.

I hit upon the notion of exploring my hometown as a way to hold on to that incredible feeling of freedom I had on my last extended trip. It’s definitely not as easy, but it has been rewarding, and while that free feeling may be more fleeting at home, you can still find it.

Scott Gilbertson is a freelance writer whose work has appeared all over the web. He is also co-Managing Editor of Rolf Potts’ Vagablogging.net and writes about his own travels at luxagraf.net.

comments 14 Comments

I love this post- the idea, the tips and the suggestions, and the writing.

NomadicMatt

@anthony: I’d consider your home state home too! It’s not that far!

@Susan: I am glad you like it! and that you read it twice!

I agree: It can be so, so difficult to break out of that “I’m just at home” mentality. If you’re having a tough time getting up the motivation, finding a travel buddy can help. You end up giving each other the jump start that is sometimes needed to get out and see your own town!

Anthony

How about traveling in the state you live in? That is what I’ll hopefully be doing next weekend (tracking down Hard Rocks!) instead of going out of the country like I wanted to do so originally. Only that since all the Hard Rock’s I need to hit are conveniently located about 400 miles in opposite directions from where I live, it’ll take 1,300 miles to get to all three.

But I’ll get to see my state more than what I’d done before w/o mom and dad…

Panhandle and Key West, here I come.

What you write is so true. A few years back, I did look at guidebooks to my hometown. And well, learnt a few things indeed =)

Wonderful article.
Just like you can be a traveler at home, you can also fall into the “home” trap while traveling! There seems to be a delicate balance in living the traveler’s life, embracing the nature of exploration and new experiences, while still taking care of business in the meantime.
It is when I sit in front of my computer for days on end, meeting nobody and learning nothing new, that I wonder what happened. It is a trap we all can fall into occasionally, but one that is much easier to slide into when you are not on the road.
Here’s to perpetual travel, regardless of whether or not we are actually on the move!

Another great way to be forced to see your hometown from the travelers view, is to guide visiting friends in your hometown – then you’ll have to shape up and know what you’re showing them!

Though if you have guests many times, you tend to get a bit tired of certain obvious tourist attractions….

Great post, Scott. I agree.

I live in China, and while that may seem very alluring to some, it is the same as living anywhere else. You become immune to the wonders around you. One of my resolutions this year was to see more, to travel around my city and province.

You can see a lot staying close to home.

I agree with Stevo.. I am British but I live in Los Angeles. It’s just become home.. after 8 years.

Yet there is actually TONS to see and do here that I have not done.

I also find oddly enough watching Globetrekker makes me feel less sad about not being able to be traveling.

Anyone interested in the state of mind of travel should check out Alain de Botton’s book about that very fact. http://www.alaindebotton.com/travel.asp

very well expressed ..and very useful tips during the recession, i must say :)

AJ

Taking my out of town guests and co-workers around my hometown/state is a great travel experience for me. I work in an economically depressed but environmentally rich part of the US. To show off the great cultural diversity and ethnic cuisine that has become “hometown” food makes me fall for my hometown all over again. The questions about my town also motivate me to research more of the history to make a better presentation next time! Love the idea of taking a picture a day. I may do a photo a week in 2010!
Thanks for the article!

Great article! “A Traveler knowns no distance” applies to this (my personal motto). My first experience of exploring a city is actually in Toronto. In 2005 my dreams of going to “Europe” were crushed finding out I didn’t have sufficient money. I was a following a blog about a guy who was in the same situation the previous year (he’s from Seattle) and instead of going to an exotic land, he spent his summer exploring his city. He lived there his entire life and have travelled to a lot of places but when it comes to Seattle he was clueless. So he had a brilliant idea, why not travel in my hometown? I followed suit, and this is how the story of why I know so much about Toronto. In 2006, I traveled Toronto the entire summer. I instantly fell in love with my city! Since then, I’ve been sharing my knowledge to friends, family and other travelers who come to Toronto. I personally think that every traveler should be a good Ambassador to their hometown. We come back telling our friends about our amazing stories from our travels, but in return we should talk about how beautiful our hometown is during our travels to the people we meet.
I used to have a blog for it but closed the account, now I’m thinking of reopening it again.

NomadicMatt

You should reopen it! Let me know if you do!

Will reopen it in January 2011 =)

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