When I was growing up, I lived in a small town in the middle of flyover country. (I wouldn’t be until later that I even knew that the Midwest was called that.) One of my biggest goals in high school was to go out and see the world. This interest, I’m pretty sure stemmed from watching way too much Discovery Channel over the years.
That, and well, mom was an art teacher. And she loved teaching art from around the world.
It just seemed like something I was always going to do.
Then college hit and I ended up telling myself that if I wanted to graduate on time, I need to book it. Traveling abroad, for the foreseeable future, was not in my cards.
Even though that was the case, I did do a fair share of domestic traveling during the long college summers. When I wasn’t taking a summer class, you could find me making road trips to all kinds of places east of the Mississippi.
Sure, that might not sound like a lot compared to other online entrepreneurs, but here’s the thing. I feel like I appreciate more of what we have in our own backyards a little more than others might.
I don’t feel like I need to leave the country to get the same benefits they do.
Heck, there are still places here in the Midwest that are on my list to check out!
That being the case and it being a new year, I thought I’d share with you guys some of my favorite ways to engage more with your own hometown or places that aren’t so far away.
That way you still get some of the benefits of traveling, but don’t have to go out of the country!
1. Pick up Travel Guides and Local Magazines for Nearby Destinations
This is probably one of my go to cheats in finding interesting things to do when I’m traveling around Indiana. When I was working at AMS daily back in 2014, we found ourselves going to various towns around Indiana as part of our whirlwind tour of events. When I was at those towns, I made sure that I got travel brochures while I was there to find out more about them.
Now some of my favorite towns in Indiana are those that might not seem too special if you’re just traveling through. Towns like Richmond, New Castle, and Noblesville are much higher on my list today.
Another thought, if you’re into museum exhibits, check to see what’s coming up in your city and cities that are within a day trip. Some of the best exhibits I’ve seen have been in Chicago, Dayton, and Columbus, Ohio.
2. Seek out Free Activities: Festivals, Art Shows, etc.
One of my favorite activities to take part in during mid summer to early fall is to attend festivals throughout Michigan and Indiana.
For example, in Traverse City, MI they have the National Cherry Festival. Many people who tell you that they’ve been to Traverse City is because of this festival. While I’ve never been, I know it’s a great time.
That said, there are tons of other festivals that are going on around the area at this time due to the harvest period. One of these festivals is called the Venetian Festival which takes place in the town that I’d visit my great aunt in yearly – Charlevoix.
If you like fireworks and being up close to them when they’re going off, their Friday night display could possibly be one of the best shows you’ve ever seen!
After that, I always make it a point to go to Indiana festivals including the Johnny Appleseed Festival, James Dean Festival, and any others that might be happening in Indy. Many these festivals have tons of artisans selling their wares – so festivals make great places to find one of a kind gifts.
Not in the Michiana area? Check and see what kind of festivals are in your area!
3. Let your Phone Guide You
Some of my favorite apps help me discover towns (and cheap gas) I’m traveling through. If you haven’t added them to your phone yet, check out these out:
One of the first apps I downloaded when I got my first Android back in 2010. It’s changed a bit since then, but still pretty useful if you like shaving a few bucks off your fillup.
During my quick detours off the interstate, I might find myself traveling a few miles to get to where I’m going. During that time, the area might catch my eye for future exploration. This is especially true in Indy when a quick drop off of i-465 might lead me to discover a new store.
Tired of the same ol’ cuisine? Maybe want to see if there’s any new stores in your area? This is a classic app that I’ve been a fan of over the years. Those that take the time to review on here are usually very transparent, so what you see in the reviews of a place is probably right. You can’t say that all the time for Google Reviews.
Perhaps you’re the type that while you’re driving down the road, you don’t mind a notification that suggests you might like a certain landmark that’s a mile or two off this upcoming exit. Or maybe you’re staying with some extended relatives and want to make yourself your own tour guide of the area?
If either of these seem plausible, you’ll love this app.
Side note: If you live near or in Virginia and you haven’t witnessed the Natural Bridge – you have to go check it out and many of the caves in the area.
4. Wander until Your Curiosity Piques!
When I was in high school, there was a popular activity called “Cruisin’” that many of us took part in. If you’re not familiar with the term, It’s basically when you’d aimlessly cruise up and down a certain main stretch on a given evening and eventually bump into friends from school. Then, depending on who was out, you might continue on the same route or perhaps you and a convoy of friends would go on a short excursion somewhere in a nearby town or country.
People had been doing this for decades, so it was ingrained pretty heavily as “something to do” in my hometown.
When I was in college, I took this method to explore Lafayette and the surrounding counties so that I felt like I actually knew where I was. I’d go drive to the Purdue airport and watch planes take off and land while I was doing some homework. Heck, I’d even find some legendary backwoods restaurants that only the higher-ups in the community knew about and socialized at.
If you live in a small to mid sized college town and you don’t really know the surrounding area that well, I challenge you to just drive and find out what’s out there without using your phone. Just make sure that you have enough gas so that if you get lost, you can get back to where you started!
5. Switch up your Transportation: Walk, Bike, or Take Public Transportation
When I was at Purdue, I was definitely a different person than I am today. I feel I was certainly more introverted… but I think that’s just the nature of the beast when you’re studying engineering!
When I went to grad school, I felt like I had the opportunity to make changes in my life and one of those changes was, when it was cold, take the bus. Up through this point I had always ridden my bike, but one too many slips made me change my ways.
When I started riding, no one told me that I wasn’t aloud to talk to people on the bus. So I started striking up conversations with whomever I was sitting next to. Interestingly enough, sometimes those conversations were interesting enough that a bus stop might be missed!
Eventually those people I had engaged with before, started shouting back at me. Whether it was on the bus or on campus, there seemed to be people coming out of the woodwork to say hi!
6. Check out Nearby Sporting Events
If you’re not into sports, I understand. This might not work for you. But if you’re into one sport, there’s a good chance you might like to dabble in others from time to time.
Or maybe, while visiting other towns, you might want to get a taste for their fandom.
When I’ve visited Pittsburgh, for example, you can’t help but realize that you’re in a sports happy town. Having all their teams’ colors the same really makes it all part of a unified group of fans. Even though the Steelers have been a rival to the Colts over the years, if I was given the opportunity to go to one of their games, I’d consider it to just take in the atmosphere of one of their games.
7. Be a Visiting Friend’s Tour Guide
You know your town better than someone who’s visiting. So what better way to explore than by seeing it from the perspective of a visitor?
When Maria and I were first married, there were a couple of things she hadn’t visited yet in Indy. One was the zoo, believe it or not. Having been there a number of times growing up, I had the chance to show her some of the old exhibits as well as learn about the new ones that they had put in there in recent years.
8. Try New Restaurants in your Town or your Friend’s Favorites in Theirs
If you’re in a medium sized town to the size of a city, there’s no reason why you should run out of places to go try out on a week to week basis.
When I was at Purdue, we had a selection of all kinds of international cuisine. Plus, some restaurants would change from year to year while others, like XXX, have been staples for years.
Make it a point to try as many places as you can so you really have a taste of the town your in. And likewise, when you’re visiting friends in other towns, have them take you to their favorite places as well as experimental ones. You might help them find a new favorite!
9. Make a Bucket List and Commit to Achieving It
I remember a few years ago a friend of mine randomly went skydiving with a group of her friends. They didn’t stop talking about that event for the entire year.
Is there something that you’d want to do in your area? Maybe it doesn’t have to be skydiving. Maybe you could just learn how to fly a plane? Or perhaps take pictures?
Maybe 2018 is the year that you stop talking about something and finally actually do it?
10. Create a Mini-Adventure!
If you’re finding it hard to find something to do, then maybe you can make a circuit of activities. Having been part of AMS for awhile, I know that there’s some adventure races out there. And if there’s nothing like that near where you’re at, maybe there’s a scavenger hunt company, or a murder mystery company you could utilize to help you and some friends have a good time together?
So hopefully these give you a little spark in coming up with places to go to in your immediate area. The big thing about travel is that it gives you new perspectives. You can find new perspectives in your backyard by simply seeing how others work on their own crafts.
If you have any other ideas in how someone might be able to explore their own backyard, let me know below!