Five ways to rediscover your city

Over the last week I’ve been talking with a friend about his desire to travel and how between school, homework, working, pets, household chores, and visiting with friends and family, life can easily get away from us. He mentioned how he was envious of my ability to travel somewhere new almost every month, his point being that most people our age live on a fairly tight budget.

I get asked this question all the time: “How are you able to afford to travel?” But what most people don’t realize is that travel is something I am not only extremely passionate about but also something I value above all other material things. Thus, travel is one of my top priorities in my personal life. I don’t spend money on anything else, except those bills I am obligated to pay. That’s how I manage to travel. Plus, the miles I rack up often mean I can get a regular priced plane ticket for a cheaper price.

But what got me thinking about our conversation is that people misconstrue being adventurous with having to travel internationally or to another city. Remember when I talked about my county by county project? I had just moved to Madison and all of my savings went to securing a moving company and first and last month’s rent. My vagabond feet were itching to explore but I couldn’t afford to go anywhere outside the state. So, I decided to get a little personal with the town I now call home. After all, this is where I am and there is a simple, quiet joy in reveling in that.

In light of my conversation with this friend I decided to put together five ways you too can rediscover your city. Hopefully it inspires you to be a little adventurous even while staying put.

  1. Go off the beaten path and try new eateries, bars, and nightclubs.

Most of us have our typical go to spots for where we eat and drink and hang out. It’s easy to get comfortable with the familiar but there are some pretty awesome hole in the wall restaurants, if only you look for them. And, if you live in a small town and have already been everywhere, hop in your car and drive to the next town over. Any place within an hour’s drive is, in my opinion, still exploring locally.

A resource you can look to for guidance is what many city magazines have started doing. For example, where I live, there is a Best of Madison magazine that comes out every year, highlighting the top eateries, bars, and nightclubs broken down by category. This is a good starting place, but you can even check out Yelp for some suggestions.

Since moving to Madison, I’ve been on the hunt for the best burger and cheese shop. My best bet was talking to locals and getting their recommendations of places to check out. I ended up stumbling across two places that weren’t in any guide book. I found the juiciest burger, piled high with bacon and blue cheese crumbles, inside a dive bar that was tucked in the middle of the woods just two miles from my apartment building. None of my friends have heard of it but it’s a spot locals in my neighborhood frequent on the regular. And, as far as finding the best cheese shop, there is a little dairy farm about an hour outside my town that makes their own cheese. Free samples and wine to pair with it – double score!

  1. Pay attention to the details.

Wander a random neighborhood or new part of town and be sure to change it up during the week. Exploring downtown today? Check out an ethnic community tomorrow. Don’t have the kind of diversity? There has to be an Amish community somewhere near you. Don’t forget to take your camera either. It’s amazing how much more you see when you actually take the time to look at your surroundings. You may even find some interesting things – alley ways with bold and colorful murals, a new park with some interesting sculptures, or a view of the sunset or skyline so breathtaking you can’t help but appreciate the peace it brings.

  1. Don’t be afraid to be a tourist.

You spend four years (or a lifetime) in one place and all of a sudden you realize you haven’t seen the main attractions of your town. Visit a local museum (many college campuses have them and are open to the public for free) or a national park nearby. Learn about your area’s history and how the city came to be.

I come from a smaller town so I understand there aren’t always a lot of big attractions in your backyard but there are smaller, even free, attractions nearby. In my hometown, everyone talked about “The Big Tree” – an oak tree that has sat on the outskirts of town for over a 100 years. It sits on the edge of a dirt road and no other vegetation is nearby. I had never been there despite living my entire life in the area so one day I drove out, took some pictures, wrote my name in chalk on the plank wood nearby, and read. It was glorious.

I now live in Madison, WI and everyone talks about Picnic Point – a walking path that leads to a peninsula and gives amazing views of the city skyline. I went there with a friend, we sat in a tree like Forrest and Jenny, then skipped some rocks across the water. It was a chill activity that let us see a new side of our city.

Being adventurous doesn’t mean you have to travel to a new state or even internationally. It just means trying something new that  you’ve never done. It brings an element of freshness and vitality to your life and makes for some beautiful memories.

  1. Revel in nature.

Live near a lake? Go ice skating in the winter or paddle boarding in the summer. Live in a mountainous town or a city with bike trails? Go off the beaten track and head out on your mountain or road bike. You never know, you may even stumble across a creek or river you can dip your feet in. How far are you from the beach? If it’s within a couple hour’s drive, you’re still doing the local thing. Spend the day sunbathing and building sand castles. And, depending on the season, you can get your hands dirty picking pumpkins, apples, cherries, and blueberries from nearby farms. As the poet Matthew Henry said, “When the world burdens you, find peace in nature.”

  1. Volunteer for a day (or two or three).

There are heaps of opportunities to volunteer in your community. Help pick up trash and clear brush off the trail, serve meals at a homeless shelter, run a 5k for a charity or cause, help build a home with Habitat for Humanity, plant a garden for a local children’s school, package food at a local food bank. There is no shortage of opportunities available to you, especially with a week’s time on your hands. Volunteering isn’t just something nice that you do, it actually makes an impact on your community.

One day, a group of friends and I decided to volunteer at the local food bank making Thanksgiving meal packages to be delivered. From our efforts, the Food Bank was able to deliver the boxes earlier than anticipated and we helped provide a Thanksgiving meal to over 900 families.

I can also attest to the fact that volunteering is a way to enrich your spirit. Having bipolar II disorder, it aids in the recovery process, particularly in building self-confidence about having a purpose and giving meaning to my community and to the world. I think that lesson can be applied to anyone.

There are a lot of things you can do in your own backyard that doesn’t break the bank. So if you’re thinking about spending money you don’t have on a trip to the beach or somewhere abroad, think of the endless abilities waiting at your feet, right where you are. A little staycation may even give you a new appreciation for your city and all it has to offer.

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Filed under adventure, County project, exploring, travel

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