Whether it’s to get a hang of things before you actually get going, to spice up you life at home, or just to get a better understanding of your own culture, there are plenty of things you can do to burst your bubble. Enjoy this week’s newbies, and remember, there’s no reason to ever have to say “I’m bored, I want to travel the world”
First, catch up our first five tips on how to travel right from home.
6. Use your tax dollars
When I lived in Montreal we had what is still to this day my most favoritest free activity/show EVER. Fireworks. Twice a week, pretty much all summer, we had a FREE, world class competition of fireworks. This isn’t your fourth-of-july-got-these-sparklers-from-the-discount-fireworks-shop sort of ‘fireworks’ these are the best gosh darn fireworks you’ve ever seen in your life, every week, twice a week. And people complained about them. Not everyone, most everyone loves the fireworks, but some people, I call them non-participants, complained about the taxes they had to pay, all for a bunch of traffic and some lights in the sky twice a week. There are steps you can take to negotiate which part of your taxes you’d like to pay, and I encourage you to look into it, but in general, when your city offers you ‘free’ entertainment and culture, don’t whine about it, GO MAKE THE MOST OF IT. Museums, festivals, street shows, park renovations, cultural centres, etc… these are all things that your appointed officials are doing to make your city more attractive to tourists because “tourism helps the economy.” Unless you own a hotel, a bar, or a restaurant, chances are you’re not making much money off of said tourists. So at least go enjoy what you paid for.
Most cities do a very good job of this, even if they are otherwise irresponsible or corrupt, most cities are pretty serious about their tourism revenue. This isn’t always easy to do, and sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone–maybe you don’t like crowds, maybe 15th century paintings aren’t your cup of tea, maybe you think modern art is a fancy name for a blue cube on a white canvas–but go at it with an open mind and be grateful for the ‘free’ opportunity. At worst, you’ll end up having a better understanding of how your town chooses to portray itself.
7. Take a leisurely stroll
Your town has parks, it has residential areas, it has business areas, it has coffee shops, it has restaurants, it has people living at the pace of humans, not cars. There is a lot of urban planning out there that revolves around cars. You can’t walk across Atlanta, I’m not going to pretend you can. But even the most modern cars don’t make a city run, the people inside the cars do, and that’s a completely different wavelength. So if you’re used to going to and from work and the gym in your car (more specifically, from your climate-controlled home, to your climate-controlled car to your climate-controlled office, to your gym’s recycled air, back to your climate-controlled home) it’s time to take a breath of real air, and maybe even kick off your shoes and grab the grass with your toes. Sit on a bench and take a look at the pigeons for a while, maybe there are children playing in an urban water park, maybe the local bakery just took the croissants out of the oven, maybe the rain is refreshing, maybe there are kayakers slowly strolling down the river. Take a change of pace. Close your eyes, take a deep breath (or ten) pretend you just got off a flight from the other side of the world to this strange place and start WALKING in any direction that pleases you and see where you end up. Don’t follow the same paths you know, turn a corner because you enjoy the color of the cherry blooms on the tree down the block, or because you’d never noticed that house was painted such an odd shade of blue. Walk it out.
8. Be a tourist
I’ve alluded to this a couple of times already, but I’m going to spell it out for everyone now. You might think you know everything there is to know about your home town’s history, that the local art scene is just no-darn good, that venice has better architecture, Japan more interesting vending machines, but experience has shown me that what you regret the most when you’re no longer in a place you spent many years in is that others got to see some beauty in it that somehow evaded you. You’re not sure how, you live here, you know it all like the back of your hand, but this friggin’ tourist found the most beautiful little piece of your town and you can’t even claim it as yours because you didn’t even know it was there. I’ll tell you how, you’re a local, not a tourist, and you’ve been slacking on exploration in the name of routine. So take your camera and a free afternoon and walk up the stairs to that holy church people take pilgrimages to, step into that abandoned building you’ve never noticed, or even go so far as to asking your neighbour where she does her groceries as if you were new in town. Pretend you know nothing and everything is whimsical and new.
9. Support your local music (and art)
It doesn’t matter if it’s a budding art-scene or not. Somewhere in town there’s someone with a ukulele who really needs a fan, or a college student’s violin melody awaiting nothing more than your attentive ears. These people are part of your local culture, maybe one day they’ll be famous and give this god-forsaken place a name. The point is they’re a drop of water in the ocean that is your culture and they deserve a chance. Also you deserve to be taken on a journey. So help each other out go listen and let them be heard. If you are a musician yourself you are not immune. Go check out a different scene, or a different art-form. People pay good money to travel the world and experience “authentic” culture.
While we’re at it, we’d like to add that around the world a lot of music and art events are sponsored by alcohol, we buy a lot of beer while we listen to music. Consider for a moment if everyone bought half the alcohol they normally do and spent the extra cash on direct purchases from the artists or direct donations to the spaces, galleries, or programs. The alcohol companies would still be doing pretty darn well, and all the art programs would be doing twice as well. At home and when you travel, be conscious of how you spend your money, money is a very powerful tool; every dollar you spend is supporting a person, company, or a cause.
One day I’ll write a post about everything I dislike about the idea of volunteering overseas. Today is not that day. However, there is a lot to be said for volunteering at home. There are people in need everywhere and they will teach you about a part of your culture you’re not at all aware of. A different survival strategy that happens everyday while you run your own survival protocol. The benefit of doing it in the place you call home is that you know the ins-and-outs of the political system, you can make real changes with your local votes and you are directly benefiting your own community, which in the end is really good for you. There are lots of things you can do. You can help at the local shelter, you can help landscape a park, you can get on a needle exchange bus, you can go around distributing jackets to the homeless in the bitter cold, you can go see if the local recycling plant needs an extra hand, you can spend all day at a dangerous intersection helping little old ladies and moms with strollers safely cross the street. The really great thing is that you’re probably passionate about something and that something probably needs a hand. The other great thing about volunteering is that you’re guaranteed, by the nature of it, to put yourself out of your comfort zone. I didn’t say donate. Donating’s alright, but it’s not a real connection with your community. Also, it’s not putting you out of your comfort zone. Think Globally, Act Locally. =)
You might think “all of this is just going to make me feel like a complete fake.” Think about it, when you land in a foreign country, do you know what part of the culture you belong in? No. You land and consume anything new under the sun and accept it as part of that country’s culture with a giant smile. But a lot of people fail to see that when they travel they only see a sliver of the place they’re in. It’s unfair for travellers to generalize a culture based on the sliver they see, but it’s just as silly to for a local to ignore parts of their own culture. The more you understand about the world the more bridges you build between people, and the more you understand about yourself, but to understand all walks of life, you have to actually walk them. You can assume you know all about the people you look down your nose on, or aspire to be like, but until you live a day in their shoes…. well we all know what happens when you ass·you·me. If you do all of this with a real open mind and a thirst for exploration and fun, no one will think you’re faking it and your enthusiasm will be contagious.
In fact, we want to hear about your local travels.
It doesn’t matter to us if you are a tourist or a local in your current city, if you have stories about exploring different walks of life in a specific area, share them with us and some time in the near future we will compile the best stories into a follow-up post.
Do make sure you leave enough info so we may contact you for more details if we like your tale.