By pluck and luck, I’ve been able to secure a healthy stretch of vacation time — a true blessing to someone for whom wanderlust seems to be a chronic condition. I keep an ever-lengthening mental itinerary of places that I absolutely, positively must visit: Buenos Aires, Bali, Prague, Morocco, India, Santa Fe, Pittsburgh . . . and that’s just a start. Yesterday I read a travel article about the wealth of prairie-style houses in Mason City, Iowa, and now I want to go there, too.
Yet in looking back on years of happy vagabonding, I’m surprised by how many of my fondest and most vivid memories are vacation days spent right here at home: exploring richly ethnic Northeast Minneapolis on my bike, or riding the carousel on a quiet weekday at St. Paul’s Como Zoo with my son, Soren.
Every few months, I try to spend at least one day exploring my own backyard, taking delight in how familiar places look different when you view them through the eyes of a visitor. I rarely fail to find some little wonder that I had never noticed: a Bosnian coffee shop with luscious pastry, a magnificent oak grove hidden inside a local park.
Chances are that you, too, can enjoy all you love most about traveling — sleeping late, long lunches, afternoon strolls, getting out into nature, visiting museums or historic sites, the glorious sense of open-ended time — with an at-home vacation. This may not be a substitute for a trip to France or Hawaii, but it’s a nice way to bridge the gap between worldly adventures. And in-town tourism demands little in terms of time, expense, personal wear and tear, and environmentally costly fossil fuel.
Here are two tips I’ve discovered on travels through my own backyard:
Plan as you would for a faraway vacation. Pick your day in advance and treat it as if you were leaving town. Resist the temptation to stop in at work or tie up some personal loose ends. A day off that begins at 12:15 is not a day off — you’ll spend the rest of the day racing the clock.
Don’t limit yourself to summer. July and August are obviously great times to get out and see your town, but don’t overlook the rest of the calendar. My wife, Julie, and I always take a weekday for Christmas shopping, when the stores are less crowded. We actually spend most of the day lingering over lunch in a downtown restaurant and then walking home through the snow. It’s only four miles, but people react as if we had just scaled the Himalayas. That gives us the feeling of being adventurers at a fraction of the cost of a trip to Nepal.