Sometimes, though we love to travel, it’s just not possible.  Lack of vacation time, lack of funds, too many weddings to attend, or too much work to do can all interfere with planning your next trip.  What to do when your travel genes are calling but you just can’t get away?

Chances are, there are  a lot of things to do and see and experience only a few steps (or miles or subway tokens) away from home.  We so often ignore what’s in our own backyard in favor of the exotic and the far away.  While there’s no denying the thrill of actual travel, you can create memories and look at the world — your world — in a new light if you learn to move around in your own town like a tourist.

It’s easy to do, and there are so many options, particularly if you live in or near a major or even a minor metropolitan area.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • If you’re low on time, find a single day in which you will pretend you’re traveling.  Set your alarm for some decently early hour (no, you don’t have to wake up with the sun, but don’t sleep the day away).  Get dressed and leave your house as though it’s a hotel room: don’t make the bed, do the dishes, or pay your bills.  No housekeeping allowed (that’s right, I gave you permission).  Eat your meals out, even if it means picking up something on the run, or packing a lunch before you leave home.  Wander around a neighborhood you have yet to explore, or choose a museum, a festival, an activity you’ve heard about but have never done.  Pick someplace you’ve never been for dinner — try stopping someone on the street and asking for their recommendation.  You could even enter an actual hotel and ask the front desk.  The point is trying new things in your city, or things you’ve been meaning to try but haven’t yet.
  • If you’re low on funds, you can still be a tourist in your own town.  Much of the cost of traveling is the travel itself, and the maintenance of being away from home.  Since you’re not actually leaving home, you eliminate the cost of the plane/train/automobile, and the cost of the hotel room.  This frees you up to use your limited funds on other entertainment.  In addition, you don’t have to plan things that cost a lot of money.  Is there a National or state park nearby that you can wander or hike in?  Are there neighborhoods to explore?  What about tourist sites that charge a token fee or are free?
  • Not sure what to do?  Find a newspaper, preferably something local that focuses on town happenings.  What bands are playing in town?  Are there art fairs, outdoor concerts, beer festivals?  You’ll be surprised what you can find when you pay attention.  For example, only yesterday I learned that Boston has a French Cultural Center, and that it hosts a Bastille Day block party featuring “francophone” bands and catered by local French restaurants.  How did I never know this happened every year?
  • Go to a local bookstore or the library and find the local travel section.  Find the local guides and scour them for ideas.  What do tourists do in your town?  What lesser-known sights are considered rare finds or must-sees?

The important thing is to give yourself permission to act like a tourist.  I don’t mean you have to be loud and wander around oblivious to people on their way to work…just drop the “I live here and am so jaded” attitude and let yourself be awed and excited.  Oh, and  let your regular life go for a short while.  Those dishes really can wait.