The end of the year is fast approaching… and for most of us that means the holiday season. And wouldn’t it be dreamy to get away and take break… an exotic island, a foreign city… a friend’s beach house or amenable relatives on the far side of the country. The reality is that we can’t always do that… nothing squashes the holiday spirit quite like breaking the budget and realising that you are going to be paying for it for the rest of the year. A good solution is to have a holiday in your own town… and I can hear all the mothers in the world saying… Aargh… that just means double the work for me and everyone else has all the fun. Been there done that, and that isn’t the refresher that most of us need. You need to be intentional and you need to plan for it.
What makes a holiday great is that you go somewhere else, and you break away from your normal rhythm. You don’t have all the stuff of home and you don’t have to get to all your normal activities and you don’t have to do all your typical chores. So the trick of a good holiday is to try and emulate that. The huge advantage to being a tourist in your own town is that with the help of a travel guide you can look at your town through fresh eyes and at the same time you have insider tips… a place might be a great spot for taking photographs but the worst place in town for coffee… you can use what you know to your advantage and all the while discover new and interesting things.
Se7en Tips to Being a Tourist in Your Own Town
- Pack for the Event: The wonderful thing about being a tourist in your own towel is that you don’t have to carry luggage. That being said you will need a good backpack to carry a couple of things with you. I always have a beach towel, that acts as a picnic blanket, my camera and a sketchbook and pencil, and a water bottle. Along the way if you pick up pamphlets or your picnic then you can just toss it in your backpack when you need it. Our kids usually carry a backpack wherever they go… if they are hiking or in the city centre it has the same contents: a sweater, a hat, a notebook and pencil and a water bottle. Some outings we do allow for one momento… that might be a beautiful leaf from a park or a postcard to put into the postcard collection at home. Something to remember their holiday by.
- Do your Research: There is so much to know about your local city that you most likely don’t know… it is a good idea to pop a map on the fridge and ask around the dinner table if your family have special places they want to visit. Grab a Lonely Planet book for your library and explore your town with an outsiders eyes. Maybe make a list: Somewhere new, somewhere active and somewhere interesting… Plot them on the map. Do a little google search… look for the top sights to see in “your town of choice” and then plot them on the map as well. Start a notebook of dream places to visit and note down opening hours and ticket prices while you are at it. Don’t plan too carefully though, because plans change when you are out there… there is always the one person that is has to stick to the plan and collapses if you don’t and then those who want to wander about and explore new things as they arise. The balance is to make loose plans with lots of space around them, for example: Visit a museum in the morning and people watching for lunch and window shopping or a beach walk in the afternoon. A loose plan like that is detailed enough for the detailed folk and vague enough for the dreamers.
- The Visitor Centre: If you were to arrive from abroad in your own town you would most likely find yourself close to a visitor or information centre… it is a good idea to head there first. You can discover what’s on, what’s free… and what days are good days to visit certain spots. There is nothing worse than blocking off a morning visit to a park only to discover that they hold a market there every evening or the buskers are there every afternoon between two and four. Almost all towns have free events or events of interest to visitors, some museums have half price days… the visitor centre is there to help you. They will have pamphlets to collect and inspire you, and for some folk that love journaling… plenty of goodies to stick into your holiday diary when you get home.
- Pick Places to Visit and Places to Rest: When we are traveling we alternate rest spots and busy spots… a museum, then a park, a gallery, then a natural spot. If you visit the centre of most cities or towns there is somewhere outdoors to relax and have a spontaneous picnic. If you have no idea where this spot is then follow the locals or be sure to ask at the visitor centre where there is a good place to stop for a coffee and a rest at lunchtime. If you are having a holiday in your own town you can alternate days out and days home… make sure your days at home are actual days off and not just for catching up with laundry… set a challenge to have a game day or a reading day or an art day or an “any kind of day” that doesn’t involve everyone staring at a screen while the mother person does all the housework. For our home days I make sure that everyone understands that we will be working on chores as a team for a short time and then playing for the rest of the day. Don’t fall into your regular meal rut… use something you prepared before or try out a new recipe together, have a pizza night, or a pasta night… make a family project out of it. It will take longer but it is always more fun to work together and try out new things together.
- Plan for Feasts: Your family will still need to eat while you are exploring your home town and chances are you won’t be eating out the entire time. When we do plan an all day outing, or a series of outings then we will make a batch of muffins the day before… ready to grab and go on the day. Otherwise there is nothing worse than being out all day and coming home tired and cranky at the end of it and there is nothing to eat… make a couple of easy to whip together meals ready and toss them in the freezer. When we are out all day, we do what we would do if we were visiting any city on the world… round about lunch time we head for the local market or supermarket and by a few rolls, and something to put on it… maybe some yogurt for a treat. We would have to eat if we were at home, so pretty much the sort of lunch we would have at home… but something portable we can buy from a nearby store and then we look for the nearest park and have a picnic.
- Leave the Car Behind: I don’t know about you but our car certainly is in a rut and tends to go the same old routes that it always does. The thing about visiting a foreign city is you find yourself in the centre of town and then a lot of the fun is actually exploring and finding your way around… lose your car and use public transport for the day… or head for the city and find yourself some all day parking and leave your car behind and go on a wander. If you choose the places you want to visit carefully then you can group spots together and then spend a week visiting different quarters of your city each day.
- Do Something Totally New: Look for a city tour… and take it. Even if you have lived somewhere your whole life you will be amazed how much you can learn on a tour. Our city has free walking tours, and a number of museums have tours as well… as about this at your first stop at the information centre. If your city has a Red City Bus… then they are so worth taking. Firstly they take you to all the main attractions and stop there, so no need to find parking at all and secondly they have a tour guide telling you everything you would like to know and a whole lot more as you drive around. Search for your city’s instagram account and follow it, maybe there will be an instameet over your holiday time… they are so much fun to join in. Maybe you can take a tour of a stadium, or a neighbourhood… find out which book shops have story time and visit them. There are so many great resources out there that we never make use of because we live right there.
- Take Some Friends: There is nothing like visitors from out of town to get you out of your home town rut and to get exploring as you show them around. I find we stretch ourselves to see local places so much more when we have friends and visiting family to show around. If the thought of having visitors over just when you can’t stand to do any housework… then meet them in town, ask them to join you at the beach. Hospitality doesn’t have to be at home… you can just as easily meet up for a picnic in the park… or go on a city tour with them.
Keep your camera handy and start a collection of snaps of the places you visit… leave that map up on the fridge and see how many museums, beaches, markets and so on that you can visit… this might turn into a whole new thing… being a tourist in your home town, not just over the holidays but much more regularly than that. Your kids and you can definitely practice at becoming seasoned travellers without ever actually leaving home. So that when they do get the opportunity to head out far and wide it doesn’t come as a complete surprise. Clearly this is a matter of the heart, that true holiday feeling depends far more on the everyday choices we make and our attitude to try out new things and explore new places, than it does on a couple of plane tickets.