I don’t know if it is the increasingly global, ever-shrinking world we live in, or my own “bigger is better” American perspective on the recent traveling craze, but today’s travelers seem to want to go farther, longer, and rack up the most of those “Only in _________” experiences. Sometimes it seems like travel itself is an extreme sport, a competition that surfaces when globe-trotting friends get together over beers to compare adventures. Anywhere that doesn’t involve some hardship in fitting in as a traveler is passÃ©. Not that this desire to go farther is bad. It increases global consciousness, brings much needed capital to sorely under-developed countries, and reflects the desire to truly experience a place rather than vacation in a tourist bubble. But in the scramble to head far far away, what happened to all the adventures close to home? Sometimes traveling in your own backyard is the best way to go, and here’s why.
1. First off, what constitutes your “backyard”? Some might say it’s your home county, home state, region, or country – really, I’d say it’s wherever you don’t need to cross the normal tourist barriers of money, language, custom etc… It could mean camping nearby, venturing to that world-class city across the country, or just hitting the road for a weekend.
2. Let’s face it – we don’t all have the time or the bank account to take off for a few weeks of trekking in South America when we get the traveling itch. Traveling in your own backyard is easier logistically, obviously, and also mentally, as it doesn’t usually involve the massive adjustments of foreign travel. And when the real reason for wanting to travel (aside from the pub stories competition) is to see someplace new, have fun, and maybe learn something about yourself and another culture, most people forget that there is “someplace new” within 100 miles of their home. And what culture are you better prepared to actually see and enjoy, in-depth, than your own?
3. Being willing to travel in your own backyard means being able to travel more, period. Backyard travel lends itself to spur of the moment planning. Although many adventurers take off abroad with nary a plan or reservation in mind, rarely is such a philosophy so rewarded as close to home. You are more than welcome to plan as little as you like for your odyssey overseas, but you’ll most likely run into more snags than the intrepid weekender taking off for their nearest mountain range. Also, being ready to actually make use of the odd day off or the start of kayaking season breaks up routine and makes travel and adventure more of a constant lifestyle than a yearly respite.
4. Along with being able to travel more, becoming an adapt traveler in your own backyard prepares the novice backpacker for seeing and enjoying more exotic locales. Being able to strike out independently and appreciate all the differences in your own culture goes a long way towards cultivating that all-important “good traveling attitude”.
5. Finally, there’s nothing quite like getting to know your own home (or your own country for that matter). No matter how life-changing and amazing your experiences in Cambodia may have been, why not try and figure out what’s great about where you come from? Living in the Northwest, I can count several friends who have camped on the beach in Thailand or Costa Rica, but considerably less who have actually seen or hiked any of the Olympics, an incredible mountain range hours from our hometown of Seattle. The best travelers can be plopped anywhere in the world and make the most of it-the same philosophy should apply to whatever part of the world you happen to inhabit.
So in the competition to go farther and longer, sometimes you may be able to actually see and experience more by sticking close to home. And, let’s not forget that learning to travel well, anywhere, will help make you a more open-minded and appreciative traveler, anywhere. So check out that world-renowned city, or local national park, or hot destination (for everyone who doesn’t live in the area). Take off this weekend, or even this afternoon. There’s something new to see right in your own backyard, you just need to know to look for it.