How to Travel in Familiar Places

How to Travel in Familiar Places

What Changes When You Travel?

When I travel to a new place, I become hyper aware of my surroundings. I notice the colors of the houses, sounds on the street, and character of the landscape.

I love it.

One reason for this heightened sense of place is that everything’s new and different. Each place has its own distinct personality, made up by its people, architecture, food, and all around vibe.

This place has a Fish: Beware vibe.

The other reason that I become more immersed in my surroundings is my own approach when I’m in travel mode. I’m actively looking to see more of a place, to walk around, take pictures, and hop on public transportation. I want to explore a new place and soak it up like a sponge. It’s a process of connecting, learning, and adapting. Soon enough, the streets that seemed completely confusing start to form a clear pattern. Landmarks stick in my memory. Like pulling a thread, the city moves a little closer together.

What Changes When You’re at Home?

Unfortunately, I often lose this sense of place when I’m at home. Since I’ve walked the same paths so many times, sometimes I feel like I barely see them anymore. I don’t look at them with a sense of wonder. Instead, I get bored. So this weekend I challenged myself to explore my hometown of Gloucester, MA like a tourist. I wanted to walk when I might normally drive, to go out and explore when I might otherwise stay home and not bother. How can I look at old surroundings in new ways? How can I spark that same sense of discovery?

Traveling at Home

I should probably mention, I might be totally spoiled, because my hometown is a tourist destination. Gloucester’s a beach town that attracts tons of people (and traffic) in the summer months.

This weekend, it had a schooner festival and fireworks. You don’t have to look hard to find sandy beaches, miles of New England rocky coastline, and wistful lighthouses.

I spent my time this weekend at the Rocky Neck Art Colony, a collection of galleries wedged between restaurants with patios and long nights of live music. Look no further for oil paintings, fresh caught lobster, or Dispatch covers.

As it turned out, it wasn’t hard to throw on the vacation goggles when my surroundings looked like this:

But renewing my appreciation for my surroundings also had to do with changing my mindset, visiting new places, going on walks, and taking pictures. Those four actions can help switch you into travel mode no matter where you are.

Tracking down a sunset helps, too.

My friend’s running a gallery on the art-filled peninsula of Rocky Neck now that her dad’s moved back south. It’s half his paintings and half hers – some serious artistic talent in that family. We grilled some chicken, viewed some more art, and did some swimming (the water’s still so cold in September).

Before driving home, we stopped for ice cream – me, half strawberry and half cookie dough, her, half Snickers and half Milky Way. Though driving home barefoot with sandy feet has been a lifelong summer habit, it was still pretty special this time around.

In the end, I think the best way to explore a familiar place as if it’s new is to just get out there. Visit someplace you’ve never been (even if it’s just for tourists). Learn a fun fact (eg, in 1817, almost all of Gloucester’s residents reported seeing a giant sea serpent in the harbor…strange). Find the sunrise.

As I prepare to leave for Europe and Asia in 19 days, I’m glad to discover that “traveling” can be experienced anywhere, even at home.

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