Today’s Solutions: October 26, 2021

It may sound oxymoronic, taking a vacation at home, but it can be genuine fun. Ode’s executive editor, Jay Walljasper, discovered the joy of staying home and offers you some great ideas for a cheap holiday.

Jay Walljasper | July 2004 issue
It may sound oxymoronic, taking a vacation at home, but it can be genuine fun. Ode’s executive editor, Jay Walljasper, discovered the joy of staying home and offers you some great ideas for a cheap holiday. Our ancient ancestors’ urge to see what life was like in the next valley has now been transformed into the world’s biggest industry. The tourist business is booming as more and more of us head off to sunny beaches, ancient temples, rugged wilderness, and dazzling cities. The human hunger to see faraway places seems to know no limit. Even icy Antarctica is now a hot destination for cosmopolitan travellers craving a unique experience.
Low-cost airline seats and the rise of backpack tourism allow people of even modest means to see the world in a way that was impossible a generation ago. Travellers can easily break away from major destinations to get a feel for life in the villages and backcountry of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. While this sometimes creates ecological and social chaos as once remote places are suddenly crammed with visitors (the Thai islands of Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan, for instance, which lure hedonistic twentysomethings the same way Disneyland does dreamy eight-year-olds) it also represents the greatest opportunity for cultural exchange in world history.
We’ve all heard stories of Amazon tribes in Nike sneakers and Bedouin nomads listening to portable CD players, but let’s not forget that discovery goes the other way too. Many new developments now making an impact on Western society, from herbal medicine to martial arts to new forms of musical expression, rose out of people’s travels to distant shores. Free trade in goods may be the backbone of economic globalization, but free sharing of ideas and culture is the heart of the equally significant global solidarity movement.
But in the rush to grab the next flight to Mongolia, we shouldn’t overlook all the rich experiences available in our backyard. I personally suffer from an incurable case of wanderlust, and fantasize about my next trip the way other folks dream of winning the lottery. But when time or money (or both) prevent me from hitting the road, I’ve learned the next best thing. I simply hop on a bike and take off for some distant corner of my own city.
It may sound oxymoronic, a vacation at home, but it’s genuine fun. I’ve done this for years in my hometown of Minneapolis – a nice place in the American Midwest but hardly a substitute for Tahiti or Tuscany in most people’s minds. So I’ll wager that no matter where you live, you can find more than enough activities for a few day’s fun.
Indeed, many of the things we most look forward to on vacation can be done right at home or a nearby hotel: sleeping late, leisurely breakfasts, morning walks, long lunches, undisturbed moments of intimacy, browsing, a nice dinner, and then a concert or show. A holiday at home offers the special joy of open-ended days, full of surprise, which unfurl with a pace and serendipity all their own.
An exciting trip to your own town doesn’t just happen. You must plan it with the same foresight and sense of anticipation you would any other vacation:
*) Set your dates. And treat them with the same finality as if you had unrefundable plane tickets. Resist the temptation to just finish up a project at your job or around the house. Work late the night before you “leave” if necessary. Make sure that co-workers and friends know that you’ll be out of touch. Tell them, if need be, that you are snorkeling in Borneo. Or invite them along.
*) Do your research. Dig into guidebooks and web sites to see where out-of-towners gravitate in your community. Contact the local tourist office, chamber of commerce, public library, and historical society for tips on what to see. You might be surprised. A careful reading of the newspaper and bulletin boards might turn up goings-on you never knew about – folk dance shows or a new rollerblading path. Find an “expert” – maybe a longtime resident or particularly plugged-in citizen – for their suggestions on having a good time. And remember, if you discover some wonderful new spot, it’s easy to pay a return visit.
*) Break out of usual habits. This is the chance to reinvent yourself. Visit neighborhoods you usually ignore. Eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at places you’ve never been. If you generally dress up for work, put on some comfortable clothes and explore working-class taverns, youth hangouts, and ethnic communities. If you go out to music clubs most nights, get up early to investigate public gardens, schoolyards, and hiking trails. Bike or walk rather than drive. And when you spot something that looks interesting, or even a bit out-of-place, take a closer look. You may go “home” with an entirely new picture of your town.
As the poet T.S. Eliot once observed, “The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

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