Summertime as a kid was punctuated by mosquito bites and popsicles. These days, another critter comes a-biting in the summer months—the travel bug. Given my postgrad status and those lovely monthly student groans—er, loans—I’m not headed anywhere exciting anytime soon.
In the same boat? It’s all good. There’s plenty to see in your own zip code—and all it’ll cost you is an afternoon. Follow this guide and you’ll be all set to see your city with fresh eyes.
1. Prepare your tourist gear + establish a starting point.
Grab a backpack or messenger bag, and throw in the following essentials: your wallet, notepad, camera, headphones, sunglasses, snack + a bottle of water. Now you’ll want to pick your part of town. The best way to open your eyes to novel sights in your own city is on foot, up close + personal. It’s best to pick your starting point loosely, keeping in mind that you’ll be walking a few blocks in all directions. Neighborhoods can be fun to explore, too, but (understandably) they offer fewer options for food or restrooms, if you’re going to be wandering for a few hours.
2. Ready, set, wander.
Once you’ve picked a general area of town, find your way there and get ready to wander. If it’s somewhere really new, make a point to bookmark your parking spot or bus stop. Before you set out, give yourself a little perspective: approach everything with a touch of wonder. Street art, ivy, handprints in the cement, window displays—they can all be so rich to the eye. Really see them. The rest is easy: put on some music + let your feet guide you.
3. Pull out your magnifying glass.
I’ve always been a bit of a Harriet the Spy type, but exploring is so much more exciting when you take notes. Take pictures of the smallest things—a crumbling brick wall, a gargoyle perched above a drug store, daisies pushing up between sidewalk cracks. Don’t be afraid to whip out your notebook, too; keeping a written report of your walk is a fantastic creative exercise. Try not to think about the whole thing too much, just be curious. What catches your eye? What is charming and too small to be noticed by most people?
4. Make friends + ask for suggestions.
When I studied abroad in Italy, I had a formula for finding the best gelato in any town: ask a policeman. Usually they were so charmed by my use of Italian and the fact that I’d asked that they would also offer to walk me there and recommend a few other places in the town to visit. In this case, you’re the local—but that doesn’t mean you can’t make friends. If you see a coffee shop or restaurant, stop in for something small (or big, who’s judging?) to ask the wait staff what’s good around the area.
5. Take a little piece with you.
By now, you probably have a notepad full of scribbles, a camera full of photos, and a mind teeming with ideas. Get yourself a souvenir to commemorate your afternoon. It should be something from the area you’ve explored. Don’t be afraid of the ridiculous; if your walk included a comic book shop, but you would never buy a comic book, get one! Seeing new things is good for your brain.
Disclaimer—the best way to really focus on seeing + tuning out the hum of your everyday life is to turn off your everyday life. Meaning: while on this walk, have your phone on silent; no emails, no calls, no texts. Imagine yourself in a foreign country, romantically wandering in the streets. Are you worried about a meeting with your boss? No, you’re just obsessed with the smells from the bakery. Let yourself have a few hours for a vacation: your phone stays off.
With this guide, you should be ready to tackle your own corner of the world. If you really want to do your body/mind some good, you can make this a weekend ritual. Not only will you become an expert on your city, you’ll have great photos and recommendations for your friends!