Sunset Over a Wheat Field in Essex
Wheat Field Sunset, Essex © John Clift

Rediscovering Your Hometown: How to Enjoy Your Own Backyard Like a Traveler

For vagabonds who’ve witnessed exotic sights, immersed themselves in foreign cultures, and climbed to the tops of pyramids, the familiar hometown might not be the ideal final destination. But when happenstance, poor planning, or bad luck plunk you back onto your old stomping grounds, it’s easy to spend too many nights contemplating your misfortune over beers at the local bar.

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My hometown is a tiny sneeze of a city in northern Ohio, known only for a lake and an amusement park. The list of things it lacks is far too long for me to elaborate on. For some of my city mates it’s perfectly fine, however I find myself noting the differences between Here and There often. Whether it’s yoga studios, exciting international cuisines or even a continuously populated night club, the Wish List is all-encompassing.

Suburban street in North Richland Hills, Texas
Hometown Texas © [email protected]

Travelers from larger cities might have the same problem in a different context — perhaps the options of your hometown are plentiful, but the simple fact of it being far-too-familiar is too much to tolerate. Maybe you’ve found a job you need to keep in order to pay off travel debts; maybe a loved one needs you home more than anything else. At any rate, you’re home and you’re here to stay – at least for the foreseeable future. What do you do now?

As world travelers, we often find a certain pride in our ability to absorb new cultures and enjoy the “other”. Which is why it’s critical for stranded vagabonds to apply this mentality to hometown life, no matter how hard it might be. Here are some ways you can rediscover your hometown:

Invite Your Travel Buddies to Visit

Now that you’ve met people from half the world over, it’s time to send out a mass invitation. I’ve met people from a lot of countries, and some have made it to my neck of the woods — and we had a great time. Inviting your foreign friends to visit instantly gives you a fresh set of eyes for your hometown.

I found myself eagerly absorbing my daily sights as though I were seeing them for the first time. Simple things, like the downtown Christmas display with the plastic elves and too-tiny Santa house, can inspire boredom one day (“Ah, I’ve seen this so many times before”), but when faced with the prospect of showing it to visiting friends, the same scenery can inspire trembling excitement and even, dare I say, a sense of pride (“They’ve gotta check this out, look how quaint and small-towny it is! They’ll love it!”).

Touching the clouds
Biking Maldives © Ahmed Amir

Partake in Activities

… A lot of activities. When I returned home for good, I found myself sighing with exasperation because there was nothing to do. What this actually meant was that what I wanted to do — like join an Ashtanga studio or eat Mongolian food — was conspicuously unavailable to me, but there were plenty of other things to do.

My daily habits don’t include a lot of extraneous expenditures, but I realized that joining up with hometown friends and checking out the new ice-skating pond, or catching an art film at the theater downtown, made for an unexpectedly fun time. At the very least, it offers a much-needed shakeup out of the monotony of “being stuck at home”.

And who knows what new local bands have hit the scene since you left to travel or what new faces have appeared looking for friends. You won’t know until you get out there!

Join the Farmer’s Market

When summer rolls around, Farmer’s Markets emerge alongside the flip-flops and butterflies. Get involved as soon as possible. If you’ve picked up a skill from your travels, market it here.

Joining your local Farmer’s Market will allow you to join a community you might otherwise have missed. I got involved with my Farmer’s Market immediately after backpacking Europe. I was amazed at the friendships and sense of community and even more amazed that I’d lived my whole life in this city and never once thought to partake.

Depending on the rules and regulations of the market, you might be able to flex your creative muscle here: I sell handmade hemp jewelry, but have since expanded my stall to include my vaguely healthy chocolate chip cookies, homegrown vegetables, tarot card readings, henna tattoos, and the occasional grilled veggie burger.

17th April 2011
Sampling the Farmer’s Market © La Flaf

Weekend Trips Are Key

Get out of your hometown as much as possible, as much as your finances will allow. Not only does this keep the travel spirit alive, it provides a chance to actually do the things that your hometown doesn’t allow.

My city is nestled in northern Ohio with easy access to Michigan, Cleveland, Columbus, and Chicago isn’t too far off either. Visiting nearby college campuses for a night of dancing or to catch an interesting speaker helps keep that multi-cultural, lover-of-life spirit alive and well.

Look Deeper

The most important thing I’ve learned since returning home is that my hometown is not nearly as vapid or boring as I spent my adolescence believing it to be. My interests have changed immensely since I was 16 and I’ve grown a lot as a person since my travels, so it makes sense that I might not have sought out the Vegan Club when I was last living here. But for how small my town is and for how pre-conditioned I am to disparaging it, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that there are other people who believe in the same things I do and want the same sort of activities. I find these people and stick to them — and then we create the change we want to see.

And Last of All …

Use your time at home to cultivate appreciation for what your city is. It might not be your perfect situation – it might not be anywhere close — but spending time appreciating what it does offer means the difference between a lingering sense of disappointment and a fully expressed sense of contentment.

A friend once told me that it seems all the people who escape our hometown never return. At which point we laughed, because who ever wants to come back? She went on to say that our city would never change if those people didn’t come back, which was precisely why she DID. Without travelers – the catalysts of change and the people who have seen and done things and have wisdom to share – a place is rarely able to grow and expand.

Use your time at home to spread the joys and knowledge that you have acquired, and you might find yourself in your own cozy international world, even amongst all the familiar sights.

  1. Great post, Shannon! I really enjoyed reading it. In a way I can relate to your post. I’ve never been touring around the world but I’ve been working away from home and I do travel most of the times. I think if you really are a traveler, getting stuck at home is the last thing you can imagine. And I also agree with you when you got friends visiting from other places, the excitement is almost like your also traveling with them in a new place and yeah it also makes you proud. Also it gives you opportunity to discover new things in your own hometown and you will be amazed that there are still actually a lot to discover. Anyways, enjoy home!

    Cheers from Goowai Hotel Italia!

  2. Brilliant as usual my vagabond friend. Although, I do think that travel reveals that environment has very little to do with contentment. After enough time we’re snails with shells of happiness. However, these techniques are certainly useful in spicing up a location. I love reading YOU!

  3. Nice to meet you, Shannon! I enjoyed this article and agree completely that as travelers we also need to explore our home turf. I find the more experiences I have around the world, the greater my appreciation is for the treasures we have at home.

  4. Really useful suggestions! I am from New York City, and while you may think one could never need any of these there, I think I do. I grew up there, but in many ways I hardly know it. It is that old thing where you never do the touristy things because they’ll always be there, or I just fall into a comfortable routine with certain friends, going to certain places, that I feel there is no time to try new things. In any case, on my next trip home I’ll try to keep these tips in mind!

    1. Chewy: So true! I always say that “we’re all terrible tourists in our own hometown”. And I’m just as guilty of it as anyone.

      I have plenty of friends in and around NYC who’ve never visited the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. I think part of it stems from these landmarks feeling “touristy” and part of it, like you said, is taking them for granted (i.e. feeling like “they’ll always be there”).

      Sometimes I think it helps to take a step back and ask “What would a tourist do here?” Maybe even spend a day (or a *week* in NYC) dedicated to only doing touristy things. And not feeling the least bit ashamed about it! =)

    2. I should do that! I think I would actually really enjoy those double decker tours even though they look so touristy. It would be a different way to see the streets!

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