Why Exploring Your Own Backyard Can Be Just As Rewarding As Going Abroad

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Originally published on PassionPassport.com

Pick up your cell phone and you’re immediately transported to white-washed buildings in Greece, the stunning emerald waters of Indonesia, and an abundance of other exotic locations. It has the ability to send you into visual overload, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 

Although there are many people that portray luxurious, seemingly unattainable lifestyles on social platforms (namely Instagram), there are several who — in doing so — inspire others to chase their wildest travel dreams. Perhaps that’s a large portion of what makes social media so popular: it gives us something to aspire to. 

But a major flaw in this approach is that it can detract from our desire to explore places much closer to home — places that are often just as magical as the locations we see so glamorously portrayed on our screens. When you think of it this way, it seems crazy that we go to such lengths to travel halfway across the globe without giving our backyards a second glance. We seem to scoff at the idea of traveling locally, but perhaps it’s time we change that.

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For the sake of preserving frequently visited travel destinations — and to better acquaint ourselves with locations closer to home — it seems that this is not only a fun idea to try out, but also a wise one. In doing so, we may just minimize our global footprint and better understand our environmental impact on far-off locations as well as the places we call home. After all, when we want to see change in the world, we should start at home, right?

When contemplating where to begin, my suggestion is to research locations that are within an approximately 100-mile (160-kilometer) radius of you. At times, it helps to have a number associated with the distance you’re willing and able to travel. If you’re not stretched for time, increase that number a bit — the point is that you set out to discover places near you, not venture 2,000 miles (3,000 kilometers) for some grand tourist attraction in peak season. Not only will setting a limit on your travel distance guarantee that you stay closer to home, but it will also encourage you to explore places you might not normally consider. So, make it fun! If you’re 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Grand Canyon National Park, great. But even then, try to find an area within the park that sees the least visitors or that offers a unique, cultural experience. These types of experiences won’t always be an option where you travel, but when they are it is definitely something worth checking out.

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What I’ve found by practicing this method is a tremendous sense of reward. This is for a plethora of reasons, but I can chalk it up to three main causes: 1) It allows you to gain a greater connection to and understanding of local history and culture; 2) It encourages you to support local businesses and tourism; and 3) it helps you see places in a new light and discover areas for what feels like the first time — an exceptional feat in this day and age.

It may seem obvious now, but while visiting places closer to home you are also engaging with the cultural heritage of your region. As a person who studied anthropology in college, I may be slightly biased, but this is something I’ve found profoundly fulfilling. Keep in mind that it doesn’t matter if you’re new to the area or your family has lived there for generations. What matters is that you’re connecting with the land and the people nearest you in a much more intimate way — you’re building ties and relationships that you can pass on to future generations. Our global heritage is important to explore and understand, but so too is the history and culture that exists right in front of you.

When we make an effort to connect with local history and communities, we often form a stronger allegiance and bond to the place we call home. From a historical perspective, this is huge because it encourages communities to keep tradition alive. If only for the sake of preserving these precious attributes — oral tradition and stories, cultural tendencies particular to certain areas, historical accounts — we should explore our hometowns, states, provinces, and regions more often. I know that when I have done this, it’s resulted in me feeling exponentially more attached to the place itself because it allowed me to better understand how the area was founded, details about the first settlers, and how it has evolved through time. I learned about my ancestors and, consequently, much more about myself. It would be a shame to lose out on these connections simply because we don’t realize they exist.

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Another beneficial aspect of traveling locally is the positive impact it has on local businesses and tourism infrastructures. If you think about it, locals tend to know their home region better than visitors. So when areas are lacking an efficient, sustainable tourist infrastructure, the region as a whole typically suffers, as there is no resource to instruct visitors on how best to minimize their impact while there. Of course, this isn’t applicable to every off-the-beaten-path destination, but it is something to be mindful of. 

Lastly, there is something special and exciting about going out in search of new places that aren’t often visited. I know that I have stumbled across some incredible vistas, campsites, and monuments by exploring the area around my home more mindfully and intentionally. There is a reason why many of us are born with an inherent desire to travel. We love to adventure, yes, but what we really love is discovery. Stumbling across a place and feeling like the first person to do so is not a sensation many of us will have the opportunity to experience in this lifetime. In a world so densely populated and so widely explored, we can certainly put ourselves in a position to experience more of it.

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Ultimately, people should feel free to travel wherever they please. Whether it’s to less-popular or more frequented destinations, we all have the right to see and explore the world. But by engaging in sustainable travel practices, traveling locally, and being cautious of the impact we each exert, we can rest assured that we are doing our part to preserve and protect vulnerable places. In doing so, we also guarantee ourselves rewarding travel experiences that include forming ties to our local communities, learning more about the history of where we live, and exploring areas we may not have considered otherwise.

These places might be close, but they’re also spectacular. Go out and see them.

TravelShaylyn Berntson