Learn how to explore your hometown like a traveler! Even if you can’t travel, you can still be a hometown tourist and have a mini-adventure in your own city. Take this opportunity to see what’s around you and appreciate where you live.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned while traveling, it’s that any place can be interesting if you keep your eyes and mind open. Of course, some places are more obviously entertaining than others, but there’s something to do or see everywhere. You just have to be curious and look for what that place has to offer.
That mentality should be extended to your own hometown.
A lot of us travelers are guilty of over-looking the place we live, opting instead to give every other place in the world a chance. Sure, you might feel like your own city is boring because it’s home, but there’s probably a lot more to it than you think.
I spent my whole life waiting to get away from where I grew up, and now that I’ve traveled and lived in other places…I chose to come back to live here. And now I absolutely love my city (St. Louis, Missouri, FYI) and everything it has to offer. It might not be the “best city in the world”, objectively-speaking, but there is so much to love about it that I didn’t appreciate before.
I think a lot of you might find that you’ve neglected to see how cool your own city might be too. And since we can’t travel to far-away destinations right now, this is the perfect time to start looking at it in a new light! Plus, all of the small businesses near your could really use support from locals during this time.
I urge you to take your traveler’s spirit and explore your hometown as if you were a tourist. To help you out, I’m sharing some ideas on how to do just that. I’ve been doing a lot of these things at home in the last year, and it’s really changed the way I see my own city.
Explore Your City Like a Tourist
I actually created this list months before the COVID-19 pandemic and just hadn’t published it yet. It’s more relevant than ever now, but since there are more restrictions in most areas, I’ve adjusted some of the ideas a bit to fit with the current times. Consider this my disclaimer:
Please keep in mind that with every suggestion, I encourage you to follow local health and safety guidelines, wear masks in public, wash your hands, and avoid crowded areas. Most businesses and attractions (if open) will have new rules, special hours, and extra precautions to follow, so be sure to plan and check with the places you want to visit beforehand.
Don’t worry, I’m sharing some ideas that you can take action on NOW, and the rest you can save for a later date when things open back up again.
I also want to make it clear that I have readers all over the world, and regulations/guidelines/etc. are going to vary greatly depending on where you live. I am most knowledgeable with what’s going on here in the USA, and cannot speak for what is “safe” in other parts of the world. So please take the time to understand your local safety guidelines.
1. Go Where the Tourists Go
This is the exact opposite advice I’d usually give to people while traveling, but remember: we’re trying something different today.
What’s the thing your town is known for? Where’s the place that all the tourists go to when they visit? Have you ever been?
It’s likely you’ve never visited some of the more touristy spots around the city–maybe precisely because they are touristy, crowded, and seemingly…silly? But whatever it is that seems to bring visitors to your hometown or region (a landmark, an activity, even a straight up tourist trap), go do that.
This might not be the best time to visit the top tourist attractions if they’re starting to draw large crowds again, so keep this idea in mind for when things start to open up in the future.
2. Explore a Different Neighborhood
Just because you live somewhere doesn’t mean you’ve seen it all! Most of us are creatures of habit in our day-to-day lives, so you probably stay within a relatively small area most of the time. You might know your own neighborhood really well, but what about the areas on the other side of town?
Head to a new part of your city and see what it has to offer. Eat, walk, check out the local businesses. You might end up finding a new favorite spot. I love wandering around when I’m in a new destination, so taking a walk around a new neighborhood at home gives me that same feeling.
You might not be able to go into too many places right now, but being outside is allowed (as long as you respect social distancing and wear a mask). Why not walk around a neighborhood you don’t usually visit? I’m sure a new environment could give you a little mood boost right now too.
3. Visit Local Museums
If your town has any kind of museums, galleries, or historic sites, add them to your list! These attractions could be focused on art, history, science, culture, or a very specific theme. I encourage you to look for the smaller, truly unique museums in addition to the larger ones.
Maybe your town has a toy museum, an outdoor art gallery, or a small museum dedicated to local history. This is your chance to go to the places you’d never really think to visit (even as a tourist). You can learn a lot and get some insight into a topic you don’t know much about.
As museums re-open, check in for updated hours and rules before visiting. Some may have lowered capacity or require timed tickets.
4. Go Out to Eat at a New Restaurant
Eating is a big part of travel, and for many people, it’s the BIGGEST part of travel. So make it a priority to go try out a new (to you) local restaurant.
You know that restaurant your friends, family, or co-workers mentioned? The one that you’ve been meaning to try, but just haven’t yet? Or that cute place you pass by all the time that you add to your mental list? It’s time to finally go! Bonus points if it’s a type of cuisine you’ve never tried before.
If you don’t have a place in mind already, browse Yelp or Google Maps for restaurants near you.
Many restaurants don’t have their dining rooms open right now, or may have lowered capacity, but many have takeaway and pickup options available! Support local restaurants and order from a new place to eat at home, or see if there is a safe outdoor dining area.
5. Join a Local Tour
When you’re traveling to a new place, it’s likely you’ll take a guided tour at some point. Maybe it’s a walking tour of the city, a food tour to get a taste of the local cuisine, a bus tour to see famous landmarks, or a specialized tour based around a specific interest (architecture, history, street art, etc.)
These tours exist at home too! Find tour offerings near you, and book it. There’s no rule that says you have to be a tourist to join in, and it’s actually much more common than you might think for locals to join in. This is a great way to explore a specific interest for a few hours on the weekend.
Most tours are probably not running right now. When they start back up, it’s likely the maximum group size will be much smaller than usual (which could actually be a positive), and number/times of tours will be more limited. I recommend contacting the company that provides the tour you’re interested in and asking about their plans (when it’s safe to open again). It’s possible private small group tours (pre-arranged) will be an option long before they start opening up to the public.
6. Go to a Food Market and EAT
Food markets are one of my favorite types of places to visit when traveling. I just love having the freedom to try a lot of different foods in one place and getting a taste of the local restaurants. Plus the atmosphere is always so great.
If there are any farmers markets, food halls, or other similar venues near you, go fill up on food!
Since markets are usually crowded places, they might be closed down right now. But check in with websites/social media pages and they might have something on offer. A local food hall here actually had a drive-thru version with vendors recently, so you never know! Businesses are getting creative right now. Outdoor markets are your best bet.
You can also recreate this idea on your own by ordering takeout from a few different restaurants and sampling the food at home.
7. Visit a Local Coffee Shop
I love coffee! One of my favorite things to do while traveling is to visit local coffee shops, and I’ve made it a priority to do the same here at home.
Like I said earlier, we’re creatures of habit, so maybe you get coffee at the same place every morning. Switch things up and try a different cafe. This is a fun thing to do on the weekend when you have time to go out of your way and spend a little more time hanging around with drink. But finding a new spot to visit on a Monday morning (if you have time) can give you a tiny boost for the week.
I’ve seen small coffee shops go above and beyond during this time to make sure they can continue serving customers. Whether it’s through pickup/takeaway, delivery, or other options, it’s likely there’s at least one local cafe you can go support right now. Many are starting to open outdoor areas and socially-distanced indoor seating.
8. Buy a Guidebook to Your City
If you usually buy a guidebook to your travel destinations, why not buy one for your own city? There’s no better way to be a hometown tourist than to start with an entire book dedicated to it.
This can help you find all those attractions and spots I suggested earlier in the list. Find the places that interest you, mark them, and make a plan to go. You have the added benefit of time here, so you don’t have to cram everything into a couple of days.
My favorite guidebooks are WildSam and Lost in City Guides. They’re much more curated than traditional guidebooks, so if your city is available, I highly recommend buying it. Otherwise, a brand like Lonely Planet is your best bet since they have such a wide range of destinations. If your particular town doesn’t have a dedicated guide, get a guide to your state or region.
You might be surprised by what you find in the guidebook–I guarantee there are things you didn’t know about your own home and places you’ve never heard of.
There might not be a lot of places you can go in your hometown right now, but you can definitely buy a guidebook and do some future planning. Sure, you might be more interested in planning for an actual vacation, but you can have just as much fun planning a great day out in your city (and you’ll be able to do that much sooner than a vacation, unfortunately).
9. Get Outside
The great outdoors are a big draw for many travelers. If you tend to visit natural areas and spend a lot of time outside on your trips, then do the same at home.
Go on a hike or long walk, go camping, rent a kayak and paddle around a nearby lake, go bicycling around your city, or mountain biking on a nearby trail. Visit a local park or garden.
Good news: the outdoors are wide open! Social distancing and safety should always be considered, but as long as you’re not too close to others or in big groups, you can still go outside and walk, hike, bike, etc. You’ll have to check your local regulations, but typically this shouldn’t be an issue as long as you’re avoiding crowded areas.
10. Have a Staycation
Staycations are a great way to add some fun to your time at home. If you can’t go anywhere else, you might as well make the most of it and pretend like you’re somewhere else.
This whole post is based on the idea of a staycation, but I’m talking about doing the full thing here. Book a night (or a whole weekend) at a local hotel and pamper yourself, order room service, and relax! Staying in a hotel really makes it feel like you’re on vacation, and if you stay in an area you’ve never been to, you can spend your whole day exploring the area.
There’s never been a better time to plan a staycation! Flying isn’t recommended right now (and probably won’t be for a long time), but staying somewhere local could be an option. Many hotels are open and struggling, so they’re welcoming locals with open arms. Most of them have also put extra measures in place for maximum cleanliness, and have significantly lowered capacity for safety. So if you’re really trying to scratch the travel itch, consider staying in a hotel nearby.
11. Plan a Day Trip
Again, you really don’t have to go far to have an adventure. If your own city or town just isn’t cutting it, go just a little bit further afield.
Plan a day trip to a nearby town or attraction, or go for a drive within your region. It’s likely there’s something really cool within a few hours of your hometown, you just have to go find it. If nothing else, a long drive will get you out of town for a little while, which can be enough to make you feel renewed. I know driving around always makes me feel better when I’m dreaming about travel.
Local and regional travel will be the first things to open up for all of us, so consider a quick day trip in the coming months. Again, please consider your local and regional regulations before going anywhere, as well as your own health and safety.
I really hope this list for exploring your own city sparked some ideas. I’m a big proponent for hometown tourism, getting to know your own area, and supporting local businesses along the way. It can be just as fun for those weekends or months when you can’t travel.
And especially in the coming months, when travel won’t be an option for a lot of us, it’s important to just do the best we can and make the most of what we have.
I just want to say ONE MORE TIME, please consider the health and safety of yourself and others, and follow your local guidelines and regulations, before implementing any of these ideas for exploration. I know we’re all itching to get out of our houses, even if it’s just into our local area, but I encourage you to continue to use caution even once we’re able to go out more often.
Pin image to bookmark for later!