Rolf Potts travels around
the world with no luggage

Reader challenge #2: Explore your own town

September 7, 2010 by Rolf Potts

As I stated in my introduction post, the No Baggage Challenge isn’t just about traveling around the world without luggage — it’s also an inquiry into simplifying material concerns and seeking rich life-experiences. This in mind, I’m inviting readers to join the journey by participating in a weekly series of challenges, most of which can be applied at home. My sponsors will give out weekly swag to honor the most compelling reader submissions (see below for details), but ideally this should be seen less as a competitive undertaking than a way to set personal goals and consider new ideas.

This week’s challenge, “explore your own town,” is about applying the open and curious attitude of travel to your hometown.

This ties into the concept of the flâneur, which I mentioned in my “Walk Until Your Day Becomes Interesting” dispatch from Morocco last week. Though I enjoy wandering, flâneur-style, in unfamiliar cities, this concept was originally practiced by people in their own hometowns — i.e. Parisians in Paris. As the American essayist Hakim Bey put it, these Frenchmen “were disgusted with themselves for never leaving the usual ruts and pathways of their habit-driven lives; they realized they’d never even seen Paris. They began to carry out structureless random expeditions through the city, hiking or sauntering by day, drinking by night, opening up their own tight little world into a terra incognita of slums, suburbs, gardens, and adventures.”

The idea here is that it’s easy to see your own town as a purely utilitarian place — a narrow realm of standard commuter routes, shopping stops, and favored hangouts that is no longer open to adventure and possibility. If “traveling light” can at times be a difficult task on the road, it’s even more of a challenge at home, where we can become so complacent with our day-to-day possessions and routines that we almost never set out to have new experiences. This needn’t be the case if you apply the spirit of travel to the way you move through daily life. As I say in Vagabonding, your most important tool as a traveler is the attitude you bring to the travel experience — and this attitude need not be limited to faraway lands.

In recent years the word “staycation” has come into vogue — but this week’s initiative isn’t limited to taking a close-to-home holiday: It’s about breaking out of the rote routines of home-life and experiencing your hometown in a new way. An old cliché of those who live in New York is that they’ve never been out to see Ellis Island or the Statue of Liberty — but everybody everywhere tends to be under-traveled at home (in both the touristic sense and the flâneuristic sense).

My latest challenge to readers, then, is to break out of your normal habits and explore your own town in a new way. Ideally this is something you’ll continue to do over the long-term, but for now just dare yourself to do something different over the course of the next week. This could mean wandering an unfamiliar neighborhood at random, or it could mean taking your family to a park or museum you’ve always meant to check out — or it could be as simple as striking up a conversation with a stranger at the grocery store. The specifics of your hometown adventure are less important than the simple effort to try something different and embrace a travel attitude at home.

To participate in this challenge, just post a few sentences in the comments below outlining how, specifically, you plan to “travel” in your hometown — then head off on that adventure. Be sure to take a camera, so that you can post the single most emblematic photo of your home-travel experience on the No Baggage Challenge Facebook wall using the “Attach Photo” option at the top of the wall. (be sure to add a sentence or two of description so that people will know where you are and what you’re doing). The good folks at BootsnAll will then convene to choose the most intriguing hometown-adventure picture — and the winner will receive a Moleskine notebook, a copy of my book Marco Polo Didn’t Go There, and a set of ScotteVest travel clothing similar to the gear I’m wearing on my no-baggage journey (Tropical Jacket/Vest , Q-Zip pullover, and travel pants). The deadline for submitting is next Monday, September 13th, at midnight — which means you have just under a week to embark on your close-to-home adventure and report back.

PRIZE: BootsnAll Moleskine journal, a copy of Marco Polo Didn’t Go There, & a set of ScotteVest travel clothing similar to the gear I’m wearing on my no-baggage journey (Tropical Jacket/Vest , Q-Zip pullover, and travel pants).
GIVEAWAY CLOSES: Monday, September 13, 2010 at midnight PST
ELIGIBILITY, ETC: One winner. One entry per person.

[Even after the contest has finished, I encourage everyone to continue posting home-travel ideas and photos in the comments below and/or on our Facebook page. Photo above by Flickr user rborja. Licensed under Creative Commons.]

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  • Rolf

    Congrats to Allison Rhea for winning Week 2's reader challenge! Results were announced on the No Baggage Challenge Facebook fan-page on September 24 -- be sure to check that page for Allison's photo of "Porkchop the pig"...

  • zipflash

    Ah yes, the Urban Walkabout. I know it well:

    http://greensporten.com/2010/0...

  • Eric in LA

    So do we know who won this contest? I'm curious!

  • Granitemouse

    Even though I live thirty minutes from the beach, I generally never go there. In Northern Malibu there are some really nice beaches that make excellent photo opportunities.

  • Dragonfly7

    Darling Husband (DH) unknowingly aided me in this challenge last night. Feeling down and restless, we were trying to come up with ways to cheer him up when he suggested going geocaching. I don't think he originally intended to go right that minute, but I grabbed the idea and ran with it since I had never been before. Our quest probably would have been more successful if we hadn't A) Decided to do this after dark, and B) Chosen Bob Eden park, which has far more damage from the recent flooding than we realized. DH suspects many of the containers hidden there washed away. However, I still had a good time exploring that park and partially cheered up DH, while he learned more about the GPS capabilities of his new cell phone. Since a search on Geocaching.com (http://www.geocaching.com/) revealed over 1400 sites within 10 miles of our home near DFW airport (56 within a measly 2 miles) , we will definitely go again in the future.

  • Gavin D.

    I've lived in my apartment for over 18 months now and I have never walked the mile or so down to the banks of the Mississippi river & Harriet Island. Camera, water bottle & out the door.

  • Jackie Fawcett

    My Own Front Door

    I’ve been so used to traveling the world around,
    I had almost forgotten my own hometown.
    Kenora, Ontario is right there, in front of me,
    Filled with so many things and places to see.

    Instead of my daily walk amongst the trees
    I’ve made a town grid of places to see,
    Each day I’ll walk each small quadrant and see new things
    I’m sure this will keep me busy till spring.

    New houses, new neighborhoods, are places to go.
    The parks, the museums that I’ll get to know,
    I’ll walk by schools with children at play.
    Maybe I’ll even get lost and lose my way!

    I’ll stride along our beautiful waterfront,
    Oh the places and back roads that I will hunt.
    Maybe I’ll take a bus, boat or train.
    There are so many things I have to gain!

    This is not a task to be done in a week,
    Kenora’s so pretty, it is unique.
    I must walk and take in the sounds and sights,
    I must walk in the day, and also at night.

    As Dr. Seuss says, Today is my day!
    I’m off to Great Places! I’m off and away!
    I have brains in my head and feet in my shoes.
    I can steer myself any direction I choose!

    So get out, and discover your town or your city!
    If you don’t then it will be such a pity!
    Your mind must be open, you will discover much more
    Right on the steps of your very own front door!

  • Having very recently moved to Mayer, MN, about 30 miles west of the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area, my husband and I are right at home with this reader challenge, as anywhere, and everywhere, we go, is a new adventure for us.

    Mayer, population 534, is by far the smallest town either of us has ever lived near. It does not even harbor a grocery store – just two bar & grill restaurants, one liquor store, a post office and a laundromat. That hasn’t stopped us from enjoying and exploring the local area however.

    It is hard to encapsulate even one locally-enjoyed weekend into a synopsis short enough to post here. There were adventures in our own back yard – meeting our neighbors, getting lost in the woods behind our houses, following the edge of a cornfield to find our way back home again (see pic on FB). There was a trip to a nearby town to procure a second-hand table for our office. The woman we purchased it from was so outgoing and friendly, she even showed us her two vintage Corvettes. There was an exploration of Carver Park Reserve http://www.threeriversparks.or... , which included a visit to the Lowry Nature Center, a 4-mile bike ride on beautiful paved trails, Springview Group Camp & Picnic area (and archery), Parley Lake park, and Grimm Farm. My husband already wrote about the historic significance of Grimm Farm (see Kelly’s comment above).

    The weekend also included entertaining family and friends in our “new” space, thereby officially breaking it in, and a sunset motorcycle ride to a town west of ours where we explored the old downtown area, finding everything closed up for the night, so we ended up eating at a place called Squeaky’s Bar & Grill (and Bowling!). It was a chillier ride home than it had been when we set out, but we didn’t mind, we had full bellies and full minds from the wonderful weekend. As we parked the bike I chided myself for forgetting to leave a light on for our return. It was completely dark. I glanced up and the stars took my breath away.

    As we walked through the starlit darkness towards the house, I remembered the words on a plaque gracing a bench along the bike trail we rode on Saturday – “Happy memories are the best savings for the rainy days of life.” Michele Moderau Clark

    Happy Memories –

  • Michael

    I'm impressed, it somehow never occurred to me that I could get any traveling experiences from where I live right now, It's always been more fun any place other then right here, in Brisbane, Australia.
    Really, it's possibly cause of the place not agreeing with, me due the heat, deadly and brown outdoors, and several other reasons, but I realize now that there's always certain sanctuaries for people like me, take New farm park for example:
    It's a lovely place, what with the city's only Rose garden, the Brisbane powerhouse (now a theater) right next to the river, and a farmers market on the 2nd and 4th Saturday's of each month.

    It was a really beautiful trip, I have actually been to the park, market, and powerhouse several times, but I explored it more this time, sadly there were no white rose's out at that time, I hope to see them again in month or two, but the red rose's were lovely.

    Overall a great trip of which I intend to do more like (I loved the guy's idea a few posts above this one of walking across a city) and just generally exploring further on my daily walks.

    It's not just seeing the stuff that made me learn with the trip though, for some reason I felt really depressed while wondering around, which confuses me, something I was doing was wrong, it didn't feel right to me still, I'm still learning with my outlook on the whole thing, and I really do understand the point of having the right mindset for it, so I guess I need to discover own way of it.

  • adriftsoul

    Hi Michael,

    I'm in brisvegas too and hear you on being a bit depressed when wandering - but it is about the mindset and discovering something new - sounds like you've been to newfarm park before - try the botanic gardens in the city and at Mt Coot-tha - or a trip on the citycat all the way up or down the river. Roma Street Parklands is a lovely stroll through all the gardens too. Sailing down at Manly is just amazing or if you don't have access to a boat, take a week-end or daytrip out to Straddie on the car-ferry or there are water taxis too. There are heaps of bike paths throughout Brisbane too - for walking or on the bicycle.

    For the gallieries - southbank has the Qld Museum, Art Gallery, State Library and Gallery of Modern Art - all are wonderful to explore. Don't forget the independant ones around West End, Fortitude Valley and New Farm.

    If you've covered all of these, always try our tourist websites for 1000's more ideas!! ourbrisbane.com is a good one.

    For the drepression mindset - it might help to take a friend or family member for a lazy day of coffee, wandering & a chat. Or strike up a conversation with the people around you - amazingly we do still have some lovely people here.

    Cheers & enjoy!

  • Michael

    Thanks, good ideas, I've done quite a few of them but I'm sure theres more

  • Kelly

    I love the idea of seeing your local haunt through a new lens. Thanks for the idea Rolf. For my adventure, my wife and I went for a bike trip through a park that is on my commute to work. I've been wanting to check out this park an this gave me the prompting I needed. We found out that there is a historic farm house in this park. It is famous because it is the house of a man named Grimm, and the birth place of cold hardy alfalfa. "The golden buckle of the grain belt". If it wasn't for this strain of alfalfa there wouldn't be alfalfa north of Kansas. This is also a major contributing factor to the viability of dairies in MN and WI. Very interesting, and who would have thought it was just down the road here in MN?

  • Eric in LA

    I had a blind date scheduled for last Thursday night, and after reading this, I took up a friend’s advice to take her to the monthly Downtown Artwalk in Los Angeles. This was single-handedly the best date I have ever been on! We were enraptured with the small, wildly different art galleries located through the Gallery Row district and even more so by the THOUSANDS of people wandering the streets, turning LA into New York for one night. We chatted with local artists and discussed their works, and saw very colorful outfits, hairstyles and outlandish street performers. All that and it cost me $5 for parking, which sure as hell beat the standard drinks or coffee date routine. I put a picture of one of my favorite pieces on your facebook page.

    Keep inspiring adventure Rolf!

  • Dragonfly7

    I find that wandering often makes for the best type of dates. For our first date, Darling Husband took me out for dinner at a local pub and brewery, and then we wandered the streets of quirky downtown Columbia and talked for the rest of the evening.

  • Dawn

    Haha, Rose, you're right. On this island you can't swing a cat without hitting the red pigtails! Anne certainly brings in the visitors and that's great. But you really should visit. I think you'll be amazed at just how beautiful it is here and, even though I've lived here for 10 years, I can find myself in awe even during something as banal as my drive to work.

    As for Australia, Crocodile Dundee? Really? How long ago was that? Sheesh, people should get with the times. What about kangaroos, G'day and shrimp on the barbie? ;-) Cheesy travels!

  • Rose

    I'm sure I won't be the least bit surprised about how beautiful PEI is - it seems like the whole place is gorgeous! One day I'll get there...

    Ah yes, shrimp on the barbie! The funny thing is we all call them prawns, not shrimp! They do end up on barbie quite a bit though (try marinading them in sesame oil, garlic, ginger and lemon juice first!). A big favourite for Christmas Day lunch! Gotta love the Australian Tourist Commission's advertising efforts... the last one had the slogan "Where the bloody hell are ya?" Classic... :-(

  • Dawn

    I'm really enjoying the blog and I love the idea of travelling as light as possible, but I wonder if it would be just a little harder for a woman to go no baggage? SeV is a little light on women's clothing for one thing. I probably wouldn't go swimming in my underwear in a hotel, it's just not my thing. And bras these days are not exactly easy to fold flat. Perhaps a SeV could try making a packable bra? Though it might be embarrassing digging for change in those pockets.

    On to the challenge: I live in the capital of Prince Edward Island, Canada's smallest province, a place that my grandfather rarely left in his lifetime because, in his words, why leave paradise? Charlottetown is a small town and, though I know I haven't seen it all, for the purposes of this challenge I'm going to consider the Island as my hometown. It's an easy place to wander and discover: a deserted beach, or red dirt road or a sudden view of strikingly greens hills rolling to the horizon.

    This challenge is the perfect excuse to head north because I've intended to visit North Cape several times but always managed to get side-tracked along the way. I'm giving it another go tomorrow, through the drizzle and fog, without a map because in PEI you can't get lost, you can only go astray.

  • Rose

    I've been thinking the same thing Dawn... Love the concept but I think Rolf is fortunate he's a bloke! I have no immediate plans to get a buzz-cut (vanity getting the better of me there, I think), bras will always be problematic, and then there is the issue of the pesky "painters and decorators"... Fabulous reading though.

    Forgive me, but I saw Prince Edward Island and thought "Anne of Green Gables"! Sorry to immediately think of the cheesiest connection possible, but I did love those books.... PEI has been on my list of "Places to See One Day" for a while. I am from South Australia, and generally most people's connection with Australia is "Crocodile Dundee"... ick! Highest grossing Australian film ever I discovered last night at the quiz night my friends and I won. Tragic. Nothing like the sweet little country town I live in!

  • adriftsoul

    looking at the jackets

    - if a bottle of wine can fit in them and an ipad?
    - then I'm sure a bra folded in half will fit in there without any issues!

    if not, a sports bra without underwire would fold more easily.

    Agree regarding the buzz cuts & swimming - but perhaps a black sports bra could be used - and really - there are so many pockets - I'm sure it could be done easily!

  • Lars Phillips

    Rolf,

    As a recent college grad with time on my hands, your most recent challenge to explore one’s own town completely aligned with my attitude towards travel and my need for adventure! Living in Seattle my entire life, I thought I had seen most of the city, but Seattle is a big place, so what better way to further explore the city, than by grabbing a few close friends, and walking across the ENTIRE city north to south in ONE day!

    That meant starting at Aurora Ave N & N 145th St and walking all the way to 4th Ave SW & SW Roxbury St. Including detours the trip was 19.2 miles but so incredibly worth it. We stopped for breakfast at Beth’s Café, a Seattle institution I had never before visited, visited the Fremont Troll, saw a huge Detlef Schrempf mural I had never before seen, and discovered the amazing mural art throughout the South Park neighborhood among MANY other discoveries. The picture I submitted to the contest is one of me walking up 1st Ave S near White Center, less than half a mile from the southern city limit. As you can see I’m a.) exhausted and b.) carrying a back pack (I don’t have a jacket with enough pockets!)

    You continue to inspire others with your travel writing and this incredible journey you’re partaking in right now. Best of luck over the next 3 weeks!!!

    -Lars Phillips

  • Melissa

    I love this! I decided to try this out yesterday, not really expecting much to come of it. I just wandered around with no goal or place in mind and this became my itinerary:
    -have breakfast at a weird-looking floating cafe
    -meet a random old man at the cafe with whom I chat with about life and nothing in particular
    -turns out old man owns a peddy-cab company and offers to take me around the city free of charge!
    -I continue walking and come across an amazing old castle!! So I stop and take pictures of the outside
    -a tour group walks up to the doors and a little history lesson starts so I listen in, pretend to be part of the group, and get a tour of the castle for free-a savings of $35 I found out later
    -go to a dingy hostel bar for dinner-so cheep and surprisingly sooo good!
    -end up playing cards with a bunch of randoms, and then joining them on a pub crawl for the rest of the night, not arriving back at my house until 4 am.

    Haha. I definitely encourage everyone to do this. You never know what might happen!!
    Cheers,
    Melissa

  • Melissa

    Where are you?

  • Scott

    It's often that which is right under your nose that you take for granted and often wonder past in total ignorance. There is a path that goes right by my house that I have never fully explored; I'm finally going to find out where it goes!

  • Tania

    My son and I are going to the light rail station a block from home, purchasing a day pass and "riding the rails" tomorrow. We'll hop on and off wherever the impulse takes us. Should be a marvelous adventure!

  • Kim

    I've lived in this area for 25 years and have never been to the zoo. Luckily, my husband and I already have plans to visit the zoo Sunday afternoon :-)

  • Audrey

    What does my town look like from the seat of a bike? From my car, Placerville, California is hilly, with narrow roads and few bike lanes. I’ve pedaled through a lot of cities, always dreaming of living in a bike town. If I begin pedaling in my hometown, will my perspective change? I’m off to find out.

  • Michelle Prosek

    I live in Hamilton, Ontario, and it's really a vehicle-oriented city. We have a great escarpment though, and I know there are some real hidden gems in the area so I'm going to go exploring on foot and see where it takes me!

  • :-) I live in the town over and bike through Hamilton. Great bike path that runs all the way along the harbour, also one that runs along the lakefront and from there you can bike up the escarpment over the new bridge, then there's a rail trail down the escarpment to Hess village.

  • Doverider

    I live on the coast, and I'm taking my grandkids out to see what there is to see in our Neck of the woods: Houghs Neck, Quincy, MA.!!

  • Jim Fox

    I'm going to force my brother, sister, wife and daughter to go out with me this weekend to drive around looking for donut shops. We will find the best apple fritter that Tulsa has to offer!

  • Jimbo3b

    I've lived in Lincoln, Nebraska for 10 years, and I've never been to the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia Museum, the National Museum of Roller Skating, or the Frank H. Woods Telephone museum.

  • I figure i should't have much trouble here - I live in Florence Italy ;-)

  • Zac Bowland

    My idea for this challenge is to create a map of the town I am currently living in. I am a geologist by trade, so I have a bit of experience creating maps based on unconventional themes. My idea is to travel the town (Milton, FL) on foot, and create a map based on the things that intrigue me. Not just the usual street names and general layout, but more of a kiddie-drawing that would emphasize the things I find that appeal to me; be it a neat old house, an eccentric diner, or a relaxing place to rest and read a book. This map would be of zero use to anyone else, but it would be a memorable way to get to know the town I am living in.

  • Maart

    That is quite a fascinating way to make your own map of your own town. I never saw it that way. I will have to follow this advice next time I have a free day and go through town and make a map of my own and, just like you said, make a kiddie drawing of it. Interesting concept!

  • I'm hard-pressed to rise to this challenge. I have lived in Southwest Florida for almost 50 years. As part of a local Leadership course I was privileged to visit areas and get insights on industries and organizations that make this area tick, that most people don't get to see. As a home-schooling mother for 10 years I introduced my children to our hometown through a decade's worth of private field trips. I have seen my hometown from the land, sea and air, from a kayak, a helicopter, a bicycle and on horseback. I have served meals from a Red Cross vehicle after Hurricane Charley blew through here, I have marched in the signature Edison Festival Parade of Light, I have even written magazine articles about our area from this perspective. So how will I "change it up" and where, in my 24/7 work schedule will I find the time to do it? I'll take a different road than usual to the next few appointments, ignoring the speed and convenience of the interstate and the familiar stop-and-go traffic of the main drag. Yes, I'll take the scenic route, and perhaps in doing so will be able to slow down my frantic physical, mental and emotional pace. Thanks for the challenge to do so!

  • Rolf,
    I have been following your blog with interest. Last week, I flew from USA to Sydney, Australia, and so far have seen Hobart, Melbourne and Brisbane, as well as Auckland and Wellington New Zealand. I will be in Canberra and Sydney and then back to the USA this weekend. You've inspired me to investigate some of these clothing options for my next trip!

    Tony P

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