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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