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Never Stop Exploring

They say familiarity breeds contempt, and I know that the longer I stay in a place, the more I take it for granted.  In fact, many people I know (myself included) have spent much of their lives near many historic and beautiful locations and never gone to check them out.  I’ve been living on the gorgeous Japanese island of Okinawa for over five years now, and I remember my amazement at the beauty when I first arrived.  Not long ago I was thinking that I had pretty much seen everything there was to see there; I was beginning to be bored with the place.  Then I went for a drive and drank in my surroundings.  Fluffy white clouds drifted lazily across blue skies with scenic views from every hill.  That was when I realized that I’ve barely scratched the surface of what Okinawa has to offer.

White Beach

One of the numerous gorgeous views in Okinawa, taken at White Beach

But it’s not just Okinawa.  My home town in Indiana was a similar story.  I grew up riding on country roads where scenic barns and farmhouses set in the middle of a corn field framed in blue sky was so commonplace that I never realized how beautiful they were.  Not until I went back to visit last year.

Indiana Farm

A typical farmscape viewed from Indiana State Road 252

On a recent trip to Maryland, I made friends with someone who had lived by Baltimore all her life, but she had never really taken the opportunity to hit any of the the numerous nearby landmarks.  Likewise, my Oma grew up in the shadow of many historical castles in Germany, but she never visited any of them until her most recent trip back a few years ago.

I hear you asking, “So what’s the point, My Friend Tony?”

I’ll tell you.  There’s cool stuff to do and appreciate all around you.  All you have to do is stop taking it for granted and keep a positive attitude!  Here are a few of my recommendations for finding something new experiences close to home.

Research

How often do you research your local area?  Probably never.  After all, you know everything about the place, don’t you?  No, you sure don’t!  I had never really read up on my home town until I looked it up on Wikipedia the other day.  I found out that my humble high school math teacher was one of the athletes who inspired the movie Hoosiers.  I also discovered interesting facts about my town and historical sites that I didn’t even know existed, despite having lived there for over twenty years.  Next time I go back to visit, I intend to check some of them out.

Pay Attention to Signs

So you’re not a planner, huh?  Spontaneity is more your thing?  Then try paying attention to your surroundings.  Driving around Okinawa, I see signs that point toward castle ruins, shrines, parks, and all kinds of places that are tucked away in locations I never would have thought to explore.  Some of the neatest things I’ve seen are just things I happened upon because I noticed a sign and decided to go check it out.

Hit the Tourist Sites

You’ve lived in a place for several years–maybe even your whole life, but there’s a good chance you’ve never hit a lot of the places that tourists come to see.  People come from all over the world to visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, especially for the Indianapolis 500 or the Brickyard 400.  I lived about thirty miles from it for most of my life and I never went.  Don’t be like me!  Go to the museums and the monuments and the state parks!  Go to the annual events and the festivals!  It’s almost embarrassing to say you’ve grown up by them without having gone to see them.

Visit with a Friend

If you’ve already been somewhere, try going again with a friend (or a different friend than the one you took before).  Sometimes the company you’re with can completely change the experience.  I used to go to the same bookstore by myself all the time, and I would always browse the same sections for books that interest me, but one time I went with a friend who wanted to browse a completely different section of the same bookstore.  Not only did I find new kinds of books, but the books she showed me sparked good conversations and new interests.

Try New Activities

Another way to make your old surroundings seem new is to pick up a new activity or hobby.  The boring old field that you drive by every day on the way to work might be an awesome place to fly kites or radio-controlled aircraft.  That paved trail that cuts across your whole town would be a great place to go skateboarding or bicycling.  Think of ways to make the commonplace not so common.

Don’t Overlook the Simple Things

Sometimes even going to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant or dive bar can turn into a surprisingly great time.  Even if it’s terrible, that can be a story in and of itself.  Like the time I went to a mom-and-pop seafood place:  The catfish and clams were so over-fried I nearly broke my teeth on them, and the bartender was a flirty cougar with little concept of service.  I met an eccentric old man who did his best to indoctrinate me with redder-than-red-state political ideas and convince me of the truth behind several sinister conspiracy theories.  I doubt I’ll ever go back there, but it sure made for an interesting experience.  I never would have known if I hadn’t tried it.

Take Advantage of Unexpected Travel Opportunities

Not only should you look for these opportunities at home, but look for them when you travel.  When on business trips, visiting far off relatives, or attending conferences, don’t just sit in your hotel room; get out and see things!  Even if you’re going somewhere that doesn’t seem to have anything nearby, I guarantee you’ll be able to find something interesting to do–especially if you try the suggestions above.  I’ve heard a lot of people complain about how there’s nothing to do around Misawa Air Base, but on a recent trip there I left the base with some friends and checked out the local area.  We saw a really huge Buddha statue, a bar full of Robert De Niro memorabilia, and a surprisingly good Irish pub.  On the same trip, I ate sea urchin (uni), mantis shrimp (shako), and the best oysters I’ve ever had.  I also sampled a lot of different kinds of sake, and met a young Japanese woman who could speak Mandarin as badly as I can.

This is the Big Buddha (Showa Daibutsu) that I saw.

This is the Big Buddha (Showa Daibutsu) that I saw.

The best oysters ever

These are the best oysters I’ve ever had.

Adventures are all around you and close to home, so don’t miss out just because you’ve gotten used to the place.  Follow some of these suggestions and take the chance to find something new to do near you!  Do you have any stories about interesting things you’ve found in your local area?  Leave a comment and tell me about them!

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5 comments on “Never Stop Exploring

  1. Whole-heartedly agree! The other favourite of ours is to make your town into a game board using rules (dice/coin toss/etc) of your own devising, or set aside time to wander (bus/train/etc) at random and see what happens. Following a child around for a couple of hours can also work (borrow one if necessary).

  2. Such wonderful advice! I tend to take my surroundings for granted and I really shouldn’t. I’m in one of the loveliest areas on earth and I need to remember that :)

  3. Great advice. I grew up in the Chicago suburbs but rarely visited the city, which makes me sad now that I’m not there to take advantage of it. I currently live in Iowa, about 20 minutes from the Field of Dreams movie site, but even though everyone kept asking about it, I was here for two years before I went to see it (though, to be fair, I’d never seen the movie so didn’t care all that much).

  4. Same basic thought occurred to me a while before I returned to the States. I live in one of the most beautiful States in America, Colorado (literally means, “colorful!”), and it was disappointing to me how little of Colorado I have actually explored in over twenty years of living there. Colorado has some of the most spectacular views and nature experiences anyone could ask for! So, I downloaded a Colorado Travel/Tourist app on my iPad just in case I run out of ideas, and started doing more when I returned. Within the first month of being back, I went with friends to climb Mt. Elbert, which is the tallest mountain in Colorado! I think it’s 14,440 ft. Granted, I felt like I was going to die in the process, since I wasn’t ready for it, but I did it anyway, and made all the way to the top and down successfully. Absolutely breath-taking views, and great for rapid re-acclimation to high altitude. A bit crazy to do without working up to it first, but totally worth it! :P

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