Are you dreaming of a place far away? An exotic locale with azure blue seas, jaw-dropping views, and where breakfast is elegantly presented on your balcony every morning. It sounds amazing right?
What if you could have that tourist sense of pleasure in your hometown?
I have lived in the same town almost my entire life. It’s a small town, like the kind of town where change feels slow, and you tend to meet the same people at the grocery store. It’s a town where my patients comment on what outfit I was wearing when I was running errands last week. In other words, it’s kind of an introvert professional’s nightmare.
Over time, things do change. Renovation and restoration happen. Industries change. Styles and travel destinations evolve. As the years pass by, a sleepy little farm town known for onions turns into a desirable wine-tasting destination.
Sometimes we are still stuck in our local rut. We reminisce about a past era when we could shop for all our basic needs downtown and find a parking spot at the accountant’s office or post office. All the while, we neglect to take notice of all the beautiful transformations happening. Our days move with habit, and we don’t notice the subtle changes. Essentially, we go to work, run to the store, and pick up our drive-through dinner via the exact same paths, and in doing so, we miss making new discoveries.
Is it possible to be a tourist in our hometown?
Today I was sitting in the outdoor plaza enjoying the sunshine with my book. Locals, visitors, business people, and children all were walking by, chatting, or sitting with a coffee. Yellow shadows cast over my table from the umbrella overhead. I listened to the voices, laughter, and nearby water feature. My nose inhaled the smell of coffee grounds and lunch preparations. I looked up and studied the architectural details of the nearby brick building.
If I were in a similar square in The Netherlands or Austria, I would be in my total pleasure zone. I would be fully immersed in the sights, sounds, and smells. The coffee would taste richer and the strawberries would be sweeter. And I would be trying to capture the essence of the moment with my camera.
One reason is that our brains become desensitized quickly, even in a few seconds. Desensitization is an emotional response or a lack of response to repeated exposure. When we drive down the same road habitually each day or run the same errands weekly, we simply stop seeing details. This can work for us or against us. But it takes conscious effort to stay present in the moment.
Recently, I was invited to bring my camera downtown for a “texture” photoshoot. From the mindset of a photographer and with my eye behind the lens, I was blown away by what I discovered. It allowed me to become a tourist in my hometown.
I knew we had beautiful historical buildings and storefronts. But I never noticed the details when I’m running quick errands. I’m too focused on my schedule and finding a parking space. I never noted the juxtaposition of architectural elements because I didn’t look up. Brick, colors, light fixtures, and corbels all overlaid against each other like the pages of a history book. Renovations and remodels bookend periods of change.
From behind the lens, I noticed the irregularities of the murals painted over old brick walls. My eyes were drawn to the colored patio chairs and umbrellas born out of the pandemic. I paused and marveled over the light rays streaking through the statues.
Change your modality
In changing the modality through which I viewed my hometown, my experience changed. Instead of rushing through from point A to point B, I wandered looking for beautiful moments and details to capture. I looked through the lens of my camera instead of through the lens of my agenda and worries. My sense of relaxation and pleasure increased.
I paused to appreciate a street musician playing a pan flute with only the background accompaniment of the new water feature in the plaza.
Fighting against desensitization is partly mindset, which seems simple but is hard to put into practice. Take a moment to adjust yourself to a mindset of curiosity and discovery. Try to set aside your agenda and just be present in the moment. Pretend you are a tourist in another person’s hometown.
How do you experience being a tourist in your hometown?
One of the most profound experiences that reminded me of what an amazing place I lived was experiencing it through the eyes of a friend who has never lived here. They will notice small (or even large) things you’ve overlooked for years. They will appreciate the unique local combination of views, experiences, and amenities. Through their eyes, you will once again observe how beautiful the trees are that you drive by every day and neglect to notice. You will realize the conveniences that you take for granted such as getting local cheese and vegetables within five minutes of your home, or access to great mountain hikes in under an hour.
Try to visualize the last time you delighted in exploring a new town whether it was window shopping, hiking the parks, or enjoying different food or wine. Can you channel that same energy of discovery into your own hometown? Can you imagine how you would see things if you were experiencing them for the first time? What if you didn’t know what is around the next corner?
Another strategy is to invite a local friend to go somewhere that neither of you has visited or experienced before within your hometown. It can be a restaurant, tasting room, museum or gallery, musical event, farm, park, or a new business opening. There are always little places you have overlooked or just never made the time to visit. Check out a local social media channel or chamber of commerce publication and see what interests you. In this way, you can enjoy being tourists in your hometown together.
I’ve discovered chocolates, cheeses, winemakers, local creative gift ideas, and new places to just relax. But I have to veer from my habits. I love to use this strategy when I need a bit of creative jolt and some decompression time with a good friend.
A third way to not only explore your hometown but to feed your quiet creative soul is to follow the advice of the great writer Julie Cameron and take yourself on a weekly artist’s date. This is designed to be a solo and fun activity spending quality time with your inner child. As you start to get in touch with your inner child that used to play all day, you will get more creative with date ideas. In turn, you will also experience your hometown in a more pleasurable way. This exercise will move you towards the feeling of being on vacation even while at home.
When I’m feeling stuck in my head with a looping tape of negative thoughts, I like to pick up my camera (or iPhone) and just wander. Sometimes I pick a theme like an architectural style, or iris flowers, or yellow leaves and then try to photograph all the varying perspectives I can find. I find a feeling of inner peace and creativity through this activity.
As I strolled through downtown capturing new perspectives, a local lady stopped me and said, “You must be visiting from out of town.” While I happened to know this kind lady, she didn’t recognize me with my camera pack and sunglasses. “No, I’m a local enjoying the morning taking photos,” I said. She smiled but still didn’t recognize me.
As I turned and walked away, I took great pleasure in becoming a tourist in my hometown.