If you’re from a small town, or have lived in the same city for a good number of years, then you’ve probably dealt with that claustrophobia that sets in on occasion. You know the one where you wake every morning feeling like the walls have moved slowly, but perceptibly and inexorably closer during the night? It normally occurs after spending weekend after weekend doing nothing but watching Top Gear reruns and eating Friday night’s leftover pizza so that, by Sunday night, you’re lying awake, staring at the ceiling and wondering “Is this really it?”. The solution? Make a new year’s resolution to get excited, wide-eyed and curious about your own town and surrounds again.
1. Do what you love to do: Seems a bit obvious doesn’t it? It would be a terrible bit of advice if I said “Now, go out there and do what you hate! And have fun, dammit!”. But it’s not really such a silly thing to suggest, because how many of us actually do what we love most of the time? Why wait for those two precious weeks you have off at Christmas when it can feel a little like a holiday all year round? Do those things you love doing on holiday even when you’re not on holiday.
2. Plan, plan, plan: If, like me, you can’t really see why drooling the weekend away in front of the TV as mentioned under point 1 is a problem, then you’ll probably need a bit of encouragement to get out there and explore. Vow to never spend two weekends in a row at home. Gather a group of reluctantly adventurous friends and take turns planning your next outing. Choose somewhere in or near your hometown to explore and get cracking. There’s a wealth of information out there:
a. Surf the web: Tripadvisor is always useful and will give you a new perspective on your town when viewed through the eyes of a fresh-off-the-plane tourist.
b. Pick up some brochures, road maps or a local guide book: You could probably get all the info you need online, but just imagine how happy you’ll make the ladies at your local tourist information centre if you grab a few of their dusty (and mostly free) paraphernalia. Every town has one - just look for the “i”.
c. Phone a friend: Or a family member, or a stranger or anyone else who has visited your area. They’ve often done their homework and will, embarrassingly, know more about what’s happening around your area than you do. You know it’s true. We’ve all had someone ask what we suggest they do in our town only to have “The mall! The mall!” flash through our heads in neon colours to the exclusion of all other ideas.
d. Read a travel magazine: Nothing will get you as excited about the same old sites as seeing them draped in beautiful people on the pages of a glossy magazine.
3. Check out an organised tour: Bus tours, bicycle tours, boat tours, foefie slide tours, walking tours, history-, gastronomic-, architecture-, or wild flower tours – there is sure to be something in your area that interests you and where all the work has been done by a red faced tour operator slowly developing carpal tunnel syndrome from flicking around a logo’d flag to keep his flock in check. You’d be surprised how much fun these touristy things can be. Check out City Sightseeing for a schedule of Cape Town’s Hop On / Hop Off bus tours – a great way to see the city and responsible to boot if you’re planning on sampling the myriad exceptional wines the region has to offer. Most big cities around the world have their own version.
4. Snap away: Happy snapping is not just for holidays. Take photos of your outing so that you’ll have memories to look back on. Look at the old and familiar through a camera lens and try and imagine seeing it for the first time. Snap the same old water tower you drive past every day from a fresh new angle.
5. Try a new restaurant: For the love of God, just forget about McDonalds or the Spur for one damn day and try something new! They’ll still be there next week, I swear. Support those people who are really passionate about food and fresh, seasonal ingredients. At The Old Townhouse in George on the Garden Route for example, you not only get fantastic, seasonal, ever changing fare, but you get to eat it in the tiny, quaint, original Town Hall built in 1848 – two touristy birds with one stone. Or try a new ethnic cuisine that you’ve never had before.
6. Pretend you’re from Lonely Planet: The next time you’re walking the beaten-into-submission track, ignoring the same old shops you pass every day of your life without going in, pretend you’re writing an article for a travel company. What is there to see? What makes each shop special? Is the best milktart you’ve eaten since sitting under a quilted blanket on Grandma’s lap when you were eight served from a hole-in-the-wall establishment behind the Caltex garage? There’s only one way to find out. Alternatively, create a walking or driving tour of the area based on a theme. If you like shopping for example, find all the best markets in your area, plot them on a map and work your way through them, stopping off at any interesting places in between.
7. Don’t ignore the historical sites: Even the tiniest town normally has a heritage council. Sure, they may just be two retirees who meet for tea and cucumber sandwiches every second Thursday and decry the state of the nation, our youth and how the teenagers keep making out behind the old library, but besides the griping they’ve probably stuck up a few bronze plaques on noteworthy historical sites. Besides the usual museums, churches and battle grounds, you’ll often find some beautiful old buildings masquerading as restaurants, cafés, bike shops or something in vile pink. Look past the peeling paint and you could find some beautiful original architecture.
8. People watch: It’s so many of us’ favourite pastime, but how many of us do this in our own home towns? You’d be surprised what you can learn about yourself, your community and your country by grabbing a grande tall and watching the world go by. I remember sitting in a Mugg & Bean at OR Thambo last year after returning from an overseas visit and thinking there is more vibrant energy in that one airport coffee shop than in the entire city we had just returned from. Sit, watch, learn, absorb and be grateful for every quirky personality that walks by and enriches your world a little one crazy eye-twitch at a time.
9. Take the scenic route: If you’ve chosen to visit a nearby town, take different routes there and back and smell the roses (or boutique vineyard, or yak butter or mohair blankets) on the way.
Go, eat, play, explore.