Planning the Perfect Local Vacation

Over the past year, I've been all over the world.  I've talked to lots of local people.  Tasted local foods.  Tried local experiences.  Asked locals what they like about where they live.  One thing I can tell you is that nearly everyone I meet says to me, "WOW!  I have never been there", or "I don't know, I've never done that".  It seems we are all willing to put aside money to travel to distant places, but we spend very little time exploring our own cities, states, and countries.  What a shame when there is so much close at hand to enjoy right in our own back yards.

The view behind me is Milwaukee from the Allen Bradley Clock tower- opened for a special day of tours
I live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and have been here for less than 10 years.  I've spent the last year or so also trying to become a local expert.  It's not really easy to find out about all the quirks and fun stuff.  Sure you know about the major concert venues or museums, but there are so many other things that make a city special, and you have to dig.  IF your summer mission is to explore your own backyard (so to speak), and you CHOOSE to accept it, much fun lies ahead.  I'm going to tell you how to get started, and the internet makes it so much easier.

I like to think that Milwaukee is unique, and not just because we freeze all winter long and sweat all summer, and the perfect weeks are very few.  I know there are plenty of other places that have a lot to offer. The first place to start is Tripadvisor.  Put in your city and see what is listed under things to do/attractions.  Have you seen them all?  They also show restaurants, and maybe you want to check out some of the top 10 in that category.  Tripadvisor is different from using travel books because you'll get reviews from people of all income levels and backgrounds.  Yelp is very similar and can be useful when looking for museums, food, and all other attractions.  You put in a search word and zip code or city name and it will supply anything that fits your search.  It always surprises me with something I haven't heard of yet.  Both of these websites have smart phone apps.

Frommer's writes a set of travel books that you've probably seen at your local book store.  What you may not know is that they also publish an astonishing array of walking tours and city destinations for free on-line.  Go to Frommer's and put in your local destination and prepare to be amazed.  Check the local travel section of books at your hometown bookstore or library too.  Often there are books written by local authors that include fun places to visit.

Roadside America is the place to go for weird and quirky.  At the top of their page, put in an attraction, city or state.  I'm still working on visiting all the locations nearby me in Wisconsin.  Atlas Obscura is another place for unique.  Click on the "search" link to find something near you, or just browse the many places you can visit.

If you like the great outdoors, download Oh Ranger!Park finder so you can instantly find parks near you when you're out driving.  You can also go to their website, but so far it's still in the beta phase and only seems to have the state parks.  The smartphone app finds local parks too.  See if your county or city parks have a website by searching for the name of your "city/county parks".  That will help you find park maps, events, and information about places to enjoy free concerts, movies, skating, swimming, and fishing...just to name a few.

Use Pinterest!  For Milwaukee, they have their very own pinterest page.  I can click on a photo and find out what webpage the photo is from with the accompanying information.  There are also users who accumulate pins for things to do in various places, and you can choose to follow their pins.  If you have never used pinterest, don't be intimidated.  Jump in and take a look.  Do a search for your city and see what comes up.

Do a web search for "36 hours in ____"where you fill in your city.  Or maybe "72 hours in _____".  The NY Times is especially likely to have published a list of the top attractions in larger cities, but often there are unknown writers who write local lists that often include attractions and food.

Do a websearch for blogs and your city/state.  For example, if I was looking for someone who blogged about their trip to Milwaukee, I could search "blog Milwaukee".  Often bloggers are people who do a lot of traveling and have an interesting perspective on your city.  They may write about restaurants they visit or sites they thought were strange or wonderful.  I tend to do this for every destination we travel to and have never been disappointed by the information.  It has helped me to find great sunset spots, the best coffee in town, and some incredibly great shopping.

Try a local version of a national race or fun run.  Last year we did the Milwaukee version of the Color Run and had a blast.  We also biked the Tour de Fat, a bike ride sponsored by a brewery.  You can usually find out about these events for searching rides or 5K runs.  These types of events bring lots of people together, are priced reasonably, and can be a good family event.

Try your own city's tourist office.  Pick up a brochure for places you haven't seen yet.  Go to the chamber of commerce.  Get the state's latest travel magazine and find what's near to you.  This is how I found out about an Amish community just a couple of hours from me.  It's also how I learned about the local breweries and took a tour.  Take factory tours.  Find out what makes your state famous and explore that aspect of it.  Take garden tours- both where they grow it for sale, and botanic gardens.  See if there are any historical places or houses you can visit by visiting your local historical society.  Check the bulletin board at the local library.  Find your local paper on-line to see if they have a seasonal section where they post events.  Lots of these places are free and can be entertaining if you have out of town guests.

Read your local paper.  Usually the Thursday or Friday edition will have weekend happenings that include street festivals, neighborhood events, and other fun things to do.  Just because you don't live in a neighborhood, doesn't mean you can't visit it for a street party.  It will definitely give you a different flavor of things.  Be active.  Participate in your community.

Get on Facebook and search for any businesses that have your city's name in their page.  "Like" their pages and create an interest list so you can get their updates for local happenings.  I've gone to some free walking tours and concerts that I found this way.

Take a walking tour, food tour, or photography tour of your city.  I enjoyed doing this last summer with a trained professional photographer.  Not only did I enjoy hearing about so many of the local attractions, I learned to take better pictures.  I found the tour through Groupon.  Subscribe to your local Groupon  or Living Social, and you will hear of all kinds of local deals.  You can tailor the choices they send you to your personal interests.  Using Living Social I was also able to find outdoor activities in nearby cities- like a kayaking trip in Chicago.

The latest fun site I found is called Schemer.  I found it when we were traveling to Japan and it gave me lots of ideas for things to do.  You can create a list of things you'd like to do, but you can also read what others are suggesting for a specific place.  Open the site and put in your city under "Find Stuff to do".  Photos with ideas should appear and you can click on each and decide if you want to add it to your list.

Do a web search for "things to do in ____" and fill in your city.  It's extremely likely that someone somewhere made a list of stuff for kids, stuff for free, and stuff for locals.  If you have a local university, you might google their events calendar too.  Often they sponsor speakers or schedule concerts that are fun even for people who aren't attending school.  My sister works at a university library and I always check in to see what the latest art or photography display will be and where it will be hosted.  Student exhibits are really interesting too.  Often, if you are lucky, there will be a grand opening event where they even have music and food...FOR FREE!  I love it!

Whew!  What incredible resources we have at our fingertips!  So that should be a means to get you started on looking out for fun in your own backyard.  Good luck and let me know what's on your list!





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