Turn Ordinary Places into Memorable Destinations

We tend to think of the world as being “discovered.” Every corner of the globe has already been mapped out, trod upon, or otherwise known to humanity in some way. As individuals, though, we haven’t been everywhere, nor can we go. Even in our own communities, we probably haven’t visited every single place of interest.

For me, I’ve always approached travel a bit differently. My very first international trip focused on Eastern Europe, which at the time was still relatively fresh from the Iron Curtain days. As soon as I got a driver’s license, I started exploring the dusty back roads of rural Kansas in a day trip from my parents’ house. I spent a long weekend in Wheeling, West Virginia last year but most people I told scrunched up their noses and wondered why on earth I would want to go there (it was an awesome weekend, by the way).

View of beginning of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge and the westbound direction of the historic National Road, downtown Wheeling, WV
This was the entrance to what was once the longest bridge in the world (Wheeling, West Virginia)

These reasons and more have made me realize that some of the best experiences come from exactly these types of ordinary, obscure, or unpopular destinations. Because in the end, it’s less about what you see than about the type of mindset you have wherever you happen to be. It’s also the people and experiences that stick with you the most, even if they may not be your favorite at the time.

When The Nomadic Network issued a call for presentations, I felt compelled to submit a proposal. I wanted to create a presentation about some of the techniques, tactics, and resources that I use when I prepare for any type of trip so that I can help other people see there are more ways to travel than they might have considered.

Public art called "Sixty-Six" depicting a large green "66" with elongated 3-D red side, by artist Robert Indiana. Located at the Bartlesville Convention Center in Bartlesville, OK.
Phillips 66 originated in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. The number represented three things: the specific gravity of gasoline, the speed of the fuel testing car, and nearby Route 66 where the first road test was performed.

My proposal was accepted and I started working on developing the PowerPoint slides. What I thought was going to be rather basic turned into a large presentation full of a variety of different suggestions and considerations, some of which I hadn’t imagined myself when I started this project.

On May 26, 2022 at noon Eastern time, I gave my virtual presentation, entitled “Turn Ordinary Places into Memorable Destinations: Tap into your curiosity and travel with an explorer’s mindset,” to a group of at least 60 people. Over 120 had signed up, which was probably 110 more than I expected!

Side of a building with a sign saying "Cousin Eddie's Visitor Center / 620-372-2414" and a grain elevator in the distance, early morning view, downtown Coolidge, KS
Fans of the movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation may recall that Cousin Eddie (fictional) was from Coolidge, Kansas (real)

This was my first real presentation outside of minor work-related ones, and it had been quite a while since I’d done those. I’ll admit, I was nervous until it was showtime. When I was told that I didn’t need to worry too much about the time, it helped me relax and then it just became fun. I’m still glad I practiced a lot and honed it down to a rough timeframe.

The slide show consisted of a lot of photos from my various travels, interspersed with bullet points and brief explanations of some of the concepts I was trying to get across. I tried to break down the different aspects of a destination, give reasons why someone might not be taking a typical “vacation,” and then provide a lot of ideas and online resources that I have used to make my own trips more interesting.

Memorial Bridge over the Chenango River near the junction of that river and the Susquehanna in downtown Binghamton, NY
A beautiful mid-September day in Binghamton, New York

The entire idea is to use curiosity to ask probing questions to get more interested in wherever you are. I also promoted using personal interests and hobbies to design a trip or make the most of someplace you happen to be in, whether that was by choice, happenstance, or accident.

All of this fits with my mission of encouraging, promoting, and cultivating curiosity so that people can break free from the myth of “boredom,” learn to discover things new and old, and find different ways to live their best lives. Last I checked, we all still just get one.

Rusted ship tilted, resting on sand which is the former shore of the Aral Sea in the former fishing village of Moynaq, Karakalpakistan, Uzbekistan (Central Asia)
This ship used to haul large catches of tuna on the Aral Sea, which is now mostly dried up (Moynaq, Uzbekistan)

Some selected highlights of my talk are summarized below.

  • Take the back roads for the most authentic experiences
  • Always talk to the locals and ask what their personal favorites are
  • Be flexible to change any plans for more serendipitous moments
  • Ask questions about a place to get curious
  • Tie interests and hobbies into your travels
  • Use Google for everything!
  • See if there are any events going on where you will be
  • Utilize travel blogs to find detailed information and recommendations from people who know
  • Listen to travel podcasts such as Amateur Traveler and Zero to Travel
  • Join Facebook Groups for hobbies, cities, or regions you’re interested in
3-d mural of silverware on a rose-colored wall with aqua colored wooden window spokes to either side. This is a mural in Cartagena, Colombia.
This mural looks good enough to eat with! (Cartagena, Colombia)

Here are some resources you can use when researching things to see or places to eat:

V-shaped fish traps made of rock in a channel on the island of Huahine in the Society Islands of French Polynesia
Rare cultural traditions like these handmade fish traps can be found when exploring (Huahine, French Polynesia)

Lastly, a few ways to framework a specific type of trip are as follows.

  • Quests
  • Thematic travels
  • Volunteering, charity, or social justice
  • Exploratory games such as geocaching or Pokémon Go
  • Epic road trips
  • Health and wellness vacations or medical tourism
Old rusted out truck, a windmill, a metal bed frame, and other rustic items in a courtyard next to the Bear Necessities Antiques & Collectibles building in downtown Fordland, MO
Small towns can be treasure troves for antique collectors (Fordland, Missouri)

These lists are oversimplified and really a fraction of what is possible, but I am trying to get people to realize that there are a number of ways that any destination can be augmented to avoid boredom. It’s truly a mindset that takes time to adopt, especially if you’re used to pre-planned vacations in high tourist zones.

Now you know why I will never get bored or worry about where to go when I travel because I already know I’ll have a memorable experience regardless of the place.

If anyone is interested in learning more, feel free to contact me here! In the meantime, I hope you go out and explore. You never know what interesting things might be lurking around the corner, even in your hometown.

Section of the Gum Wall near Pike Place in Seattle, Washington. Thousands of wads, strands, and portions of chewing gum are stuck to the walls of an alleyway just around the corner from the famous fish market.
Gum can be public art, too! (Seattle)

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