Ordinary, Virginia post office. ZIP code 23131

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 hope to go to all the places that exist. Even in our own communities, we probably haven’t visited every single place of interest.

Post office in Ordinary, Virginia (ZIP code 23131)
Just an ordinary post office (Ordinary, Virginia)

My Approach to Travel

For me, I’ve always approached travel a bit differently. 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.

My very first international trip focused on Eastern Europe, which at the time was still relatively fresh from the Iron Curtain days.

Bridge entrance with sign painted "National Road West"
Entrance to what was once the longest bridge in the world (Wheeling, West Virginia)

A few years ago I spent a long weekend in Wheeling, West Virginia, but most people scrunched up their noses and wondered why on earth I would want to go there (it was an awesome weekend, by the way).

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 usually the people and experiences that stick with you the most, even if they may not feel like it at the time.

The Presentation

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.

I want to help other people see there are more ways to travel than they might have otherwise considered.

The author with the 66 Sign, an art sculpture in Bartlesville, Oklahoma
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.

They accepted my proposal and I started working on developing the PowerPoint slides. It 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, 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 about 110 more than I expected!

Building reading "Cousin Eddie's Visitor Center"
Fans of the movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation may recall that the Cousin Eddie character was from Coolidge, Kansas – a real town that has a good sense of humor

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 the moderator told me that I didn’t need to worry too much about the time, I relaxed and had 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.

A bridge over the Chenango River where it meets the Susquehanna, with trees
A beautiful mid-September day in Binghamton, New York

The entire idea is to use curiosity and 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 life!

Abandoned rusted ship on the sand with shrubs, in the former Aral Sea floor
This ship used to haul large catches of tuna on the Aral Sea, which is now mostly dried up (Moynaq, Uzbekistan)

Highlights

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
  • Tie interests and hobbies into your travels
  • Use Google, Bing, or another search engine for everything!
  • See if there are any events going on where you will be
  • Listen to travel podcasts such as Amateur Traveler and Zero to Travel
  • Join Facebook Groups for hobbies, cities, or regions you’re interested in
Mural of a fork, knife, and spoon that is very detailed and looks three dimensional. Background of coral pink with windows on either side in blue
This mural looks good enough to eat with! (Cartagena, Colombia)

Resources

These are just some of the resources you can use when researching things to see or do:

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

Frameworks

Lastly, there are a few ways to framework a specific type of trip that can make it more fun:

  • Quests (for example, visiting all of the U.S. states or European capitals)
  • 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
Capitol building just before sunset
A quest to visit all of the U.S. state capitals can add a fun dimension to any road trip (Lansing, Michigan)

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.

Conclusion

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.

Outdoor non-denominational church: pyramid shape, open-ended with pews facing a marshy lake
We saw this creatively designed church thanks to our Airbnb host (Jose Ignacio, Uruguay)

If anyone is interested in learning more, feel free to contact me directly. In the meantime, I hope you go out and explore with curiosity.

You never know what interesting things might be lurking around the corner, even in your hometown.

*Contains an affiliate link, which at no additional cost to you offers a small commission to me if you click through to purchase. I am only affiliated with products and services that I have used, trust, and believe in.

Hundreds of chewed wads of gum adorn a wall in an alley near Seattle's Fish Market
Even used chewing gum can be public art (Seattle, Washington)

Updated April 15, 2024

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