Travel. (Just Go, Already.)

I’ve done a little bit of traveling this year.


Actually, I’ve done a lot of traveling this year.

Almost every time I go on a trip, I get texts from friends (and comments on photos that I post on social media) about how they wish they could pick up and go like I can. I get it. I was unable to do this until just a couple of years ago.

I’m in this interesting season of life right now: I’m an empty nester and, for the first time in decades, unemployed except for some freelance writing I do on occasion. I’m able to keep appointments with myself to workout nearly every day when I want. I have time to cook (!!!!). I’m able to keep up with our laundry and our house is fairly spotless about ninety-nine percent of the time. In fact, here’s a picture I just took of the living room, from up here in my loft office:

living room

Full disclosure: a pair of Jim’s shoes are under the coffee table right now and a pair of my shoes are on the rug just beyond the end of the couch of the left but at this angle you can’t see them.

My point is, my entire life has changed in the past couple of years. In addition, I place a priority status on traveling. I have absorbed the fact that we don’t always get to do what we want to do forever and ever, so Carpe Diem, you know?

If you’re reading this and wishing you could go somewhere right now, what are you waiting for? Go.

“But I can’t. I have (fill in the blank).”
“But I can’t. I don’t have (fill in the blank).”

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Maybe you have a job that eats up a lot of time. Maybe you have little kids. Maybe you think you can’t afford to do anything or go anywhere. There are many, many reasons not to travel. There are better reasons TO travel, including that quote I stuck in a graphic at the top of this post. It’s so important to get out of our own area, out of our comfort zone, to experience different environments, cultures, ways of life.

If you’re one of those “But I can’t” people, pay attention. I’m about to give you some easy, realistic tips on overcoming that “can’t” statement and then promptly getting out of your driveway.

1. Start close by. You don’t have to get on a plane to travel. In fact, experiencing areas that are near home is super fun. My best friend Liz has lived in New Jersey her entire life yet every now and then she’ll tell me that she stumbled upon a road or a park that she never knew about, usually when she’s on her way home from somewhere. It amuses me so much that she can still accidentally discover area treasures as a native of that area. Do you know what she usually does within a couple weeks of the discovery? She goes back when she has more time, to explore with intention. That’s traveling, you guys. Her enthusiasm for exploring inspires me. A couple of years ago her daughters accidentally found the place we call “Sea Glass Beach” (like mother, like daughters!), and now it’s in the regular repertoire for them, and for me when I visit.

Liz and Melisa at sea glass beach
Photo by Liz’s talented daughter, Heather.

If you don’t want to drive around relatively aimlessly hoping to find something new, use Google. Have you ever looked up your town and neighboring towns online? It’s entirely possible you’ll find surprises there. Ask your local friends where their favorite places are. That’s a start (and kid-friendly!).

2. Nearly everybody has something cool or different to see within a two-hour drive from home. Pull up Google Maps or Mapquest or your other map of choice. Figure out a two-hour (or one hundred twenty-ish mile) radius around your location. Take five minutes to research a couple of places. Literally, it will take five minutes unless you find something so incredibly interesting or chock-full of cool stuff that you want to dive in further. Find something? Awesome. On your next day off, go there. No car? Investigate public transportation or ask a friend who does have access to a car to be your companion for the day. Explore on your own or consider taking a tour. Jim and I spent a fun day in Asheville, North Carolina a couple of weeks ago. We bought trolley tour tickets so we could easily see and learn about the entire area, and now we have an idea of what we want to explore more deeply on the next daytrip there.

Asheville travel
Buskers in downtown Asheville: one of my favorite parts of the trip!

3. Make the most of any opportunity. I accompanied Jim on a business trip to Oklahoma last week. Unfortunately for me, the town where he had to be for work was home to the state prison and not much else. Fortunately for me, we got a good deal on a rental car and I visited Oklahoma City one day, Pawhuska (home of The Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile) one day, and a state park on another day. I drove hundreds of miles over those three days but the scenery was different from what I’m used to and so beautiful. I did some advance research so I knew what I wanted to see, and I saw a lot. I totally forgot that Route 66 has a huge stretch in Oklahoma, but once I discovered some of it was close enough for me to explore, it went on the list.

Round Barn Arcadia, Route 66
I had never seen a round barn before that day in Arcadia, Oklahoma on Route 66.

If you know you’re going outside of your home area for any reason and you think you’ll have a little time to explore (even thirty minutes!), search on the internet for “top places to go in (put city name here)”. I can almost guarantee that Yelp and Trip Advisor will appear right on top with all you need to know about how interesting that place can be. You don’t have to GO to the top places but the list will give you some great ideas in general. I do this every time I travel to a new place, no matter where I’m going.

4. If you make plans wisely, you don’t need a lot of money to travel. If you’re short on funds, explore these possibilities: staying closer to home, driving as opposed to flying, taking public transportation, bringing your own food (or shopping for food when you get there; instead of paying forty or fifty bucks for breakfast, find a grocery store and buy a yogurt!), sticking to day trips, looking for tourism/attraction/restaurant coupons online (don’t forget Groupon!), staying with a friend, taking pictures instead of buying souvenirs, visiting smaller towns instead of big cities, walking more than driving once you get there…that’s enough to get you started. When Jim and I went to the Outer Banks of North Carolina recently we spent hours on the beach. He sat and enjoyed the cool breeze and the waves while I collected sea shells. We spent zero dollars doing that, which is my favorite. Also free? The local kite festival that we found by accident.

Outer Banks Kite Festival
This kite festival was an accidental discovery and a definite highlight.

Don’t be afraid to be flexible in your plans, which is something I can’t even believe I’m typing because six months ago that was definitely not me. I hardly recognize myself.

Traveling locally or a little further away is nearly always possible if you prioritize. You may not be able to travel exactly where you want right now because of your life circumstances but you can definitely go somewhere. Figure it out, and GO. Life is too short to wait for the perfect vacation.