Exploring

Planning

Ask Locals

When you’re in a hotel or motel, or a rest area or visitor’s center, or maybe a restaurant along a busy highway, you’ll find at least one display stand of those 1/3rd-page folders and brochures advertising everything from local events, to restaurants, amusement parks, popular hiking areas, even cruises. But if you think about it for a moment you’ll realize all the people who go through there see the same brochures. As it turns out, those are likely the most popular places to visit in the area. That’s not always a bad thing, and in fact we use those brochures ourselves to find some rather unique places to go.

But where do the locals go? Where do they like to eat on a regular basis or have a special occasion meal? Which place makes the best pizza or handmade ice cream? What local festivals do they go to? Where do they go on day trips, which beach do they swim at, where do they play with their dogs, pick up locally-made gifts to send to family or friends, get their exercise, or go shopping for specialty meats or produce?

This doesn’t always get the best answers: We’ve been told by our housing hosts that we’ve done more in just a few months than locals have done in many years, simply becaue they’re so used to their surroundings. You may have to really pick the locals’ brains to find out what they can’t quite recall. But it’s worth it.

“Line vs Looks” Rule

One of the obstacles one constantly encounter when traveling is an assumed unsavoriness of a place to eat. This unsavoriness can come in many forms, from a building with faded and broken paint and deteriorating roof, to an old dirt parking lot with ruts and holes or broken paving, to an apparently questionable neighborhood or city, to a food stand in disrepair that might also be run by someone with a certain appearance, and many similar observations. A great many people might profile these situations while denying doing so, but these profilings certainly happen regularly. I hear from many people that they won’t go to a certain restaurant because it’s located in a certain spot, or that they heard stories about something that may or may not have happened there. This also occurs when asking locals where to eat when we’re on a trip, even though we may have heard better about a given place from others.

My wife and I have developed a rule about how to select a unique (to us) to eat. We may be on a long drive somewhere where there’s very little for miles in any direction. The upper peninsula of Michigan is a wonderful region to explore in this manner, as are more central and rural parts of Maine and South Carolina, and the more than one-hundred-mile length of the Florida Keys, even though those kinds of eateries are closer together there. The rule is simply this: Regardless of how a place appears, what’s more important than how the place looks its reputation with locals, the number of cars in the parking lot, or the queue to a window in a food shack or food truck are.

Buy Local Specialties

Michigan has fudge, pasties and coney dogs, Maine has lobsters, red hot dogs, and tiny but rich blueberries, the Chesapeake Bay area has soft-shell crabs, Texas has beef barbecue instead of pork, California has fish tacos, some restaurants in Florida serve grilled iguana … Just about every place you’ll visit will have some specialties all their own. Our own rule i that you can’t say you don’t like a particular food unless you actually try it. We’ve found some incredible flavors this way, and haven’t regretted it. It’s fun too, so give it all a try.

Networking

You can take the “ask locals” concept to one other level: Talk to other travelers. Join FB groups related to the agency your spouse is with and ask questions of those who are doing the same work. It’s amazing what you’ll learn from others who are also exploring. At the same time, share your own thoughts, where you’ve been, where you’re planning on going, even for overnight trips. You’ll likely hear about places you never dreamed of.

Escape Comfort Zone

It’s always more interesting to escape your comfort zone. I don’t do heights very well at all, so bungee jumping, skydiving, hot air balloon rides, and simiar activities will always be off my list. But that hasn’t stopped us from traveling (either hiking or riding) to the summits of a couple small mountains and walking cliffs along the Atlantic ocean. Walking or hiking a few miles are now normal activities, and we’re constantly looking for more trails. I never liked lobster as none I’d eaten in my life was either fresh enough or prepared correctly … but I went out of my comfort zone to try fresh lobster in Maine, lobster that had been cooked correctly, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I encourage you to take similar steps.

Journaling

As a long-time food blogger, I’ve basically journaled a lot of the more interesting foods I’ve prepared or that Mary and I have enjoyed since 2006. Since beginning the lifestyle of a traveling couple I’ve gotten into the habit of keeping track of where we’ve been and what we’ve done there. If we get back to the same areas in the future, we’ll know what we’ve done and can either revisit those area or build on them to grow the list even further. We also have information to share with others if and when they ask.

page last updated 9/24/2018