1. Be open to suggestions from anywhere
Our trip to Deming, New Mexico happened because we saw a late night movie filmed there and it had a connection to a childhood memory. We took a side trip to Twenty-Nine Palms, California because I heard the Robert Plant song with that title. We visited the gift shop at the Los Angeles County Morgue because our son saw it on the Travel Channel.
Closer to home, an article by Joe Holley in the Houston Chronicle about the Galveston Pirate club and the ruins of Jean Lafitte’s home sent us fifty miles down 1-45 to stand on crumbling stones and imagine being alone on an isolated sandbar with only pirates and Indians.
We spent a Halloween touring the cemetery that held the graves of Howard Hughes, and the murdered William Rice who was almost posthumously swindled out of his dream of creating a college. That college grew into Rice University.
Destinations from newspapers, magazine articles, radio and TV shows, random entries on line and overhearing others talk about their adventures are all noted in i-phone notes for future exploring.
2. Get off the highway
GPS usually gives us the quickest and most boring way to anywhere. Check out alternative routes. It’s easiest to get an overview of the possibilities on an old fashioned map or road atlas. I had a road ramble planned to Asheville, N.C. and Gaithersburg, MD via New Orleans. All my online options would nine hours from New Orleans to Asheville and will carry me there with a minimum of disruption. But if I back track just a little, I’ll would able to travel part of the Natchez Trace and break up trip with a the night in the 1930’s era rustic cabins at Tishomingo State Park in Mississippi.
That was the plan but along the way, I changed my mind. Ultimately, I stayed in in a mountain lodge on the edge of Lookout Ridge and shared a late night cup of tea with a Cherokee woman who told me of her struggles to keep her language alive .
Another way to get off the highway is to take that exit to a town you passed for years. There is always so much more to the place that what squats along the bypass. If I see a town sign that charms me but I don’t have the time right then to explore, I made a note and the next time I’m traveling that way, I’ll do a little research on the town before I go. This lead to side trip to Sarita, a tiny town in the middle of the King Ranch.
3. Vary Your Lodging
In a perfect world, I’d tow a little Casita travel trailer behind me like a turtle and stop on whatever sunny rock looked promising. Until then, I look for cabins in national and state parks and RV resorts.
The great thing about these kind of lodgings is that people in places like these spend time outside. They expect to meet fellow travelers. You can sit on your porch or under your canopy. You are safe walking around. Many people have dogs or unique set-ups and you have a reason to connect. “Where you headed?” and “Where have you been?” are easy questions.
These people have the traveler openness and adventuring spirit down pat. I love to talk to RV full-timers. They have usually closed the book on one phase of their life and are hungry to see what else is out there. And they seemed to have released the need for more stuff. I have gotten some great travel suggestions from these folks.
If you do not want to stay in a park or RV resort, check out some of the odder lodgings in a town – the Teepee Hotel in Wharton, Texas; a condo inside a former giant water tank at the KOA in South Padre Island or a one-room boatel in Sea Drift Texas created from a derelict shrimper boat.
4. Use Your Connections
I belong to a Jazzercise club in Houston. When I travel, I look to see if the town has Jazzercise and take my workout gear along to catch a class and make a connection with the locals. Ask where they eat and what they like to visit. Same with Toastmasters, Weight Watchers or some church affiliations. Any group that has chapters all around the country will work.
Check out the Global Greeters Network with volunteers in all major cities who love their hometown and will show you around. We arranged for two Houston Greeter trips. On one, we toured hidden artwork downtown. The second time, we visited area farmers markets.
Docent tours at museums are great ways to learn about a place or time and meet other people who share a passion. The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston has lunch and learn tours with free admission when you eat at their cafe.
5. Decide to be Delighted
Have the dung beetle mindset that you will find good @#%$! everywhere. But you need to get out of the car and start walking around. You need to make eye contact and say hello. Then congratulate yourself for seeing value and beauty in what others overlook, little beetle.