So, you can’t take a “real” vacation. Maybe you don’t have the funds saved up, or you’re too busy to get away for longer than a day or two. Maybe the mere thought of leaving your own city or country puts you into a state of virtual culture shock. But there’s nothing stopping you from going into tourist mode and exploring your hometown as though you’ve never been there before.
This is a lesson my husband Mark and I learned a few years ago. Due to illnesses in the family, we needed to remain close to home. But we still wanted to have a couple of days alone together for Valentine’s Day. We couldn’t leave town, and we had left the planning a bit late, so booking anything on such a busy weekend would have been next to impossible.
So we got an idea.
What if we booked a hotel in town and explored our lovely city of Edmonton as if we’d never been here before? It sounded like a silly idea at first. Why would we pay good money to sleep in a strange bed in our hometown when sleeping at home was free? But we decided to give it a try to see if we could make it interesting.
We booked a room at the nearby Glenora Bed and Breakfast Inn (now demolished, to make way for a condominium development – don’t get me started!). This was a historic hotel built in 1912 in an artsy, eclectic part of town (124th Street) filled with amazing restaurants, bars, shops, antique stores and art galleries. It’s a neighborhood we occasionally go to for dinner, but never really explored in-depth before.
We started the weekend by having lunch at a bright, hipster-ish artisanal cafe. Then we explored several art galleries, followed by antiquing.
Best of all, we saw a small part of our city that we had previously taken for granted. We ended up enjoying the weekend so much, that we’ve gone a few more times over the years to do the same thing.
Here are five tips on how you, too, can explore your own city like a tourist:
1. Book a hotel.
It can be historic, posh, a spa hotel, a cabin – whatever floats your proverbial boat. For me, I have a weakness for historic buildings, so the squeaky wood floors (hidden under carpet, mostly) and old-timey-wimey stylings of the Glenora Bed & Breakfast Inn were right up my alley.
People are often confused by this concept; why would you book a hotel in your own town? Well, it’s to get away from the distractions in your own home. Dishes, laundry, chores, cooking, TV, whatever your regular routine is, this forces you to get away from it. If you’re at home it’s guaranteed that you will fall back into old habits and not really enjoy your time off.
So I think it goes without saying, when you book the hotel, don’t get one with a kitchenette. You’re on holidays, remember? No cooking allowed. And don’t turn on the TV. Choose a hotel in an area of your town that has things to do and attractions within walking distance. Go out, walk around, and explore.
2. If You Forgot Something, Don’t Go Back For It.
Friday afternoon, after we had already left the house, Mark realized he forgot his Wii Fit meter at home. I realized I’d left my cell phone behind. Neither item was crucial, but there was a temptation to swing home to pick up the things we forgot.
But this was one of our earliest rules. We can’t go back home to pick something up if we forgot to bring it. Your car becomes a slow, low-flying airplane to your holiday destination – and if you forgot your toothbrush, you can’t very well ask the pilot to turn the plane around. You’ll only be gone a night or two, and you can always go out and purchase a replacement for whatever little toiletries you may have left behind. This rule forces you to chillax and sever that tie to home. If you keep running back home to pick things up, you’re not really on vacation.
3. Bring Your Camera.
Sure, maybe you think you’ve seen your hometown a million times and there’s nothing left to surprise you. But your perspective changes when you have a camera in hand. You see things from different angles, different lighting, and different points of view. If this city or town was completely new to you, what would you consider worthy of a photograph? You never know, your photos might even inspire someone else to visit your hometown!
4. Try Something New.
Every time we explore Edmonton on one of these weekend getaways, we find new things to see. This particular weekend, we’d discovered a new store carrying environmentally friendly, “green” products for the home, and a little antique store we’d never been in before.
Sometimes we go out to eat and try a new cafe or restaurant. But this time we decided to have an indoor picnic for supper. We stopped at an organic food market called Planet Organic for potato chips, pop and crackers. Then we picked up several gourmet cheeses at Paddy’s International Cheese Market, both of which were within a few blocks of the hotel.
We also explored Edmonton’s new Neon Sign Museum which had just opened earlier that year, but we hadn’t gone to see yet. Sure, it took all of ten minutes to see it. But the thing is, we hadn’t made the time before, and now we had no excuse not to take a peek. At the time the museum was still in its infancy, with only a handful of signs up. There are many more along the street now, and even a few across the street!
5. Buy Yourself a Souvenir.
You always end up bringing something home when you go on holidays, right? So why not do it on your hometown tour as well?
On our first home-away-from-home holiday, Mark and I bought a vintage Pyrex coffee pot at an antique store. It’s become one of our most treasured souvenirs even though we bought it in town. (It makes the best coffee ever. We’ve never had a bad pot!) Every time we use it, we remember the weekend we purchased it.
This weekend, we stopped at the Duchess Bake Shop for sweets to take home, since we only seem to purchase pastries there when we stay at the Glenora. This place is so popular that the line-up usually goes right out the door! And no wonder, look at their gorgeous displays:
So back at home this morning, while sipping coffee made with our Valentine’s Day vintage coffee pot, we split the brioche we purchased at this year’s Glenora getaway. It made our mini “staycation” last just a little bit longer.