I just moved to a little seaside town for December as I am waiting for my permanent housing in Lisbon to become available. On first glance, on an overcast day the little town looked like a bunch of strip malls, and depressing signage. But once I got out walking, I discovered a gorgeous beach, abandoned villas with incredible gardens, and lots of charm!
This past summer, I stayed with my parents in their small farming town which is just one street in a really dry part of central Washington state. I wasn’t sure how I would handle an extended visit in this dusty cowboy town after being in pastel-hued Lisbon. But after a summer there, I learned to appreciate a lot about the little town and by the end I was dreaming of owning a cozy coffee shop there!
All this has got me thinking about how to appreciate where you live. I feel like there’s so much narrative about wanderlust and dreaming and wishing we had this or that or wishing we were traveling but we don’t appreciate where we are at often enough. Here’s how I like to approach every place I live or visit to get the maximum experience:
1. Try out a different mode of transportation. Walk. Bicycle. Take a bus. Drive. Ride a train. A place looks totally different from each of these perspectives. It’s incredible the new details I will discover when I set out on foot. I’ll notice a garden I’ve never seen before, a new shop, or a lovely corner of town. And each of these modes of transportation creates a totally different and new perspective.
2. Find the library. When I was visiting my parents last summer, I would often work from their little town library. I discovered the loveliest little balcony with outlets and wifi. You had to ask the librarians to unlock the door so often I was the only one there. There were black locust trees canopying the balcony and it was so, so lovely! Who would have thought! Libraries are free and a gathering place for locals. Plus, I love wandering through a foreign library. So interesting!
3. The Market. People often say the market is the soul of any city. You can meet the locals, find out what they grow there, and usually get a really authentic experience. Even when I live some place, I try to visit the market weekly. It’s invigorating. Here you will discover the local food, local music, and local artists.
4. Find the museums. Every place has its own story and it’s great to visit museums both grand and small. Even in our tiny towns in the West, there are lots of interesting little museums about the Oregon trail. My sister who has worked in museums and taught history, always finds the museum in town whether were in a tiny town in Southern Oregon or a big city abroad. I love it!
5. Find the park/s or botanical garden. Almost every place has a beautiful park or botanical garden. I’ve found gorgeous little gardens here in the small towns of Portugal. When I was in the small city of Beja, they had the most incredible botanical garden. No one understands why in the world I went to that little town but it was ooozing with charm and there wasn’t a tourist in site.
6. Meet new people. If you’ve lived somewhere for a while, you often get stuck in a rut of going to the same places, staying in your neighborhood and keeping with your same group of friends. New people can show you a whole new perspective on your town with their own hang out spots and perspective on the city. I remember when I started hanging out with my friend, Dara in Portland. She was new to the city, so while I was tired of it, she had a brand new perspective and when I joined her for bike rides around the city, I saw it in a whole new light.
7. Discover new things. Don’t stop discovering new things where you live- day trips to nearby towns, a new shop, a new section of town. When I travel I am filled with awe about every little details but the longer I stay in a place, it tends to fade. You have to keep seeking out the new and unknown. I read a study recently that talked about how important it is for our wellbeing to continue being curious and continue feeling awe! It might take more effort, but we can find something new right where we are at.
8. Play host. Having visitors always forces me to do all the fun touristy stuff I never do when I live somewhere. It can be a really fun way to appreciate it more and it’s fun to cater to your particular guests’ interests, which can really shift perspective. I always loved it when my brother came back to visit me in Portland, because he was really connected to the Russian section of town and he knew markets and people and streets I never ventured to in all the years living there.
9. Focus on what your locale does well. Sometimes I miss food in Portland but then I focus on how much I love the seafood here and how easy it is to get fresh squeezed orange juice and lemonade, and fresh cheese I never ate before coming here.
10. Get Involved. If you really wish your town had more of a food you miss from home or a better coffee shop, find out how you can change things and use your own skills to add something to your community.
Anything else you would add to this list? I always love how my friend, Chelsea, in Mcminville is marketing her lovely small town! I think it’s wonderful when people are proud of where they come from! You can honestly find things to complain about anywhere but you can also find cool things everywhere!
Photos: Chelsea Fuss.