Exploring my own backyard

When we think of vacations and travel, we often talk about faraway places, outside the realm of our everyday experience. Just mention Hawaii, and instantly we think of summer, surf, and sun. Niagara Falls equals romantic honeymoons; Mexico recalls images of partying college students on spring break. Even the recently popular notion of the “staycation” leads people to brainstorm destinations outside their own neighborhoods. Here in Wisconsin, places like Lake Michigan, Door County, and Wisconsin Rapids beckon the local tourist.

I tend to lust after the exotic, unfamiliar, and off-the-beaten path locale; recently I’ve been dreaming of Antarctica, Nepal, Iceland, Turkey, and New Zealand. However, I realized today that there are other, less energy-intensive ways to travel and experience the wider world, which are easier on both my chronically-fatigued body and my budget. While I still intend to lug my pack around the less touristed places of the world on a fairly regular basis, I am also going to try something new – being a tourist in my own neighborhood.

This isn’t a totally new idea – magazines, travel websites, and work colleagues have been chattering for the last couple months about the ubiquitous “staycation”. Even the local news station, WFRV, has been showcasing a different “Wisconsin Getaway” every week. However, I’m viewing this as slightly different than the typical staycation. Instead of taking a week off from work and switching into tourist mode, I am going to try a less “touristy” and hopefully more authentic method.  I am going to dive into the culture and people of Appleton, Wisconsin, purposely looking to interact and engage in my community. The larger goal is to come away with a better connection to my own neighborhood, and integrate my new insights into my everyday experience of living here.

This is an especially ambitious project for me, since as a dislocated Portlander and Oregonian, I feel like a fish out of water here, and I’ve lived in Wisconsin for 9 years now! I still largely identify with being an Oregonian and growing up in Portland. I take immense pride in that identity, and continue to pine after my ocean, mountains, waterfalls, and quirky city. My identification card may say Wisconsin, and I may be married to a local boy, but I rarely find myself calling Appleton “home”. Perhaps this project will help me negotiate this tension I feel between where I live and who I am, and I can begin to feel more a part of what is truly a lovely state.

So how will I attempt to do this?

– Seek out local businesses over major national chains. I have already dived into the local coffee scene, but I should really branch out into other areas, such as restaurants and specialty shops. Maybe each month can have a theme, such as local Asian restaurants or local bookstores.

– Visit traditional tourist destinations, such as the EAA Museum of Flight or the Museum at the Castle.

– Try a new sport every season, such as ice-skating or snowshoeing in the winter.

– Go for long, unplanned walks in the surrounding neighborhoods. Maybe I’ll discover a new favorite park to read at or an inspiring bike trail. At the very least I’ll meet some of my neighbors!

– Attend festivals and events in the area. I always used to view Appleton’s annual Oktoberfest with annoyance. As a student at Lawrence, this large raucous party always took over campus for the weekend, making the daily trips across campus to the library or dining hall a nightmare of navigating crowds. It’s time to rediscover Oktoberfest as a local, as well as trying out some other events, like the Thursday night music in Houdini Plaza.

– Become a regular at the Saturday Farmers’ Market. On our honeymoon, one of my favorite experiences was stumbling across a farmers market in Port Townsend, Washington. We talked to the artists and farmers, tasted local honeys and jams, and listened to live music. Ironically, I’ve never gone to my local farmers’ market, and it’s time to know what I’m missing.

These are just a few of my ideas, and as I try them out, I’ll keep you posted on what I experience and learn about living in the city of Appleton, Wisconsin.

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About chronictraveler

Chronic Traveler starts as a dream, one that I thought I had lost, but that has slowly changed into a mission to realize and live that dream every day. In December 2007 I became seriously ill and the doctors did not know what was causing my illness. I had to stop teaching as my life tumbled into a never-ending nightmare of doctors, hospitals and tests. Finally, in May 2008 I was diagnosed with a chronic condition - fibromyalgia. I was only 26 years old at the time. I have had to give up teaching, and now work part-time at a performing arts center as I learn how to manage my condition and improve my quality of life. What helped me through the months of uncertainty and sickness, and continues to inspire me, was a new focus on what truly mattered to me: family, friends, gardening, the arts, and especially travel. I have always fed my soul by traveling, ever since I first stepped off the plane at age 16 in Kathmandu, Nepal to help with an orphanage's building project. Meeting new people and experiencing how they live and how they view the world infuses my life with a richness I was so afraid I would lose when the doctor first said, "You have fibromyalgia". This blog is my story, as I begin to forge a new path. I am embracing my life as it is, with the fibromyalgia pain and fatigue, and learning to do what I love regardless. It may mean I have to go slower and take more naps or breaks! But I am determined to learn how to travel and experience the world, and hopefully what I learn will help others like me who believe their medical condition stands in the way of their travel dreams.
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