I’ve lived where I live now my entire life. In fact, I live in the same house I lived in as a child, because as luck had it, my marriage and my parent’s downsizing overlapped. So when I say I know my town, I know my town. I’ve been in every corner, and seen everything there is to see. I’ve pulled out my bank and credit cards at almost every store in my neighbourhood; I’ve patronized the same shops, eaten at the same restaurants, and bought bread at the same local bakery for literally decades. My roots here are strong. But if you think I knew everything there was to know about this town, you’d be wrong.
No matter where you live, whether it’s a thriving metropolis of several million people, a tiny hamlet with one stop light, or a suburban bedroom community like my town, I can say without hesitation that there are things to do and places to shop or go in your community that you had no inkling about! And now that spring weather is upon us (fingers crossed and candles lit), there is all the more reason to get outside and see your hometown or adoptive city like you’ve never seen it before.
The idea of becoming a “tourist in your city” became relevant to me after a recent visit on Facebook, where a newcomer to my town remarked with joy on our community page about the biking trails he’d discovered here, as well as a few retailers and restaurants he’d visited – places that, despite living here for what seemed like forever, I had never even heard of! I also thought then about how every time I would venture to Toronto – a large city only 40 minutes away and practically in our backyard – I had almost never viewed it as a tourist. I’d taken friends and family to visit there of course, but I never looked at the city through a newcomer’s eyes. How many times did I watch the double decker open top Toronto tour bus maneuver around small streets, full of smiling camera-toting tourists? I now feel like they walk away knowing more about the city than I do, and I live in its shadow!
I’ve since visited my town’s homepage and tourist centre (yes! I discovered we have a tourist centre!) and since then have been able to engage in so many activities in our community I had no idea existed. The small, clapboard building at the heart of our downtown that seemed oddly out of place that I had always wondered about? It’s a fully operational coal-forge Blacksmith centre and they offer classes my 14-year-old son could take. (And I have some beautiful wrought iron hooks he made now hanging in my foyer to prove it!) We’ve been biking on trails around ponds I don’t know we had, and my partner and I have a new favourite restaurant on the periphery of town that we had never passed before. Now we wonder how we managed without it.
I cannot suggest strongly enough how eye-opening this “view your town as a tourist” outlook has been for my family. It really is so easy to get up and go, remembering only this: if one is to enjoy their area with fresh eyes like a tourist, one must think like a tourist - and this means travelling light, and travelling smart. It’s easy to start; go online and Google your city or town + tourism, or your city or town homepage. Even the smallest inlets usually have a website with a “tourism” tab. Sometimes that link will lead only to a showcase of brass shoe buckles in a garden shed on route 4, and sometimes it will announce a huge display of valuable art at a national museum or the opening of a gorgeous new park. You just never know, and that’s where the fun of discovery lies! Go to the buckle shed! Go to the art museum! Do it all!
All you really need is a comfortable pair of shoes, a bag big enough for your new-found treasures waiting to be purchased, and of course, your debit or credit card. Travelling (even if it is just in your own city) is better when you know you can pay securely with your debit or credit card at your next favourite store.
The beauty is that you never know what new find you will discover, because living in a town and visiting one are different things entirely. Our days living somewhere are filled with work, groceries, dry cleaners, and car maintenance – all things a tourist never deals with. Why not fill some of your time seeing your home as the treasure it is? After all, why should the tourists be the only ones having fun? You LIVE here; you EARNED IT!