Hyperlocal Travel: How to unplan your adventures

At some point in the last year, you might have dreamed about closing your eyes, dropping your finger on a spinning globe and committing to go wherever it lands.

A sense of adventure is what travel fantasies are made of, but it can also feel a little risky. What if we don’t have the funds or time to jet off to Madagascar or Svalbard? What if it’s an area of the world that holds no interest for you? What if it turns out to be a waste of money? 

A good adventure doesn’t have to involve the far-flung corners of the world. Taking this adventurous risk with a destination close to home can be just as satisfying, entertaining and  maybe even fun. 

It could be relatively easy to make this work for a summer weekend get-away this year. Here’s how.  

  1. Break out a large format printed map of southern Ontario
  2. Draw a 1-2 hour radius around your home that you could easily get to by car, train, bus or bicycle.
  3. Pick a city or town name you’ve never been to before; maybe one you’ve always wanted to visit or maybe it’s a destination you know nothing about.
  4. Do just enough research to book some accommodations but don’t plan anything else.
  5. Go without an agenda and see what you find along the way.  

This is how my travel partner and I ended up at the Lake Erie city of Port Colborne, Ontario for a weekend anniversary getaway a couple years ago. We both had a pretty intense year to that point and had energy for two things in preparation: we booked an Airbnb apartment facing the Welland Canal, (we looked at a map) then packed the car with our bicycles, books, magazines and newspapers, our running shoes, a couple sketchbooks and a few bags of groceries that would become gourmet dinners and leisurely breakfasts, expecting we would do little else but rest and chill. 

Within an hour of our arrival we spotted a poster for a Saturday Art Crawl featuring local artists and musicians. Three doors from our accommodations in an old bank building, we joined the lineup for a fresh fish & chips dinner from Minor Fisheries Take-out. As the drips from our fish landed on the map of walking and cycling trails along the Welland canal, we knew that the weekend newspaper would stay on the kitchen table, unread. 

But it was the Welland Canal itself and the ships passing by our front window that became an instant fascination. Through our open window we could hear the clang of the lift bridge signaling the passage of another ship …or laker… or freighter. Once we discovered the online Seaway Map showing the ships heading up and down the Canal on their way to the port in Montreal or all the way to Lake Superior, we were hooked.

Why we don’t do it

People have said to me, “I could never travel that way” when I recount this little adventure. They fear that the trip will be a waste of time, or they will miss ‘the most important thing’ – a.k.a. FOMO – fear of missing out. They worry about it being boring or not finding anything to do. Or it ends up being a waste of money because they spend two days somewhere they didn’t plan to go. 

Why we should do it

But the point is to go somewhere and make your adventure by finding things to do. Who says you need to consult guidebooks and Instagram and Trip Advisor and Yelp and visitor centres? This little exercise could break you of a travel habit or pattern of needing to plan everything down to the minute. Taking an unplanned trip builds an essential travel skill: going with the flow. 

How to make it successful

Take someone with you who can help with the adventure finding; see it through together. It’s pretty low risk and chances are you can find at least one or two things that are novel, entertaining, engaging, delightful and maybe even hella fun.

Engage your travel mindset by focusing on where you are at the moment rather than wishing you were far away, talk to local people and ask them about their town or city and cultivate the ability to create a micro-adventure by seeing a place from many different angles. 

If all else fails, you can read the books you brought, take a nap, go for a long walk or hop in the car and move on to another town down the road.