We are often so very guilty of taking the things around us for granted. We go through the motions of life, looking at things with lethargic eyes that betray a laziness in the brain. Often, we shut out everything around us and embark on zombie-like trances. We operate on autopilot throughout the day.
It is the mentality that you have seen this a thousand different times over and there is really nothing new, interesting, or inspiring that can be further derived from the same old sights, on the same old route as part of the same old routine at the same old time on a different day.
We have somehow arrived at the conclusion that it’s a bad thing to look lost, confused, or even curious about anything.
We might even find ourselves suppressing a sneer at those who appear a little less than confident about where they are going, while secretly congratulating ourselves for appearing to know better and to seem like we have it all figured out and under control.
There is a socially accepted manner of behaving in a public space while in the city. It often appears as a perpetual scowl to guard against others, or a blank look of disinterest to disengage from the environment. It is a symptom of city-living and a disconnection of self from the environment and the people around you.
It’s quite the opposite of how one might act while traveling in a foreign land. There, you are either in an open state of wonderment and curiosity tempered with a degree of uncertainty, or in a state of alert and being quite aware of your surroundings as a matter of safety and vigilance against potential pickpockets (depending on where you might be).
If you have been guilty of doing all of that and have been taking what you have in your own backyard or city for granted, perhaps you might consider some of these suggestions as ways in which you might be able to get some inspiration, spot something interesting, or even allow yourself to be filled with a sense of wonder while taking a stroll through your own city.
1. Pretend to be a tourist
How well do you really know the place you live in? Have you visited the places that tourists would typically go to? If you were to do a quick look up of your city on Wikitravel, would you be able to say that you have visited most if not all of the sights recommended by other travelers to your city? What are some of the stories about the places, the people and the food in your city that you might be very familiar with but less than knowledgeable about? Perhaps it is time for you to learn a little more and dig a little deeper into the things you have taken for granted but endeavored little to really understand.
2. Bring a camera with you
The last time I took a camera and started taking pictures around and about the Chinatown in my own city for a fact-checking assignment I was doing for a travel guide, I got mistaken for a tourist. It was quite a strange experience, to have locals smiling and looking at me like I was a tourist with a camera.
But if you set out with the intention of taking pictures with your camera, you are far more likely to pay greater attention to details around you and to keep an eye out for the mildly interesting to the potentially intriguing. You’ll look twice, once with your eyes and the second with your camera. You’ll be able to soak in details you might not have seen otherwise, and you’ll be able to look back on your photographs with fond memories.
3. Eat at a place that sells food from a different culture
Most of us probably do this often enough, but we tend to treat it as a special evening out when we do so. If there are immigrant enclaves in your own city, perhaps you might want to try pretending to be overseas while still being in your own city by visiting these little pockets and eating at places where they sell the kind of food the local immigrant population craves just to get a taste of home. It can be as simple as an onion pancake from a Chinese vendor, a Doner Kebab or even something more formal in a European restaurant. Even if it is in a kitschy restaurant with slightly over-the-top furnishing, it’s probably the closest you can get to a temporary get away from the familiar as you immerse yourself in a foreign place on familiar territory.
4. Talk to strangers
I’m not sure if it is common practice for you to be striking up conversations with strangers in public where you come from, but where I’m from, people tend to keep to themselves mostly and are disinclined towards striking up random conversations with strangers. This is as much a challenge to myself as it would be to anyone who is reading this. Yet it has to be said that I find myself being more emboldened to strike up conversations with strangers when I’m traveling as opposed to when I’m at home because it just feels a little more natural for me to be doing so as a traveler than as a local.
5. Walk a little more than you normally would
To most urbanites, this might sound a little crazy and feel like an unnecessary torture, but for someone who has been making a conscious decision to walk from point to point in the city, even across distances that most of my fellow city dwellers might balk at, I find it to be a process of self-discovery and a great exercise in exploration. You don’t have to start off with long distances — it can be as simple as getting off one stop earlier on the subway or the bus and making a deliberate decision to complete the final part of your commute on foot.
It can be a rewarding and inspiring experience if you manage to stumble upon sights and sounds that you might have otherwise missed if you were on the train or on a bus. It could be as simple as the discovery of a food truck, an ice cream stall, an interesting piece of graffiti, or just a nice little park you can pass through.
Instead of looking at the walk as a torture or unnecessary, perhaps you might find yourself learning to appreciate the experience in itself and to allow yourself to re-discover your place of dwelling with fresh eyes.
I hope that more people will be able to see life with a fresh pair of eyes with each new day as opposed to looking at life in the same old lethargic manner. For it is the spark of life in the glint of someone’s eye that speaks of how genuinely alive someone is in that instance and I have a secret wish that these instances are not just fleeting moments, but moments we can prolong into states and states we can live in for extended periods in time.
So go forth and be the explorer you are meant to be, even if it’s in your own backyard.