Travel, Virginia

How to be a tourist at home

May 17, 2016

We love to travel. And, we love our kids and are extremely lucky to be parents. But for us, these two don’t mix so well right now — traveling and twin two-year-olds isn’t the best combo. So, I have intentionally set out to find more fun things to do at home, whether it’s nearby activities, day-trips or weekend trips.

We live in a gorgeous part of the country, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwest Virginia, so there is no shortage of beautiful things to see. Especially, if you are into outdoors, nature and agritourism (and, yes, that includes vineyards).

But, we have found that it’s easy to get involved in everyday life and the same routines and miss what’s going on around you. I have heard foreigners say to me that I have done more cool things in their countries than they have and they didn’t know about various places or activities.  It got me thinking that I’m probably the same at home.

So, now in this season of life with small children, it makes perfect sense to really explore home. I love seeing and doing new things and I’ve only scratched the surface here in Virginia. Also, we love seeing the kids experience new things and it helps keep them occupied.

People always ask me, how did you know about that? Or, where did you find that. Or, they say, you guys do the coolest things.

It’s not happenstance. It’s because I take time to do research and I make a note of a new destination whenever I happen to come across it.

So, how do I find interesting places to visit? 

Pay attention.  Mainly I really just pay attention for opportunities, especially hikes, vineyards, other attractions and farms. Whether it’s something that shows up in my Facebook feed or something that I hear someone talking about. Then, I add it to my list. Sometimes I do research right away and sometimes I just add to my list because I’m busy and then come back to it later.  For example, there is an event coming up where there will be a petting zoo on the downtown market. On the Facebook event for it, someone asked where the animals will come from? The event organizer responded with the name of a farm. I looked them up and added it to my list. Baby animals…yes, of course!

Facebook Events.  This is great way to find cool things. I see things in my feed that my friends are interested in and I also peruse the Facebook Events page for things happening nearby. I find lots of things this way.

I follow organizations to get ideas from.  Perfect example: I follow the Virginia is for Lovers Facebook page. They publish articles and I read them. For example a few months ago, they posted about Spring Festivals in Virginia and I perused the article. That’s how I found out about the Holland in Haymarket Tulip Festival. Jackpot! Yes, it’s close to DC and four hours away, but I love DC, so it was the perfect excuse for a weekend trip.  I also like the Virginia’s Blue Ridge Instagram.

I follow places I might be interested in.  Whenever I find a place that I think I’ll like, I follow them so I will hear about any events they may have or so I can get to know the place better to see if I’m really interested. So, I hear about a winery and I’ll follow them on Facebook and Instagram.  Now, they will stay on my radar. I recently followed one but it made no impression at all other than being a vineyard that’s close by. Today, I saw a photo they posted on Facebook, and it showed a group of people under a giant pergola with climbing roses. It looked gorgeous and now I’m interested. I’m sure there was nothing that beautiful on their website.

I follow people that travel or like to do the same kinds of things I do. Sometimes I find Instagram photos from random people that really speak to me whereas the official website for a place didn’t interest me at all. Places do a horrible job of marketing themselves sometimes. Or I find these cool people to follow and I see a photo and say wow and put that place on my list.

Research. Just plain old searching. Somehow I got on a Floyd website with a list of all the farms in the area and found a neat honeybee farm that I put on my list.

How do I keep track of everything?

Google Doc. I started a Google Doc that is my master list. I have different categories — I have a list of vineyards, I have a list of attractions/hikes, I have a list of things that are seasonally important by month, so I don’t miss out on anything. For example, March is the blossoming cherry trees and I love the Duck Pond at Virginia Tech for this. April is Kite Festival and tulips.  I started grouping things together by area, too.  So, I have a Charlottesville list, etc.

I also have a similar list for potential photoshoot locations.

Make notes. In my list, I make notes about why I like something. If I’m not careful, I have a giant list that suddenly isn’t helpful. I make a note of what sparked my interest if it isn’t obvious or I insert a photo that I found. For example, I added The Channels in Abingdon to my list, but later inserted this photo to show why it was of interest.

Google Map. This is a trick I use for international travel and it works just as well at home. {Related: See my international travel planning guide.} Whenever we plan to travel, we create our own custom Google Map by adding all of the places we are interested in. It serves two purposes — for us to geographically acquaint ourselves with the area and for us to group activities together. So, for example, I added a farm to my map that’s in Moneta and saw that Scott’s Strawberry Farm is close by. Perfect. We will do both in one day to maximize the day and the travel time to get there. If I didn’t have this literally on a map, I would not necessarily remember where all of these other places are or put this together in my head. This is how we were able to go to a peony farm in the middle of nowhere (Nelson County) and realize there is a gorgeous waterfall just 10 minutes away. For international travel, this is so important because I don’t want to miss out on seeing something when I know I might never be back. But, it’s extremely helpful for home to be more organized, see more things and maximize your time.

And, yes, I color code different types of places — hikes, vineyards, breweries, restaurants, shopping, attractions and farms.

Calendar. I go ahead and add things to my calendar as much in advance as possible. I have to plan things well in advance of the weekend, because once the weekend hits, if there’s no plan, we’ll end up doing chores around the house and lose track of time.

Get Started

Make your list or map. It will be a work in progress. Just add things as you go and soon you’ll have a nice resource.  Also, stay tuned for my specific list.

Get Ideas

Click here to see some of our Virginia travels.
Stay tuned for another post about my specific list.  Subscribe to new posts here.
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  • Silvana Colon

    I like your planning idea, It is very useful and interesting, especially for you and to share.
    Let’s see if I can do something similar in PR. Lately I have found some new interesting places to visit.