The corona pandemic has made our world much smaller, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to change soon. So this year’s holidays are most likely going to be staycation. But if you have lived a long time in one place, it can be hard to still see its beauty. I’d like to share some ideas how you can find hidden gems in your city even if you know it like the back of your hand.

staycations hamburg elbe strand
Staycations in Hamburg ain’t that bad

It’s time to travel differently

I’m writing this blog in week 6 of the Corona quarantine. Over the past weeks we have seen what great effect it has when we all stay at home. When there are no cars on the streets, no dirty factories running and no airplanes flying. Although on an individual level the impact is small, altogether it makes a world difference. Or actually a difference for our world.

Recommended reading: Corona is a wake-up call to rethink traveling

The question is thus how we will act once we are allowed to go out again. Do we continue business as usual? It’s time to travel differently. Because it’s not that hard. All we need to do is to go outside and open our eyes. The travels begin at our doorstep.

Rediscover your city during a staycation

Behind our front doors a city full of wonders, amazing people and hidden gems is awaiting us. We don’t need to travel to the other side of the world. There are so many beautiful things close by that want to be discovered. Let’s stay local.

‘Hold on, dear’, I can hear you saying. ‘That sounds great, but you just moved to a new place. There is still an entire city waiting for you. But I have grown up here. I know every street, every alley, every house, every stone, and every tree. I know that this place is beautiful. But there is nothing left for me to discover.’

But is that really the case? Have we really seen it all? Is there nothing to discover in a place anymore if you have known it for years, sometimes a lifetime? Or have we become blind to the beauty and the adventure around us? Because it has always been there and always will be?

Well, what if it won’t? It might be an extreme example, but think of Notre-Dame cathedral. The fire was a lesson to remember that even the most iconic places might not look the same anymore overnight. Let’s appreciate it while we can.

How to find hidden gems

To rediscover your city requires courage, an open mind, and the curiosity of a kid. Courage to decide to stay at home for your vacation. Because a staycation doesn’t sound anything as exciting or cool as a trip to a faraway destination. The open mind to see home with different eyes and to discover new sides of yourself. And curiosity to get you out and find those hidden gems.

But where does the search start? We are used to seeing our place through the eyes of a permanent inhabitant. To find inspiration for our staycation bucket list let’s pretend we have never visited before. I can understand that that can be difficult. That’s why I collected some ideas that might help you to switch perspectives:

1. You’re your biggest inspiration

During our world trip the highway man and I realized that we enjoy art a lot. We have visited several National Galleries during our trip, and I’m pretty hooked on art history documentaries and podcasts. I recently realized that the most renowned Dutch landscape painter Barend Cornelius Koekkoek spent a great part of his life in my tiny hometown (back in the days it was somewhat important). The villa he owned is now a museum, but I have never actually visited it. Next time I’ll stay with my parents, I’ll most definitely pay a visit.

If you’re making a staycation bucket list, you might start by making a list of things you enjoy while traveling. Do you taste the culture of a country by trying as many coffee shops and restaurants as possible? Does nature call you? Or do you love spending all day at the beach? Whatever floats your boat, it can help you in your search for inspiration.

Art Gallery of New South Walesstatue
At the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney

2. Discover a new neighborhood or village

I have come to realize that once I have lived for a while in a place, I quickly have my favorites. I tend to go to the same coffee shop, the same park, the same stores. Although I don’t want it, I’m a creature of habit. I need to challenge myself to break these habits.

The easiest way to do that is to change location for a day. It doesn’t need to be far away. A different neighborhood or village is already far enough. If you know someone there, ask them to show you around for a day. This way not only you, but your guide may see their place through the eyes of a stranger again. Even if it’s just for the day.

One more tip that works great for me: Google Maps. I search for green spots on the map to find nature. Or I use Google Street for a virtual walk through the streets of the neighborhood I want to explore.

3. Dream away to foreign lands

Sometimes we don’t need to travel far away to dive into another world. Try a restaurant with a cuisine you don’t know yet. Visit a mosque or a Buddhist temple. Or go to a Portuguese Fado concert.

With a good nose and some luck, you might find some places close by that remind you of faraway lands. There is a windmill not far away from here that makes me think of Good Old Holland:

On (a Dutch platform for sustainable tourism) we’re busy collecting alternatives for famous places that you can find in the Netherlands. And if you’re looking for inspiration in Germany, the German railways made an ingenious campaign to show that you don’t need to fly to see the wonders of this world. You can find their comparisons under the hashtag #spardirdenflug:

4. On the trails of …

I have to admit I’m quite a nerd. If I look for something on Wikipedia, a rabbit hole opens for me. Some days ago, I spent my entire morning reading the Wikipedia entry of the neighborhood of Hamburg where we now live. Not only do I know that Altona used to belong to Denmark, but I could as well add some interesting places to my staycation bucket list. Especially the dark sides of history fascinate me. Like smuggle routes or hidden churches. And of course, the influences of other cultures of minorities. Dive into the history of your city and a new world opens for you.

5. Dare to ask

If I think back of the nicest places and best experiences of our world trip, all have one thing in common: If it weren’t for the people we stayed with, we wouldn’t know about them. Dare to ask other people which places they particularly like.

The key here is to get diverse recommendations. If I asked my friends, I’d probably hear nothing new. There is a reason I call those people my friends. We share the same interests. Ask someone from a different generation or a different neighborhood. If you’re new to a place, ask those who have lived there their entire life. If you’ve been born there, talk to someone who recently moved.

Let’s stay local

I have written these words in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. But I’m convinced they’ll be just as relevant years from now. Every day live can make us blind to the beauty around us. To break that pattern, we need to rediscover our surroundings like a traveler. Every now and then make the conscious decision to stay local. Open your eyes and enjoy your place.

A highwaygirl signature

PS: I’d be very curious to hear which hidden gems you have found for your staycation bucket list. I made a template to share your finds on Instagram. Just save the image below and share it on Instagram. I’d appreciate it if you’d tag me @ahighwaygirl 😉

Instagram template staycation bucket list