Treasure-Hunt Travel Close To Home

Photo by Barry Singleton.

By Judith Fein 

Do you silently, secretly, or openly suffer from Restless Travel Syndrome, which can overcome you at any time of the day or night? The symptoms are a longing to go away, have an adventure in a new place, see different surroundings and try new experiences.  

If you want to be instantly healed, there are only two things you need to know. First, you are already living in the nexus of a great, safe, travel adventure. Second, there is no such thing as an uninteresting destination. And if you combine these two and are ready to embark on day trips in a unique way, I’ll tell you how my husband and I—both long-time world travel journalists—are doing it.  

We consider our beloved home like a hotel, where we bed down at night. But by day, we want to go out and have an adventure away from home. We put our finger on a local or regional map, randomly choose a place and go. Sometimes we pick a location because it has a funny or appealing name, or we’ve never heard anyone talk about it and we’re curious, or maybe we want to drive for two hours and that’s how far away it is.  

We don’t want to be influenced by what anyone else says about the destination, so we do no research. Nothing. Not even one fleeting search on the Internet. We are on a treasure hunt to see what we find. Without any prior plan or information, we are forced to be alert for road signs or hand-painted signs with arrows. Our goal is to keep an eye out for anything that looks, sounds, smells or advertises itself as interesting. Occasionally it’s a snippet of overhead conversation at a gas station that informs our search.  

Sometimes we find gorgeous parks or natural landscape features. Maybe there’s a waterfall, a rock formation that is said to look like a lion, a field of monochromatic flowers, a rock garden, or a little-known hiking trail. We’ve walked down empty dirt roads that are flanked by small farms, and we talk—from a safe distance—with the farmers. Other times we go on the trail of public art that the town has commissioned, an outdoor art gallery, or crazy lawn art that is one person’s inspiration. We’ve witnessed a baby carriage race, a turtle race and a yodeling competition.  

On Sundays, we have found outdoor services for spiritual traditions and religious groups we know little about. We have walked a labyrinth we didn’t know existed, and stood by a fence, watching emu going about their daily lives. Once we were permitted to visit an outdoor area for rescued animals. Another time, we watched a balloon artist who worked in tandem with a cellist, and there was a day when we saw a young woman training her horse and practicing barrel racing.  

Everything you discover is like a treasure because you find it. You track it down. No one has told you about it. It is something no one else will experience in the same way. And you will likely find multiple treasures on each trip.  

We take a camera along for photos, which we can later post on social media. And when it’s a birthday or any other reason to celebrate, the person being celebrated gets a unique gift: she or he makes all the choices and decisions for the day. No matter how quirky the idea or instinct, we just follow the celebrant. 

Of course you want to have food options for your treasure hunt. You can take along a cooler full of food and drinks; stop at a roadside stand or farmer’s market; find an outdoor picnic spot at a winery or brewery; find take-out or curbside delivery places that observe social distancing and where everyone wears masks; or eat on the patio of a restaurant. It all depends on your comfort level.  

All you should pack in your car, bike or other vehicle before you embark is water; masks; hand sanitizer; sun, rain, and insect protection; and camera optional. The goal of the treasure hunt is to turn a ride of a few hours, half a day, or a full day into an adventure, and have fun. Traveling this way removes all the fretting, worrying and longing people are experiencing about having travel plans curtailed. The beauty of your day trips is that you don’t need travel plans. You don’t need reservations. The trip itself is the treasure. All you need is an open mind and, most important, an open heart.

Photo by Charles Knowles.