At IndependentTraveler.com, we talk mostly about traveling to iconic, far-flung and fascinating places -- destinations many travelers have always dreamed of going. Helping people figure out how to get the most from their visits to these places is our guiding mission.
But like all travelers, we sometimes end up in some boring places as well.
Maybe you're on a work trip, or visiting family in the middle of nowhere, or in transit to someplace else, or stranded due to bad weather. We have all ended up in a place so unremarkable we're left wondering how we could possibly spend a fun day or two there.
The place doesn't even have to be inherently dull. Years ago in the Basque region of Spain, I came across a B&B-ish lodging on the cliffs above the Bay of Biscay and pulled in for the night. The location was stunning and the views incredible, but when I said as much to the proprietor, she made it clear that she had seen more than enough of her beautiful but miniscule village, and would rather be almost anywhere else. I had a similar experience in Trakai, Lithuania -- a town with a shining lake and an actual castle, yet it was still at least one person's idea of a stifling small town.
Boring is in the eye of the beholder. For many Americans it might mean suburbia or corporate parks or tiny, one-stoplight towns. Even so, I have found that there are things to do in almost any suburban region, and would argue that the recent trend of slow travel is in part an embrace of the less riveting and more "boring" elements of travel.
Stuck in a boring spot? Here's how to make the most of it.
1. Venture out at dawn.
Almost anywhere you go, the world looks different and people do different things at daybreak. Certainly there are working folks starting in on very routine commutes, but you will also see people exercising, walking dogs, shoveling snow from walks and the like. Even if there aren't many people out, a nice sunrise can put a shine on almost any dull town.
2. Check Wikipedia.
Try this exercise: Go to a mapping app, move around a bit to randomize things, pick an area away from cities and areas of interest, then zoom in until you land on a single town or city.
Next, go to Wikipedia and type in the name of that city or town. I did this about a dozen times while researching this article. Here is what I found:
- Mediapolis, Iowa, was a stop on the Rock Island Railroad of Leadbelly and Johnny Cash fame.
- Hanksville, Utah (population: 219), was a supply post for Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch.
- Boomer, North Carolina, is the birthplace of North Carolina poet laureate James Larkin Pearson, who is in the nearby Wilkes County Hall of Fame -- which you can visit for free.
- Boonville, New York, is a popular snowmobiling destination and has been nicknamed "Snow Capital of the East."
This tactic doesn't work for all small towns and is very U.S.-centric, but I have found it to be more productive than not. (A simple Google search is another possibility if your Wikipedia investigations don't bear fruit.)
3. Find the local ice cream place.
If you want to check out the locals, find the nearest ice cream place and go during prime time. You'll typically find a good cross-section of families, couples, teenagers and more. (And even if the locals are not out in force, at least you get ice cream!)
4. Stop in at the library, post office and local stores.
In addition to being a place to read national newspapers if you like, libraries also tend to have notice boards announcing nearby events and places of interest. Librarians also often have a store of local knowledge you can tap into; in particular, they may know of a museum that houses all the information you could ever want about the area.
Similarly, post offices often post notices about local events; the tiny post office near my own home is packed with them.
Independently owned stores can also be good sources of information; go in, buy some gum and tell the person behind the counter that you're in town for a couple of days and need something to do. If there is something to know about, they'll know about it.
5. Read the paper.
There is one place where print is not dead, and that is in ultra-local newspapers. These publications survive almost entirely on ads for local businesses and events -- think fairs, holiday celebrations, corn mazes, happy hours, restaurants and more. Skip the USA Today at the hotel breakfast, and go find one of these papers; the locals rely on them, and so can you.
6. Get outside.
One benefit of being in the middle of nowhere is that "nowhere" is often in close proximity to nature. Ask around about walking trails, parks, fishing holes, lakes, beaches and open spaces.
A walk through the nearest cemetery can offer a rich history of the area; what are the most common names? Were many people veterans? How long did people live in decades past? Cemeteries can also offer some peaceful time and space to think, not for nothing in our accelerated present.
7. Check out the nearest downtown.
When traveling abroad, every small downtown or village center can seem almost a revelation, so why not see all dingy, constricted downtowns with the same fresh eyes?
I have family in Issaquah, Washington, which is now a Costco headquarters and Microserf-filled suburb of Seattle, but was once a mining town turned logging town turned Boeing laborer town. The suitably bedimmed historical downtown has an old trolley, remnants of the tracks and a great candy store (Boehm's). We have done a lot of cool stuff in Seattle on visits over the years, but somehow a balancing contest on the old train rails with my son in wonderfully boring Issaquah ranks among my most vivid memories.
8. Do something you've been too busy or afraid to do at home.
This might be taking a meditation class, starting a running regimen, taking test drives in new car models, getting an eye test, getting a haircut, seeing a movie alone, starting an Instagram account, walking dogs at the local shelter, trying CrossFit, stargazing, singing karaoke, sitting and feeding the ducks, you name it. No one knows you, and you might never see any of the locals ever again, so do want you want. Turn your boredom into adventure by finding something new to try on for size.
9. Take an aimless drive.
When was the last time you took a cruise in your car with no intended destination -- maybe high school? It hasn't lost any of its allure, and in an hour's drive in an unfamiliar place, you can see and learn a lot.
10. Try geocaching.
Many travelers swear by geocaching as the best way to find the most interesting locations anywhere; what started as a pastime for GPS-device nerds to challenge each other to find small "caches" they left in remote or interesting spots has become very popular, taking the name "the world's largest treasure hunt."
In short, geocaching involves using a GPS device -- for most folks, their smartphone running the Geocaching.com app -- to find small treasures hidden by other geocachers. Most folks who hide caches pick spots that are interesting in some way -- out in nature, near a local landmark, that kind of thing. Since most folks hide caches relatively close to where they live, you are getting a local's choice of good spots.
Or you could simply head out with your phone to play Pokemon GO; it's certainly less curated than geocaching, but does tend to focus on landmarks and gathering places, and many users have said the game has led them to find hidden gems in their neighborhoods.
How do you entertain yourself when you're stuck in a boring place?