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How I Learned to Enjoy Dream Destinations Close to Home

Well dang it. I missed out. Do you ever get that feeling? That regret? I do.

I lived in North Carolina for almost ten years. You would think that would be plenty of time to do everything I could possibly want to do there. It wasn’t. I wanted to go hiking in the Smoky Mountains, a short two hours from my house. I didn’t. I wanted to ride horses down North Turkey Creek Trail in Umstead Park, which was just around the corner. I didn’t. The list goes on, and all I have to say for myself now that I live on the other side of the country is… Dang it!!

Looking back, I have to say I wonder why it was so hard for me to get around to doing the things that were practically in my backyard. I would spend months planning trips to exotic, faraway places and still miss doing the just as awesome thing that was right in front of me. Was it just the fact that it was always there that made me less motivated to go?

Now I live a couple thousand miles away, and those cool things that were around the corner are the exotic, far-off places that I would have to spend months planning to visit. However, instead of dwelling on the dang its of my past, I have been finding ways to make sure I don’t have any more in the future.

I Looked Around and Made a List

Something I’ve realized from moving across the country is that every area has it’s charming places. Its spots around the corner that are too good to miss, and I am bound and determined to find those spots near my new home. I find them online using social media groups and sites like Free Arenas, I hear about them from locals, and I find them through my own exploration.

Every time I find a new spot, I jot it down on my list. I keep a list digitally in my phone, and another taped to my mirror where I can always see it. There is something motivating about seeing a list of what I want to do every day. I find myself using the items on the list to fill spaces of time that may otherwise have been horribly wasted.
A few weeks ago, on a Sunday afternoon I had a few hours to kill. Looking at my list I noticed one entry that had been up there for months, “Hike R Mountain”. I knew the drive to the mountain would take a couple minutes, and the hike a couple hours. I grabbed my best friend and we set out on that chilly afternoon.

It was a beautiful hike up what turned out to be a long extinct volcano, and I marveled that I hadn’t come before.

After the hike, instead of a dang it, I had a memory, some wonderful photographs, and a check off my list.

I Made a Schedule

Seeing how well hiking R Mountain fit into a Sunday afternoon, I tried looking at other empty spaces in my schedule to fill. Noticing a free Saturday a few weeks out, I wrote in something that would take longer than a few hours, “Visit Craters of the Moon.”

The scheduled Saturday arrived, and that morning I didn’t feel like doing much of anything, but seeing it on the schedule awoke some motivation in me. I looked at myself in the mirror, and told myself, “I said I’d go, so I will.”

Seeing Craters of the Moon was an other worldly experience, a step into outer space. The stunning hiking trails and fascinating caves were something unique. Something that I was glad I didn’t miss.

Having this on the schedule helped me make time for an activity that I otherwise would have missed. It gave me time to have an out of the world experience.

I Created a Reward

After a long day of typing away at a computer, I couldn’t seem to motivate myself to finish this project. It was at about that time that I got a call from my parents. “We are going camping in West Yellowstone this weekend, would you like to join us?” Would I? I looked at my list, and yes camping in West Yellowstone was definitely on there.

I told myself, “If I finish this project. I can go camping.” This glimmer of hope helped me trudge through the rest of my mundane project, and I was able to go on the camping trip. I saw the stars more clearly and sharply than I ever knew they could be and said to myself, “Now this is a reward.”

Using the activities on my list as a reward works sometimes. It helps me look forward to the activities with excitement and anticipation, and complete less desirable tasks that life demands I do. Other times, instead of using these activities as a reward I use them as an escape.

I Took a Break

As a human, I can tell you that my life sometimes feels mundane. I feel stuck in the patterns, and have a need to escape to the wilderness. I have found that looking to my list for a means of escape has brought me a newfound sense of freedom.

There was one particular week where I felt like I was a broken record, playing the same day on repeat. As I brushed my teeth one morning, my eyes fell on my list. I noticed “Visit the Saint Anthony Sand Dunes”. I smiled, thought through my day, realized nothing on my to do list was vital, grabbed my roommate and drove to the sand dunes.

We spent the afternoon with our feet sinking in the sand. We walked up and rolled down the dunes. When the afternoon was over we watched a spectacular sunset, and I thought about how life is so not mundane.

I Found a Friend

I have found that the desire I have to explore and escape is one I share with many of my friends, family members, and roommates. After spending a few months in my new home, I noticed that my best friend and I had a lot of the same places on our list. We started planning to explore these locations together.

I noticed how quickly I began to gather pictures, memories, and checkmarks on my list. My best friend and I motivated each other to get out of the house and go around the corner. It was wonderful to have someone who was just as excited I was to get out there.

Seeing her list added places to my list. We hiked, camped, kayaked and bonded. We explored the spots around every corner, only to discover new corners. I noticed that I was falling in love with my new home. I was pining less for the dang its of my past.

I Created Scarcity

After all of my exploration, I still notice that the best motivation to get out there is scarcity. There is something inside me that always knows that the amazing spot around the corner might not always be there.

I create scarcity for myself using a variety of methods. For some activities I consider the fleeting days of warmth or the melting snow. The weather can be a great motivation to explore now. After all, I don’t want to wait until next year to go skiing for the first time.

Another method I use to create scarcity is the realization that life is short. I don’t know what tomorrow brings. I don’t know if I will always live in the same place, or be able to hike a mountain. I don’t know if I will always like kayaking, or have my Sunday afternoons free, but what I do know is I can visit the place around the corner now.

If I could shout any piece of advice to the people who’ve missed out on the spots around the corner, it would be make a list of places to go, remember those places might not always be there and go.

Going to the places around the corner has given me a new home and a feeling of constant adventure. My list gets longer as time goes by, no matter how many places I visit. I have found favorite spots and spots I never want to go again. I have strengthened relationships and made memories. But, most importantly, I find myself saying dang it a lot less.

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Activities for the Non-Athletic Adventurer

I have this friend: super athletic, loves being outside, goes on 18-mile hikes for fun, naturally good at sports he has never played before, and is always trying to get me to join a game of ultimate frisbee. Know the type? Hang around this guy and it’s easy to feel like you’ve got to be a triathlete to enjoy the outdoors.

But the truth is, you don’t have to be athletic to spend time outside. In fact, much of what people do inside can be done outside, like walking, sleeping, laying down, waiting around … the list goes on.. It’s not about straining yourself, it’s about being in the sunshine and fresh air.

Hiking Walking Outside

The best thing about hiking is that it’s not difficult unless you want it to be. Hiking is the perfect introduction to the outdoors because many offer the best views of waterfalls, lakes and valleys, and many don’t require much work at all on your part. It also comes with some surprising health benefits. Besides vitamin D and the obvious work out bonuses, hiking can actually improve balance and reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety. There are plenty of short and sweet hikes that will get you excited about being in nature.
Find hiking trails near me


Swimming reduced the stress impact on your body, meaning you can swim at a high intensity without feeling tired or sore. Or you can just swim around and basically just hang out in the water. You’ve likely been doing it since you were a kid. All you need is a bathing suit (usually ;)), a few friends and one of these swimming holes/hot springs. No crazy workout required.
Find swimming holes near me

Camping Sleeping Outside

Camping is essentially sleeping, but you get to do it outside under the stars after a night of sitting around the fire and roasting marshmallows. The glow from a campfire increases melatonin in your body, making sleep even easier and more peaceful than usual. Going camping is peaceful, quiet and gets you acquainted with the outdoors. It doesn’t have to be traditional camping, either. If you prefer to have the conveniences of home, you can set up shelter in the backyard or go glamour camping (glamping) to get some peace and quiet while feeling like you’ve never left home.
Find campsites near me

Floating a River Laying outside…on a river

Sun-tanning has never been so relaxing. Float a river with a huge group of friends or go it alone to get some peace and quiet. It’s one of the easiest things you can do outside, and it’s been known to reduce back and neck pain while improve spinal alignment. But not all rivers are slow and steady, so keep in mind if you’re after a relaxing float, you’ll want to find one without rapids or sharp turns. And make sure you have good music to keep you company during the slower stretches!

Fishing Waiting outside…for a fish

Fishing is notorious for helping people clear their minds. Because it requires you to focus on one thing, it distracts you from internal conflict, reducing symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. Or you can chat with some buddies, read or draw while waiting for the pole to budge. All you have to do is cast your line and wait for something to bite. You might even get a meal out of it.


Now this one is a little more involved, but not by much. Just because it’s snowing out doesn’t mean you have to stay inside! It’s easy to feel like you have to stay inside during the cold winter months, but without some fresh air, you’ll start to go stir crazy! Sledding is the best way to get your blood pumping enough to enjoy the snow and keep you from getting cabin fever. Not to mention being exposed to full-spectrum light while in the sun gives you a great energy boost for other winter activities.

Find sledding hills near me


These are just ideas to get you started. It’s not ultimate frisbee or a triathlon, but it’s enough to help you appreciate some sunshine and a little fresh air. The world has lots to offer, and it doesn’t have to cost any money, and it definitely doesn’t have to be hard. Whichever activity you decide, don’t let fitness keep you from enjoying what’s outside your front door.