So much has been written about the benefits of travel: disconnection from daily life; the experience of other cultures; trying new things and meeting new people; returning home refreshed. Arguably, much of what travel brings can be enjoyed by travelling locally, rather than heading out to far-flung destinations. Local doesn’t have to mean dull.
Gemma Cantelo, at The Ramblers, describes the benefits of walking locally. ‘I find I’m noticing wildlife more and discovering pockets of local green space I didn’t know existed,’ she says. Learning about one’s own area ‘improves our sense of community and encourages us to take positive action to protect the environment. That’s worth harnessing in the long term.’ So, then, local ‘travel’ might in fact have longer term benefits than a week in the sun. It certainly offers a deeper connection to one’s area. ‘Even the muddy banks of the River Avon, which for years I passed without a glance, became impossibly, absurdly, exotic,’ says Mark Rowe, in the Rambler, describing his local area which he has been seeing with new eyes recently.
And it’s not just the countryside that can bring a sense of the new, and a feeling of renewal when returning home. ‘Cities have always offered anonymity, variety, and conjunction, qualities best basked in by walking,’ writes Rebecca Solnit in her book, Wanderlust, about the art of walking, ‘Walking the streets is what links up reading the map with living one’s life…it makes sense of the maze all around.’ Walking leaves us free to think, she says. ‘without being wholly lost in our thoughts.’
It seems, once we put our visitor head on, we discover how little we do indeed know our own neighbourhood. Londoners, for example, are almost half as likely to have visited top attractions such as The Natural History Museum or The Globe Theatre. It’s natural; our brain normalises our daily surroundings, it has to. Otherwise we’d be oohing and aahing every time we popped out to the local shop. That normalising partly explains why we travel in the first place: to see things with fresh eyes.
Staying local can enable us to see things anew because we can swap travelling time for local experiences: listening to the birds instead of rushing for the train, taking a sunset stroll instead of driving for a late-night flight.
Getting the most out of your local area, however, means opening up to experiences you may have overlooked in the past. Instead of trying a Singapore Sling in the famous Raffles Bar, it may prove just as tantalising an experience to order something exotic from a local maker that you had been aware of, but never contacted. Kimchi maker, Jeong-un Creagh, in Suffolk, says her Korean Kitchen has benefitted from people staying local. ‘People want something new and exotic when they stay local’ she says, ‘and my Korean food delivered to the door provides just that: a travel experience for the taste buds!’
So, staying local can bring new experiences. Finding independent shops, an artisan coffee house or a new spot for a picnic, for example, can remind us why we moved there in the first place. But more than anything, staying local means more time on our hands. And that, after all, is what most of us want from our holidays: a little bit more time.