In Praise Of The Spontaneous Day Trip

My friend Ayat is my spontaneous day trip role model.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting on my perfectly made hotel bed in downtown Winnipeg, winding down and not quite willing to mess up this crisp sheets yet, and she was at home in Fargo, texting me for ideas for a girls getaway. She wanted something urban and outdoorsy in or around Minneapolis or Saint Paul, so I sent her this story from my trip to Minnehaha Park and a few other ideas and told her to text me back if she needed more.

Less than 12 hours later I was scrolling through her Snapchat story and there she was, at the falls, having a great time. I sent her a snap immediately. “Good Lord, when you said you wanted to go, I didn’t think you meant you wanted to go right now!”

But why not? She had the time. She had the money. She had a destination in mind and she was up for an adventure. So she called up her girls and off they went.

And it wasn’t the first time. She’s explored destinations in South Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota on a whim. And she doesn’t plan to stop. She’s been in this country for just a few years and she’s already seen more of the Upper Midwest than many of her coworkers who have lived here their whole lives.

Have you ever wanted to do that — just pack up your stuff and go? Why don’t you?

Campfire

I get a lot of comments from people when they find out what I do for a living. The two I hear the most are, “I’ve always wanted to do/see that” and “I had no idea that was there.” When people say these things, they’re usually not talking about big, bucket list destinations. They’re usually talking about something cool and interesting close to home.

This baffles me. If you know there’s something you want to see then get out and see it, already. The time to go is right now. You can watch Netflix or clean your stupid baseboards or weed the garden later. They’ll always be there. Your adventure might not be.

And day trips are an incredibly easy type of getaway to plan. You don’t need a lot of money or a lot of time, two of the most common obstacles to travel. Just pick a place to see or an experience to have, hop on a train or a bus or type the address into your GPS and you’re off.

If you don’t know where to start, ask a friend or a family member where they want to go. Two travelers can enable each other in the best possible way. And everybody has a place they’d like to see.

My parents are great at this. Whenever they can find a day when my mom isn’t working at the library and my dad isn’t in the fields (he farms in western Minnesota) they’re off on a mini break somewhere. They’re always sending me photos of bike paths and parks and small town Main Streets with the caption, “Guess where we are?!”

North-Dakota-Horse-Park
The races at the North Dakota Horse Park in Fargo, North Dakota

Once you have a travel buddy, keep your ears and eyes open for inspiration. You probably won’t have to work hard to find it.  I got a ton of new ideas myself this week, just from paying attention to people around me.

I overheard a library employee tell a new resident about his favorite hiking day trips from Fargo-Moorhead. (Maplewood State Park, The Sheyenne Grassland and The North County Trail made his list, in case you’re curious. They’re all solid choices.) She was there to find books on the subject but I think we both learned more from him than anything on the shelf.

A guide absolutely sold me on visiting Fort Abercrombie, a spot I haven’t seen since I was a kid. And yesterday morning I drank coffee across the table from Jay (“Like the letter.”) who told me about his favorite spots to picnic and fish with his boys along the Jamestown Reservoir

“I’ve lived here my whole life and I’d never been there before, “ he said, incredulous. “I didn’t even know it was there.”

I’ve heard people say that line hundreds of times, but it’s usually said with sadness after an attraction or a neighborhood attraction closes. It makes me happy to hear that Jay, like Ayat and my parents and all of you who take the time to comment and email and message me your travel stories won’t have to live with that particular regret.

You’re out seeing new things, exploring nature, visiting museums, ordering extra dessert. You’re having adventures while you can. And that’s exactly how life should be.

ERA-Bistro-Dessert
Dessert at ERA Bistro in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

So what are your favorite day trips? What makes a day trip interesting to you? Which places do you want to explore next?

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