Make A List For Your Best Summer

Today is the summer solstice, the first astrological day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s traditionally been a day of reflection, celebration and transition for people all over the world. Even though it’s felt like summer for a few weeks in my neighborhood, I think the summer solstice is still a great time to reflect on the kind of summer we want to have.

The perfect summer looks different for everyone. Some of us will be able to plan the summer vacation of our dreams. Some of us (many of us, I suspect) won’t.

Sometimes it’s hard to get away. I get it. You’re not being metaphorical or dramatic. You’re just being realistic.

Potato Lake near Park Rapids, Minnesota

Maybe you’re flat broke at the moment or you just started a new job and you have to build up vacation days. Maybe you’re a caregiver or a summer school student and finding free time is a challenge. Maybe you don’t have reliable transportation or a group to do things with.

I’ve been there. The good news is, you don’t have to go far or spend a lot — or any — money to have a fantastic summer. There’s something in your own city (or maybe the next one over, if you live in the country or in a tiny town like the one I grew up in) that can help you unplug, recharge and have an amazing summer, not matter what kind of financial or time constraints you’re working with. (If you have specific challenges, don’t hesitate to reach out to me or another travel nerd for help. We live for this kind of thing.)

So do yourself a favor and make your own person Best Summer List. Think about 5-10 specific elements that make up a great summer. They will be unique to you. That’s totally okay. They don’t have to involve travel or even spending money. Brainstorm a mental list of classic summer pleasures, sensory experiences, things you loved to do on summer vacation as a kid, activities you do on vacation but don’t make time to at home or places close to home that you’ve always wanted to explore.

Then write them down. Make them focused and specific and don’t worry a bit about how the list looks to anyone else. And don’t take a lot of time to mull it over. Whatever comes to mind right away is the most real and truthful anyway.

Ice cream (from Medora, like in this photo, or just about anywhere) usually makes my Best Summer List. Strangely, I rarely eat it at home.

Here’s my list:
1. Eat outside several times a week
2. Try as many ice cream and cookie dough joints as possible (We’ve had a ton of new ones open in Fargo.)
3. Hike close to home
4. Go to one free festival a month
5. Kayak and canoe
6. Try new restaurants
7. Try a round of mini golf at a course I wrote about a couple years ago (I’m not good at mini golf. I don’t even particularly like it. But I can’t get this stupid course out of my brain. This is the year I check it off my list!)
8. Do yoga outdoors
9. Attend outdoor baseball games
10. Walk more in the neighborhood, both for errands and for pleasure

Here’s my five-year-old son’s list:
1. Play LEGOS
2. Go to parks and play on the playgrounds
3. Play disc golf
4. Go fishing
5. Go to the zoo
6. Play baseball in the backyard

My husband hates it when I make him plan and list things, but his must-do list looks something like this:
1. Use the new grill a lot
2. Get to the gym as often as (or more than) during the winter
3. Go fishing with the little dude
4. Go to a concert
5. Hang out outside, drinking beer and playing beanbags (or cornhole, depending on where you’re from) with friends
6. Win our friends Fitbit challenge (This is a foregone conclusion, since he walks at least 10 miles a day as a delivery driver and the rest of us have desk gigs.)

I checked “outdoor baseball” off of my list at Parkview Field in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It’s my pick for the best ballpark in the minor leagues.

A few things happen when you create a list with intention. Writing it down makes it more real and tangible and you’re more likely to remember it. (Science backs me up on this.) The items on it are goals instead of daydreams. And because they’re simple goals (that usually involve just a few steps), you’re more likely to follow through. Checking a few things off your list can feel as gratifying as actually engaging in the behavior or experience you want to encourage.

Once you have your list imprinted in your mind, it’s surprisingly easy to find ways to implement it. When my friends ask if I want to hang out, I suggest a new restaurant or ice cream joint, a particularly interesting patio or even a picnic. (Depending on what they choose, that can check off #1, #2 or #3 — and sometimes all three.) I pitch stories about local festivals and ask if anybody wants to meet me there. (Fargo is full of them — I’m going to the Scandinavian Hjemkomst and Midwest Viking Festival and the pedestrians-only StreetsAlive! festival this weekend alone.) When my son’s bored, we pull out the LEGOs or head to the park, which makes us both happy.

It helps to find people with similar goals. It’s always bugged me that I love to hike when I travel, but I never hike close to home. I mentioned this to my friend Jo, who said she’d love to go on a day hike with me. She’d been looking for ways to get out in nature herself. She already signed up to accompany me on a kayaking trip for work (#5) and a spontaneous hike in Maplewood State Park, a place we both can’t believe we don’t explore more often. (It’s human nature to take familiar surroundings for granted. I write about not doing it, but it happens to me too.)

Hammocks in Park Rapids, Minnesota

Once you’re out and doing things, other people will ask what you’re up to. Then you’ll have a group holding you accountable and a whole host of people offering you fresh ideas. For example, I told my father-in-law that his grandson wanted to go fishing and wondered aloud what kind of fish people were catching in the Red River. (That’s the most popular fishing spot close to me.) He immediately produced two fishing poles (not my intention, but thanks!) and was delighted to inform me that there are two fully stocked fishing ponds in Fargo (wait, what?!) where we could catch a greater variety of fish. (It’s my job to know facts like this, yet he always seems to know something I don’t. I admire that in a person.)

You don’t always have to go far or spend a lot of money to have a transformative experience. If spend your time cultivating experiences that bring you the most joy, you can have an amazing summer, whether you go on vacation or not.

So what’s on your Best Summer List? Tell me about it in the comments below!
What do you want to do this summer?
What are some of your favorite summer experiences?
What have you always wanted to do in your hometown?
What summer experiences do you recommend to people that visit your city, state or province?

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4 Replies to “Make A List For Your Best Summer”

  1. Good idea. I got right on this after we celebrated the summer solstice by riding the Oahe Loop (Highway 1806 south, to Mobridge, Highway 1804 north to Bismarck) and not worrying about arriving home after dark because dark was introduced to us with a spectacular sunset that lasted until after 10 p.m.

    So, with your advice in mind, my top 12:
    Grill once/week
    Read/nap/read outside alone
    Write/walk/write outside alone
    Eat outside as often as possible with my wife
    Camp at least 2 nights at one site with my wife
    Hike a rugged region of the Badlands with my wife
    Enjoy at least 1 motorcycle cruise and snooze to a new location with my wife
    Ride to Medora just for ice cream with my wife
    Kayak the Heart River or Painted Woods creek with my wife
    Week-long motorcycle trip west with my wife
    Make love outside with my wife
    Kill as many mosquitoes as possible if they have sampled my blood alone or in mass annihilation parties

  2. I love the solstice. In Sweden we called it “Midsommar”, but here it’s the first of summer! I always try to visit Medicine Wheel Park in Valley City on the solstice. That’s first on my list!

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