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The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered travel plans by air, train, bus, or ship. Transportation by automobile has become the only option for most people. The result: get ready for some road trips, short or long.
This presents an excellent opportunity for exploring new local destinations. Travelers willing to do a little research will find fun attractions hiding in plain sight.
Off the Beaten Path
Do you feel like you've been everywhere and done everything in your local area? Most of us would be surprised at the variety of "hidden gems" in our own backyards. How do you find them? An internet search can turn up any number of new and intriguing destinations nearby.
There are two types of websites devoted to local destinations. One is the purely promotional type designed to drive traffic to local businesses. For example, Hidden Gems KC, hosted by Visit KC, a nonprofit formerly known as the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association, aims at attracting visitors to the city. While this kind of website can be useful, it guides travelers to the typical destinations around town that most locals already know.
A second type focuses more on intriguing locations and sights not typically listed in conventional guides. A great example is atlasobscura.com. Atlas Obscura describes itself as "The definitive guide to the world's hidden wonders." With its global scope, the website covers unusual places, events, and cultures from around the world. The site boasts a database with over 20,000 entries. Atlas Obscura also organizes trips to various locations around the world.
By the Book
Books represent another information source that often outdoes a web search. For example, Julie Jo Severson's book, Secret Twin Cities: A Guide to the Weird, the Wonderful, and Obscure, describes over 100 fascinating sites around the Minneapolis and Saint Paul unknown to most residents. She includes tips and inside information to make a visit extra special.
Another print publication is Weird N.J. an off-beat travel guide and magazine highlighting the "weird, odd or unique" in New Jersey. Publishers Mark Sceurman and Mark Moran present off-the-wall history and folklore about unusual destinations across the Garden State. Starting from their New Jersey roots, their "Weird" publishing empire has expanded to several other states (e.g., Weird Pennsylvania) and nationally with Weird U.S.
Publications like these are increasingly popular. Check your local library or bookstore for books and guides tailored to your area.
Mystery Road Trip
A map becomes the only research tool needed for this option. Use an online map or a retro paper version (if such a thing exists anymore) to chart your course. Choose a road less traveled or one you have never been on before. Avoid freeways (those soulless concrete ribbons), and look for the more charming secondary roads and highways meandering through smaller cities and towns.
To prepare for this adventure into the unknown, gas up the car and pack a day's worth of food and beverages. Bringing refreshments provides flexibility in choices about where and when to stop. An impromptu picnic in a little town park may be preferable to tight quarters at the local greasy spoon. Then again, a quaint café with appropriate social distancing may be a perfect option for some down-home cooking.
The mystery road trip usually delivers pleasant surprises as you wend your way through new terrain. Delightful shops and attractions pop-up frequently along the open road. Having a flexible schedule and open attitude contributes mightily to the enjoyment of the trip. Spontaneous pauses at these curiosities can make some of the best memories of the journey.