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I wish I could rattle off a list of all the exotic, far-flung locales I explored in 2016, but no such list exists. I visited one and only one new country: Sweden (which, by the way, everyone needs to visit immediately if you can – and with Norwegian Air’s insanely cheap prices it’s more affordable than you think).

Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

Sweden! Visit it now, seriously.

Travel Doesn’t Need To Be ‘Exotic’

In the quest to explore lands far, far away and cultures much removed from our daily reality, we sometimes forget the diversity of places, cultures, and people that can be found within the country we consider home. Whether that country is as spread out and geographically and ethnically diverse as the US, or as relatively small in expanse (yet shaped by a surprising variety of cultural and historic forces) as Greece, there are usually many things we have yet to discover about the places we hold nearest and dearest to us.

Breaking Out of the Comfort Zone

Have you really explored every place you’ve ever read about or dreamed about that can be found within your borders, whether it’s a few miles from home or a day trip away?

I know I haven’t.

Partly because, for me at least, the places that are the most familiar can be the least inspiring for exploration. When you have a group of friends, a few hangouts, a familiar neighborhood, there’s often not much incentive to go beyond that. Put me in a plane and drop me off in the middle of a completely unfamiliar city, and my adrenaline won’t let me rest until I’ve walked at least ten miles in this new territory. But put me at home, and I’m more likely to just want to grab a beer with my friends somewhere close by.

Though to be fair, I grab beers in many places.

Though to be fair, I grab beers in places outside home too. Many places.

The key is to occasionally get the energy to push past that comfort zone. Challenge yourself to drive to a different neighborhood and find a cafe. Go to a museum you haven’t explored. Get in your car, or take a bus, and go an hour outside of town to see what’s there. Take a friend and start walking down an unfamiliar street.

Exploring New Places at Home

I spent most of the year exploring my two native countries and learning more about their cultures, attitudes, and variety than I ever had. After years of living in each, 2016 was the year I truly got to know the most about the USA and Greece, even though I still have much left to learn.

Discovering the Diversity of Greece

Recently, I have traversed Greece from one of its southernmost tips – Mani – a beautiful, rocky landscape that seems to shape the blunt, rough yet amenable manners of its inhabitants, to the lush green mountains and farmland near the country’s northern borders. I ventured east towards Turkey and saw the dialect slowly shift from Greek to Turkish while still firmly within Greek borders, heard the influence of Bulgarian in the Pomak dialect of locals, noticed women in hijabs in the Xanthi market and saw minarets dot the city’s low, charming skyline.

Xanthi Greece street

The colorful streets and cool architecture of Xanthi in northern Greece.

I walked through the Byzantine island town of Ano Syros, with its incongruent Catholic monasteries and churches in a mostly Orthodox landscape.

In the capital I saw an endless diversity I had never opened my eyes to before: the skaters and goths of Athens, hipsters swaying to underground electronica beats, the rich fashionistas that make their home along the elite stretch of land on Athens’ southwest coast, the old money in the houses of Plaka, the suburb-like, working class neighborhoods of the northwest.

Plaka Steps

Summertime coffee on the Plaka steps.

I had a feeling of joy, wonder, and slight regret that I had only experienced a sliver of this in my life so far, choosing instead to stay with the familiar for so long. When I thought of Greece, I used to think of one or two specific images; now my mind draws up a whirlwind of places and faces, and the excitement for the discoveries still to come.

Searching Beyond Stereotypes in the US

During a troubling, divisive, and somewhat crazy year in the US, I managed to still get inspired by our history and capital, and traveling through this endless land I realized we had reduced ourselves to false, one-dimensional stereotypes in this country.

North Carolina Asheville

Autumn in the gorgeous North Carolina hills.

I visited Asheville and other towns of western North Carolina, where people were happy to camp in the woods, go hunting for the weekend, chow down on all the deep-fried cuisine the South has to offer, and then spend the rest of the week crafting delicate designs in clay out of their colorful art studio.

I had fun at the tourist-friendly beaches and all-night clubs of South Beach, but also explored the Bahamian and Cuban influences of the surrounding city, the thriving design and art scene, and was intrigued by the US-yet-not-US city that is Miami. The tropical climate, the lifestyle and operating hours of nightlife call more to mind popular destinations of Latin America, while 90% of the rich of South Beach tend to be from anywhere else in the world but here – Europe, China, Brazil, you name it.

Don Pedro and Native American

Don Pedro, cigar entrepreneur, aficionado, and one of the most well-known men in Little Havana.

I drove through Arizona, where cowboys, spiritual New Age hippies, and the newly wealthy live side by side, and in fact can often be found within the same person. And I said goodbye to the old year and hello to 2017 in one of the most cliche yet fun places imaginable – Las Vegas.

Las Vegas New Year fireworks

Welcoming 2017 in Las Vegas. Those are fireworks, not a war in the background. Understandable mistake.

So even though I didn’t travel much outside my two home countries, I ended the year feeling like I’ve been all over. Maybe you don’t have the time or money for international travel right now; maybe you just don’t have the inclination. But I can almost guarantee you there is something waiting for you to explore and discover just a few miles away from where you’re sitting right now.

Where do you want to go explore in 2017 that’s close to home? Comment below! And if you like the post, Pin and share away!

You Don't Have to Go Far to Travel