Jessica Larrabee from Explore Local Box
Retirement is an adventure …….Embrace it! is the motto of Retire Early Lifestyle. That has also been my travel philosophy – travel is an adventure, so embrace it and what better way to embrace it than to immerse yourself in local culture.
I am writing this on a plane heading home from my latest adventure in Montana. Watching all the travelers at the airport, I thought about the many different ways to travel: cruises, tour groups, international, camping, all-inclusive resorts, hotels, hostels, house rentals, timeshares, rural, urban, and more. These choices shape how we experience the destination.
When I travel, I enjoy going at my own pace and exploring – checking out what makes that area unique and different. I get off the highway and explore the area like a local. I try to visit farmer’s markets, visit restaurants that are unique to that area and check out little shops to get a feeling of the local culture.
By trying to experience the area like a local, I feel I get to see what daily life looks like in the community and experience a different side of the place. Plus, it is fun to interact with the people who live there.
Thinking back on my Montana trip, I had a nice conversation with a man I met while hiking one day. As it turns out, his parents spend summers at the same coastal town across the country where my family spends time. Another day, I was chatting with the woman who checked me in at a small locally owned hotel; she spent a year as a nanny in the same town where I grew up and told me why she loved her new hometown in Montana.
I may have come across these same people if I stayed at a large resort or at the tourist attractions, but likely the interactions would not have been the same. I think the people I meet this way are more chatty and willing to share their stories because they know I am interested in their home town.
I love finding craft markets and farmers markets when I travel because it is just one more way to interact with locals from the area. I was lucky to come across a small craft market the first day I was in Montana.
I met and talked to a few artisans there and purchase some unique items from them. One is a bricklayer from Arizona who spends summers in Montana now that he is retired. To make extra money, he carves wooden bowls from local trees. Another is a potter who makes clay items from Montana clay. Not only does purchasing souvenirs from them support the local economy and help the artisans make a living, but also it helps keep these communities thriving.
These are the places that make each community unique. While chain stores play a role in the national economy, we all know that it is the small businesses that create the distinct character of a community. Plus, it is so much more interesting to interact with the artisans and small business owners and hear their stories.
After traveling to all 50 states, most of them multiple times, I love comparing areas and seeing how one place can be so similar to another – a place in Arkansas can remind me so much of Billings, MT. It is also fun to experience the great contrasts in this country from the white beach coasts to the red-rock deserts, to granite mountains and scenic farmland and see how the locals live.
I started Explore Local Box because I love traveling and after exploring amazing places in all the states, I wanted to share my experience and bring unique locally made items to others. Explore Local Box is a gifting and subscription box service which provides customers an opportunity to explore a different USA city each month through local products and food. Every box has local items from a different city – some food, some locally made products. These are all items that I have bought or would buy if I were visiting the area. I hope to make the recipient get a feel for the character of the area and what makes the cities similar and what makes them feel different. The recipient gets to “explore” the city and experience some wonderful and delicious products and the interesting people who have created them.
Take a look at my website and see if you are as excited about this idea as I am!