Tag Archives: planning

How to Be a Tourist in Your Own City in 6 Steps

Whether you’re feeling a little stagnant or just want to try something new, it’s never too late to discover untapped facets of your city.

 

1. Swallow your pride

In a place like New Orleans (my city), it’s hard not to get defensive when a tourist shows us something we didn’t already know about. Down here, we really pride ourselves on our ability to recommend the best restaurants, bars and music spots. But, if you really want to learn something new about where you live, you have to let that pride go. Live with the curiosity of an explorer, and don’t shut people down just because they’re not from your city. They just may offer you something life-changing.

 

2. Take a tour

I used to roll my eyes at the tourists who went on alligator tours, but it’s hard to deny how amazing this experience is once you’ve seen a 12-foot alligator jump six feet in the air and snatch a chunk of raw chicken out of a man’s hand.

I thought I knew everything about the Treme until I took a Segway tour.  While I knew all of the facts our docent listed off, I’d never gone “off-roading” in Louis Armstrong Park before.  And it was one of the most fun experiences of my life, mostly because of the Segway.  Learning how to ride that thing was hard at first, but it was such a unique way to see my city.

 

3. Change your route

I always notice new murals, restaurants, and popups when I take different routes.  Yes, the same routes are comfortable, and probably have less congestion, but when you’re not in a hurry, change it up!  You’ll be amazed at what you find.

 

4. Revisit your favorite childhood spots

You went to the zoo and aquarium a million times as a kid, right?  Surely, it hasn’t changed that much? Think again. How old are you now? Believe it or not, you’re all grown up now and the zoo probably isn’t what you remember. More importantly, returning to these places can fill us with a sense of child-like wonder and leave us inspired for weeks.

 

5. Rent a hotel or bed & breakfast

Our mood can improve just by getting away from regular routines and environments. Find a place in your favorite part of town or an area you don’t know very well. While you’re there, go to an unfamiliar restaurant. Unplug from technology and responsibility over the weekend.

 

6. Find solace in nature

Nothing makes me feel happier than being on the water – it’s like coming home. The second I feel that salty breeze through my hair, the stress of the work week just melts away. But you don’t have to go on the water to find your happy place or discover a different side to your city. Try exploring local hiking trails and state parks in your area. For me, that means heading into the swamp and hurtling alligators!

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Watching Hurricane Harvey from New Orleans

For the first time in twelve years, I didn’t wake up thinking about Hurricane Katrina on the anniversary.  Not the day of, not the week before, and not for the entire month of August.

Instead, I woke up thinking about my stranded parents in Houston. This is where they settled twelve years ago after we lost everything. Surely this can’t happen here, too? Surely they are more equipped to deal with this level of devastation than New Orleans was in 2005?

The truth is that we cannot outrun disaster. I know this first hand. In my first 3 months of grad school a hundred year flood hit the area, and it was impossible to escape the memories of Hurricane Katrina. If there’s a natural disaster, you can bet that I will be there for some inexplicable reason. I guess it was lucky that I’d planned on driving to Houston the weekend after the storm to watch the LSU game with my dad. My weather misfortune is a long running joke among friends and family.

Still, it’s hard to look at the photos of Houston without remembering the hell of Katrina. And the irony of Hurricane Harvey falling on the anniversary of Katrina isn’t lost on me. Houston took us in, all of us. Plenty of people saw it as a sanctuary and settled there permanently. And as it sits engulfed in water, I can only think about the fact that there is nowhere left to run.

I have lived all over this country only to experience this kind of devastation over and over again. Wherever you are, we are all in this together. However, I do not wish to spin the resilience myth that comes with surviving a hurricane (or flood, tornado, tsunami, earthquake, landslide, or wildfire). That is an individual experience.

As I’ve gotten older and survived more and more once-in-a-lifetime weather events, they’ve become easier to deal with. A few weeks ago, I was stranded in my car during a flash flood with a flat tire when the water suddenly rose without warning.

It is so easy to relapse into trauma or to let my PTSD resurface in these moments. Or that used to be the case anyway. But for the first time, I found myself laughing in the face of danger. Making humorous videos to share with friends and family as the world around me spun out of control like it had so many times before.

I have found a certain kind of peace in accepting what I cannot control.

Earlier today I called my mother to see if she could get out of her neighborhood, which she now can. “I feel bad for cooking and drinking like nothing’s wrong,” she said. My mother, who has worked at Home Depot for 30 years, is weatherproof. She is ready to step up and sheetrock people’s homes, and I love her for that.  If anyone understands what Harvey flood victims are going through right now, it is my selfless, half-Cajun mother.

My father was evacuated from his home today and took the only road out of the city all the way to Austin. On the way out, he shared a photo of the Brazos River, which looks muddy and pregnant, ready to burst at any moment.

The battle is not over. The river will crest, and when it does, more devastation will arrive. Even though I should be nestled in a cocoon fashioned from my own anxiety right now, my heart is full witnessing the Cajun navy (rescue volunteers from Louisiana) arrive in Houston with boats – lots of boats – to brave the elements and lend a helping hand.

It is strange to see Houston in a vulnerable position when they’ve always been our refuge. But I guess this is how relationships work. We New Orleanians see ourselves in Houston. We know what lies ahead for them. While we won’t forget Katrina, Harvey’s widespread destruction has it’s own place in history now. And we are ready to help.

Become a Rockstar Volunteer

One way to inspire those around you is to become a rockstar volunteer in your community. It looks great on your resume, sure, but the spiritual benefits far outweigh everything else.

If you’ve ever been in a tough spot, you probably understand just how important a tiny gesture can be to someone else. I experienced this kind of volunteerism firsthand after Hurricane Katrina left me, my mother, and younger sister homeless. The outpouring of love and support by total strangers made a terrible situation much more bearable, and it restored my faith in the inherent goodness of humanity.

Later, I had the life changing experience of giving back to the Boulder flood victims in 2013 through donations and cleanup efforts. That was when I realized Life’s strange and unpredictable nature, as well as her surprising joys. There are zero negatives when it comes to volunteering, and there are plenty of reasons to get involved locally.

Not sure how? Here are a few ways to start:

1. See if your company offers volunteer opportunities. 

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Build a positive reputation for you and your organization by banning together. Large corporations almost always have programs at local soup kitchens, 5k runs, and more. If not, this might be the perfect opportunity to lead the charge!

 

2. De-clutter. 

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How many cans and packages of food are sitting in your pantry right now? And how many of those do you actually intend to use before the expiration date? Same goes for the clothes you haven’t touched in years hanging in your closet right now. Books, furniture, tools, bedding, etc. Make room for the new while helping others – it’s a win-win!

 

3. Call your local animal shelter.

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While animal rescues always need monetary/supply donations, they also need volunteers. Adoption events are great if you love interacting with animals, and you’ll get to witness the kindness of strangers. So what are you waiting for? Call your shelter and ask how you can help now.

 

4. Use your craftiness to help others.

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Do you know how to knit or crochet? Homeless shelters accept clothing donations like hats, socks, and whatever you can create. Consider knitting hats for chemo patients and donating to your local hospital as well.

 

5. Hit up Habitat for Humanity.

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Habitat for Humanity always has open projects. This an excellent change to meet new, like-minded people and learn a new skill.

 

6. Offer up your special skills. 

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Are you a writer? Designer? Engineer? Nurse? Whatever you are, you can help by donating your time and special skills. You can even get a tax deduction for it. Just make sure you keep track of your hours.

 

7. Pay attention.

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There is always a way to help the people around you. Maybe you have a neighbor struggling to work to full time and afford childcare. Or maybe your local park is littered with trash. If someone seems troubled, ask them how you can help.

 

8. Small gestures.

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If you’re limited on time, there are small things you can do everyday to make a better world. Simply smiling at people on the street can be uplifting. Happiness is contagious after all. When you see someone struggling to carry something in or outside, open the door for them. Someone recently paid for my coffee in the drive thru, and I did the same for the person behind me. This small gesture changed my entire mood for the rest of the day.

 


 

While there are a number of volunteer matching websites, I recommend getting in touch with local charities and organizations to find out how you can help. Do what you can when you can – you never know what a small gesture might mean to someone else.