As our car winds through the Kansas country, I watch as paved roads turn to gravel and buildings grow far and few between. I play a John Denver album over the speakers as my boyfriend and I make our way to Iatan, Missouri. It’s a town that you’ve most likely never heard of, unless you’re one of the 41 people that live there.
But this small town became my travel destination this week. It was only an hour drive from home, and it just so happened to be in the path of totality for Monday’s total solar eclipse.
We traveled in a caravan with friends, and we all shared the same excitement about the eclipse outing—a once-in-a-lifetime event coincidentally happening right near us. The trip was a way to detach from our everyday routines and go exploring. The best part? All it cost us was a fourth of a tank of gas and an afternoon away. It was truly the perfect microadventure.
Say Yes to New Microadventures
The word “adventure” tends to be associated with thousand-dollar plane tickets or a week-long trip to the hottest new destination. The truth: That's not always doable. Taking time off—whether paid or unpaid—isn't an option for many, and neither is a significant "travel fund." Thankfully, “adventures” come in all sizes—including micro.
Microadventures are short, simple, and cheap or free trips to somewhere or something new. And these mini explorations pack the same mental benefits as pricey adventures.
Research shows that traveling to new places—even if it’s just a short trip—can increase our well-being. One study showed that traveling helps us get out of our comfort zone, which can strengthen how emotionally open we are to changes as well as lead to greater emotional stability in our day-to-day lives. Other studies have also shown that travel can give us a creative boost and help relieve stress.
Microadventures are short, simple, and cheap or free trips to somewhere or something new.
We’d all like to receive the benefits of vacation, and we can make it more accessible by finding adventures around us. Here are four tips to help you plan the ultimate microadventure, like my jaunt to see the eclipse:
1. Plan in Advance
Though there's something to be said for spontaneous trips, planning a small outing or upcoming activity gives us something to look forward—and that can boost our mood.
A Cornell University study showed that “people derive more happiness from the anticipation of experiential purchases,” aka experiences, rather than physical goods. People also are happiest when they’re anticipating an upcoming trip, according to a study from the University of Surrey.
Tap into these benefits by planning your microadventure in advance, as you would a bigger adventure. One example: If you’re planning a picnic with friends in a nearby park, share recipe ideas with each other before choosing what to prepare for the big day.
2. Don’t Rule Out Your Hometown
Make a microadventure in your hometown by simply traveling somewhere you haven’t been before. Think like a tourist and check out nearby attractions you’ve yet to see. You can visit the Trip Advisor page for your town and check out the "Things to Do" tab to get ideas. If you’re without a car, try taking public transportation to a new stop and explore the area.
Make a microadventure in your hometown by simply traveling somewhere you haven’t been before.
If you can’t leave the house, don’t fret: Real Simple offers some ideas around staycations. Bring a vacation to you by cooking a traditional meal from a different region of the world. Or, create your own Netflix "film festival" with your dream line-up.
3. Tune In to the Present
Another benefit of a micro-adventure: It can briefly take us away from our day-to-day stressors, giving our minds a chance to reset. Seeing new people and places and having new experiences can shake us out of our typical routine.
If possible, try to distance yourself from normal stressors when you're on your microadventure. It might be as easy as putting your phone on airplane mode.
Disconnecting made my eclipse adventure even more special. As we drove north from our homes in Lawrence, Kansas, away from all the traffic and noise, the white cell service dots disappeared from my smart phone’s screen, one by one, until I had no data connection available. Spotify couldn’t reach my phone anymore, and the John Denver tunes paused, making me listen to nothing but our wheels crunch over the gravel.
Other than that, there was silence. My email inbox wasn’t pinging, I couldn’t read the latest political news, and I had escaped the smartphone loop that’s one of my personal biggest stressors. It felt amazing.
4. Get Your Friends On Board
Adventures can help strengthen your relationships with loved ones. Vacations are a way “to improve communications within a relationship, reduce the possibility of divorce, strengthen lifelong family bonds, and increase a sense of well-being in adults and children,” according to research out of Texas A&M University. And when we take in something new and awe-inspiring with others, studies show it can make us feel closer and more connected.
Take advantage of these benefits by inviting family and friends to come along on your microadventure.
I’ll never forget watching the solar eclipse with my friends: As we waited for the eclipse to start, we kicked soccer balls alongside corn fields and river marshes as rain sprinkled from the sky. We laughed at our ridiculous solar glasses and passed around a leopard-print hat to top it off for a complete look.
As the moon moved in front of the sun and the entire sky turned dark a bit past 1 p.m., my friends and I stood next to each other and looked up in awe. The phenomenon had flocks of birds flying around in an apocalyptic manner. It was a truly amazing scene.
When it was over, we all piled back into our cars and drove back home. Our microadventure wasn’t hard to make happen, but I returned home feeling just as relieved and recharged as I have after other "big" trips. I never would’ve thought that traveling to a tiny Missouri town would turn into one of my favorite summer adventures.
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