I frequently struggle with trying to schedule visits back home to Wisconsin to visit family and friends on account of my limited vacation days from my job. It’s most certainly not because visiting family and friends isn’t a priority to me, but rather because of my addiction to traveling to new and interesting places. What I’ve learned is that you can actually translate a visit back home into a family/friends trip combined with a new travel experience even when visiting a place where you lived for many years.
This epiphany materialized when family and friends from various locations around the country have come to visit me in South Florida. When visitors come to town, I like to play the tour guide and show them some of the unique experiences available in South Florida, whether it be an air boat ride in the Everglades, a “duck” land/water ride along the streets and canals in downtown Fort Lauderdale, a drive through Lion Country Safari in Palm Beach County or a boat ride from Bayside in downtown Miami around Star Island to take in the views of the mega-mansions of the rich and famous. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed not only the company of friends and relatives whom I’ve introduced to some of the local offerings in the Fort Lauderdale area, but also participating in these “touristy” activities in which I’d otherwise never have engaged.
In recent times, I’ve made a point to experience something new in my current hometown area of South Florida, even without the impetus of out of town visitors spurring the activity planning. South Florida has so much to offer that many locals never think to take advantage of – water sports, such as wave runners, paddle boarding or parasailing; attractions such as Coral Castle, Miami Metro Zoo, Miami Seaquarium, Jungle Island, the aforementioned Lion Country Safari, Morikami Gardens, Butterfly World, Flamingo Gardens, Schnebly Winery and so much more; countless sightseeing opportunities including various types of boat rides along canals, in the Everglades or out into the ocean; amazing encounters with nature in the nearby Florida Keys, through the Everglades along Alligator Alley, up and down the Atlantic Ocean coastline or while exploring the many parks and nature preserves in the area.
Even though I spent the first 18 years of my life in southeastern Wisconsin and the Milwaukee area is not on the “Top 10 Must Visit List” for most travel aficionados, my visits back home have made me appreciate the many virtues of this unlikely vacation destination. It’s very easy to take for granted what is right in front of you every day. But having lived in South Florida for such a long time, going back home to Wisconsin in recent years opened my eyes to the many simple splendors of this chunk of the Midwest. While Florida is certainly beautiful in its own right, Wisconsin offers spectacular scenery of a different kind – rolling hills, endless forests, quaint little towns with distinctive character, breathtaking views of Lake Michigan from overlooking cliffs, myriad pristine lakes of all sizes and bursting colors of fall foliage during the changing of the seasons. When I go back home, I drag my family out to the Kettle Moraine Forest, to Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural wonders, to Port Washington in the winter to see the naturally forming icescapes along Lake Michigan, to the Basilica of Saint Josaphat on the south side of Milwaukee which rivals the beauty of many European cathedrals and to the Domes, among other interesting places one might otherwise not consider while visiting this simple little Midwest town.
You really don’t have to travel far, to an exotic international destination – or at all – to experience a new place or activity. And sometimes, playing a tourist in your current or former hometown helps you appreciate the little pleasures in life which might otherwise go unnoticed. So take a look around you from a new perspective, and see what you might have been missing all along.