No Passport, No Problem: How I Travel the World as a Local Tourist

Like many people my age, I’d say I place a high value on travel. I have a long list of places to visit on my bucket list, and I nod my head in agreement with those who proclaim the increasingly popular mantra “experiences over things.” But with three small children, a busy schedule, a mortgage, and student loans, my family doesn’t leave the country nearly as much as we’d like. While I’ve been overseas a number of times, for now, my wanderlust is largely landlocked. So, how does a wanderer deal?

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Start with the past

While I just applied for a new passport last week, it’s been several years since I’ve crossed an international border. That hasn’t stopped me from feeding my need to be a tourist, even in my own relatively sparsely populated state of New Mexico. If you’ve never visited the most underpopulated corner of the Great Southwest, you might assume it’s a state full of tumbleweeds, cowboys, and spicy chili, and you’d be partly right. But like most places, there is so much more than what meets the eye, and exploring my state’s history has been a great place to start.

Native Americans have been present in this region for thousands of years. There are 23 different tribal nations in New Mexico, and many tribal reservations encourage visitors to come and ask questions and learn about their way of life. In fact, the Taos Pueblo is the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States, having been lived in for nearly 1,000 years.

The first time I visited, I was amazed at the ancient culture that continues to be preserved and lived out by this tribe. The pueblo is a stunning piece of adobe architecture (made from mud and dried grass), and the self-sustaining community continues to speak their native language, use ancient tools and handicrafts, and cook food that they’ve eaten for hundreds of years. While I was merely hours away from my house, I was able to experience cultures that are completely different than mine, and gain a new respect for my rural neighbors.

Museums aren’t just for grade-school field trips

I remember going to museums as a kid and being, well, pretty bored. Going as an adult can be a completely different experience! Here in New Mexico, there are a number of museums that explore the region’s history and countless historical sites that detail the (sometimes violent) process of how New Mexico came together as a territory, and then later, a state. Between the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, the Natural History Museum (which showcases some of the dinosaurs that were found here), and the International Space Hall of Fame, we’ve got plenty of brain-stimulating places to check out. One last unique New Mexico destination: The International Balloon Fiesta Museum. Every year in October, hundreds of hot air balloon pilots descend upon Albuquerque for a  stunning, week-long gathering that fills the skies with color. While the festival is just 10 days, the museum is open year round and offers a behind-the-scenes look at the history of ballooning. Check out your local museums and festivals to learn about what richness you might have been missing out on.

Expats are a great resource

While New Mexico boasts a unique, “Wild West” history, not everyone lives on a ranch or farms their own food. There are many diverse cultures represented here that host festivals and events that showcase their cultures. I’ve had fun perusing an International Folk Arts market a number of times, and while I haven’t been there yet (hello, bucket list!), I can’t wait to check out the Japanese Spa that features hot springs, soaking pools and a sense of serenity modeled after Japanese mountain resorts, only an hour from my home.

If you can’t travel, eat!

My last, and, admittedly favorite, way to experience other cultures close to home is to eat diverse food! Not only are there traditional New Mexican restaurants all over the city (actually different than true Mexican cuisine), like many moderate-to-large-sized cities, international cuisine can be found with just a little bit of digging around online, or by word of mouth. One of my off-the-beaten-path favorites? An amazing African restaurant in town that offers an array of specialized dishes from many countries across the continent. Things like East African Coconut Lentil Stew, Moroccan Lamb dishes and Kenyan Style Beef Kebabs make me feel, even just for an hour, like I’m a world away. Sure, I’d love to actually eat authentic food in the same place it originates from, but patronizing a small business that offers a taste of someone else’s native cuisine definitely quells my wanderlust, at least for a bit.

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