Surviving the Suburbs: An Unconventional Travel Guide Ben Hancock June 12, 2013 Features, Tips, Travel 16 Comments On the list of destinations you’re pining to visit, I would bet there is nary a suburb to be found — or, at least, not one American suburb. There’s good reason for that; as we Statesiders well know, if you’ve been to one godforsaken strip-mall wonderland, you’ve been to them all. Yet somehow we all find ourselves in the suburbs every now and then: visiting family, business trips, or perhaps you even live in one (though, if that’s the case, you might’ve taken enough offense by now and stopped reading). It can be tough to not write these trips off as time wasted, to not be reduced to eating at Applebee’s and renting from Blockbuster. For those who seek enriching experiences from travel, finding culture amid the glittering chain stores is a challenge — but it’s a challenge we’re up to. Use this guide on your next jaunt to the ‘burbs, and turn a stale trip into an unconventional journey: Starbucks, Dubai © jonrawlinson Seek Out Local Businesses You wouldn’t go abroad, or even to New York or San Francisco, just to wind up eating at an Outback or sipping coffee at a Starbucks. Why treat the suburbs any differently? Even in the plainest of commuter towns there are usually a few locally-owned holdouts, from Chinese restaurants to bakeries to bookstores. Owners of these joints have often been around since before development went rampant, and can give you a little local flavor and history of the community. People like to pretend that mom-and-pop shops get squeezed out by national corporations, which is only half the story: local businesses are more often killed by public capitulation to convenience. Even in the suburbs, you shouldn’t be a part of that. For those who enjoy their morning caffeine, there are a couple online tools to help you find locally-owned coffee shops — indiecoffeeshops.com and jaunted.com‘s “Starbucks Alternatives” section. Indie Coffee Shops is by far the more thorough of the two, listing over 1200 cafes in 605 cities and suburbs. Fight Car Culture I’ll put it out there: follow this tip and you take your life into your own hands. Simply put, suburbs aren’t designed for cyclists, and most suburban drivers have no idea that bicycles have a right to the road. That said, the best way to connect with a locale is not to zip mindlessly through it. Rent a bike on your next suburban journey, or if you’re visiting your parents, dust off the one that’s probably still sitting in the garage. Take the ‘burbs at a bicyclist’s pace and you’ll notice a lot of details that locals themselves likely miss. This gives you an easy way to scout for local shops without the hassle and expense of driving. If you’re not bicycle-inclined, just walk and use public transit. Suburbia, Arizona © Kevin Dooley Find Local Centers of Faith You’d probably never guess that one of the Seattle area’s largest Buddhist temples is in Auburn, Wash. — a couple miles away from a kitschy theme park — or that the nation’s biggest mosque is in Dearborn, Mich. But centers of faith across the religious spectrum are found in unlikely suburbs, and seeking them out can not only offer an opportunity to see some exquisite architecture but also a chance to connect with a community’s ethnic enclaves. But before you go, do your homework — you don’t want to just pop by during the middle of a service. Call the faith center or check their web site to see when a good time would be to visit. Avoid proselytizing attempts by letting them know you’re just in town for a few days. Check Out the Parks If you’re like me, then you avoid the mall like the plague. But in suburbs that lack interesting neighborhoods, where else to hang out? No matter where you are, there is likely a park nearby offering a lakeside vista, a pebbly shore or just an open field. For listings, check out the Parks and Recreation department website for the county that you’re visiting. Bring a book, pack a sandwich, and spend a few hours connecting Thoreau-like with nature — contemplating its rapid consumption by man. Do-it-Yourself Nightlife With suburbs that shut down after 8:00 p.m., answering the question of what to do at night is the probably the most difficult. The best solution is simply to be creative: weave your bicycle through empty streets and parking lots, go to the theaters solo, or enjoy a late-night slurpee outside the 7-Eleven. Hey, IHOP is always open. The thing about the suburbs is that it’s all about attitude — you can complain about what’s there, or you can make the best of it. Every travel experience is valuable as long as you’re willing to shift perspectives. One last tip? Ditch your laptop and bring along a journal — avoid whiling away the day wishing you were somewhere else, and take advantage of the slower pace to do some serious reflection. 16 Responses Mike Richard April 4, 2008 I’ve traveled all through Michigan and never would’ve guessed that such beautiful architecture could be found there. Reply Ben April 4, 2008 A bit random, isn’t it. Dearborn also supposedly has the largest concentration of Iraqis living in the U.S. Reply Amanda Kendle April 4, 2008 Good idea, Ben. When I’m traveling on an ultra-budget I often end up in odd hostels way out in the suburbs and you really get a different perspective. In Latvia I remember staying in a hostel way out in the ‘burbs of Riga and it was like stepping back in time to when Latvia still belonged to the USSR. Reply Surviving the Suburbs « The Daily Transit April 5, 2008 [...] Read more at Vagabondish. [...] Reply Wendy April 5, 2008 I photographed that same Starbucks a few hours ago! Reply Mike Richard April 5, 2008 I think I actually see you in the photo, Wendy. We’ve upgraded to some NASA-style, real-time image capturing here on Vagabondish. You’re the one with the latte foam on her nose. Reply pam April 5, 2008 when we get a bit restless but don’t have the means for big trips, we go on local field trips to the ‘burbs. we always cruise the old downtowns looking for the local hangouts, sometimes we score, often we fail. but it’s the hunt that’s exciting, right? Reply Rory April 8, 2008 Ben, this is a great recommendation for travellers. For those interested in finding out how locals really live. Visiting Westminister isn’t the same as seeing London, seeing Central in Hong Kong, isn’t the same as seeing Hong Kong. Nobody is going to spend days out in the burbs, but it’s a great place to get a real beat on a destination. Reply laradunston April 13, 2008 I love that kitsch mall (Ibn Battuta) but hate the Starbucks there; there are some great local cafes that should have opened up under that dome instead. Reply nerd’s eye view » Blog Archive » How to Keep Your Travelblog Alive When You’re Not Traveling May 12, 2008 [...] Survivng the Suburbs on Vagabondish [...] Reply Is Greater Than June 17, 2008 [...] VIA VAGABONDISH: Surviving the Suburbs, An Unconventional Travel Guide [...] Reply Wilson April 25, 2011 Hi everyone, Mike from Vagabondish gave me permission to share this promotion with you guys. The next time you decide to travel, do so for less. Right now, there is an exciting travel perk that allows Visa Signature cardholders to save 15% on any round trip Wanna Get Away fare on Southwest AirlinesÂ®. If your Visa card has â€˜Visa Signatureâ€™ across it – you could be eligible for this discount on your next Southwest Airlines flight. For more information on this perk, you can visit: http://visa.com/signaturesouthwest. This fantastic offer ends April 30th, so donâ€™t miss out on saving for your next trip! Happy travels! Wilson Visa Outreach Team Reply Intresting Links « Art in Suburbia May 1, 2011 [...] Article on suburban travel guide [...] Reply adam June 13, 2013 The largest Hindu temple outside of India is in Lilburn, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. And even though it is right across the street from one of said strip-malls, it is definitely worth a visit Reply Reannon June 13, 2013 Not all suburbs are created equal. I live in theas Vegas suburbs and the strip mall next to my house has a Walmart, a pharmacy and a Mexican restaurant that are all open 24 hours. There’s also a bar and a hookah bar that I’m pretty sure never close. Anyway….yeah suburbs suck, but some of them are better than others. Reply Amanda Halm June 28, 2013 I lived in Quebec City for over a year – St. Anne’s Basilica and Montgomery Falls are two attractions definitely in suburban territory and yet, very worth a visit. Chicago’s biggest zoo and several FL Wright houses are in the ‘burbs. (I’m originally from Chicago). There are tons of Americana photos one can get as well. Good post. As a city dweller, I get so restless in the suburbs. Reply Leave a Reply Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published. Name* Email* Website Let\'s Make Sure You\'re Human ... *Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA. 2 + = five Comment Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.