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When I tell people that I go to school in Wisconsin, the first thing out of their mouths usually is not about how jealous they are of the weather, how they have always wanted to live there, or how they have vacationed there before. They do not ask me if I have seen any famous attrac- tions or if I have time to explore warm beaches or bustling cities on the week- ends. Instead, I am usually bombarded with questions about how I can handle the unpleasant weather or what I do for fun in such a place. Although Wisconsin holds a place in all of our hearts, it’s not exactly the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of traveling.
Coming from another Midwestern state, I had already grown
used to this kind of attitude towards where I lived. Despite living in a big city, my peers and I frequently complained of boredom and dreamed about living in cooler places one day. When graduation rolled around, the kids who were head- ing off to big, sunny cities next year for college or life were a hot topic in envious conversations. We all craved the adven- ture and excitement of living anywhere but our boring Midwestern state.
I was fortunate enough to be able to take a gap semester to travel
before moving to the similar Midwestern state of Wisconsin and attending Lawrence. I got to live in one of the big- gest, sunniest, tourist-ridden cities in the United States and I got to see the biggest, sunniest cities in other countries. Yet, looking back, I find that some of my fondest memories and biggest feelings of adventure were not when I was in these desirable places, but instead when I was back at home exploring my so-called
undesirable, boring Midwestern state. I don’t quite remember how I
found it, but the RoadsideAmerica.com website helped me to not only see the beauty of my state, but also to develop a new understanding of what it meant to explore and create memories. Among other things, the site has a database of the strangest tourist attractions in America, sortable by state. After jokingly sift-
ing through the site for a while with no intention to actually utilize it, I had the realization that I could, in fact, go to the bizarre places that I had been laughing at from my screen for weeks.
I did not tell my friend what they were in for when I told them to
wake up at 7am for a surprise, but surely a road trip to see a mural of a founding father as a drag queen was not one of their guesses. Neither was stopping to see a 20-foot tall mummy on the way. Yet, we made a day out of it, acting like tourists in places that not many desire to travel to.
I began using the website more after that, finding strange things
wherever I went. A boring school fieldtrip to the middle of nowhere became much more exciting when we stopped to play the world’s largest claw machine. A day where I could not think of anything to do with my friend became most memorable when we decided to visit a seven-foot tall sloth skeleton just a few minutes away from our houses.
Through these small excur- sions, I learned that it’s not always so much about where you are going, but
instead about what you do along the jour- ney there. I did not actually care about driving hundreds of miles to see a mural of an ancient white dude in drag (ok, maybe I did care a little bit), but instead
I valued that time spent with my friend. The laughter that came out of their mouth when they discovered what I had dragged them hundreds of miles to see, the terrible car singing on the way there.
I also learned to find the adventure in unconventional places.
Although I was not seeing a grand tour- ist attraction that is on everyone’s bucket lists, I was still seeing a small piece of the world that I had yet to explore up until that moment. We won’t get around to seeing most of the planet during our time here, so it counts to explore and appreci- ate what you can wherever you are.
This is especially important as we approach the year-and-a-half mark of living this limited life, drained of adven-
ture, during our early 20s. Some of us are stuck living places we do not want to be. Many of us had adventures like studying abroad or summer internships in big cit- ies cancelled. Though the light at the end of the tunnel is growing closer, there is no telling when traveling to big, sunny cities will be safe again.
In the meantime, check out what Wisconsin has to offer on the web-
site. Maybe you’ll visit a seven foot grass- hopper made of junk in Sussex. Perhaps you’ll head the opposite direction and see the world’s largest corkscrew up north
in Hurley. The website has plenty to see, both near and far from Appleton, at pan- demic-safe locations like the outdoors. Enjoy exploring!