25 Tips to Explore Locally & Safely in a Pandemic

Updated: Sep 22, 2020

Exploring Locally is the New Black. 

At least I hope so…

I decided to compile this post because despite being in a pandemic, I am not seeing enough people exploring locally. As I watch my IG stories and scroll the newsfeed, I notice that many people are increasingly traveling despite the fact that we are nowhere near the final stretch in the United States as a whole. Overall, the United States now has more than 6.4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began and over 190,000 deaths. Although there is a decrease in the number of daily cases, we are nowhere near okay! 

I am not here to judge. I am here to offer an alternative.

I understand the travel itch needs to be satisfied. However, travel does not have to be an international trip. It does not even have to be a domestic trip. It can be your own backyard -- your own state, your own city, and even your own neighborhood. Traveling locally is one of the most overlooked methods of traveling. I will admit that I overlooked this too until the pandemic. Now, it is my new normal.  Even when I resume more typical travel, I plan to continue traveling locally.

DISCLAIMER:  Traveling locally typically means taking a trip to a place within 120 miles of your home (or within a 2-hour drive). However, in this blog post, you will find information about traveling to places that are within a 4-5 hours drive.

Why should you travel locally you might be asking yourself? Let’s start with these 5 reasons (but I could go on and on…)

  1. Traveling locally means supporting local businesses, which is crucial to developing a strong local economy. In this pandemic, this is more important than ever! 

  2. Convenience is everything! I have to admit, I have loved not having to worry about packing, getting up early to catch a flight, or dealing with the headaches of airport security these last few months. 

  3. Saving coins is nice too! I have been able to save more money than normal, have a zero balance on my credit card, and increase my credit score (which I thought I was stagnant at this point). This can all attributed to the fact that I have not purchased a single flight or accommodation since last year. Instead, I have been receiving refunds for canceled trips. 

  4. You will feel refreshed! The feelings you get when you discover a new landscape in another country also happen when you make a new discovery in your own backyard. 

  5. You will become an expert of your own backyard. This means that you can then help others discover your backyard -- whether it is other natives who have not taken advantage of their own hometown or travelers from other states and countries. I am hoping to build a collection of posts that become the default resource for others to tap into when exploring my hometown: New York City (and extend this outward to the rest of the state). 

Now that I have convinced you to explore locally, read THIS post to learn how to explore locally and safely in a pandemic. This post features tidbits from 12 travelers who have been very proactive in exploring locally. Result: They have discovered dope hidden gems in their hometown that they have shared as well. Remember that their local exploration becomes your travel bucket list post-rona ;-).

I asked each traveler the following: 

1. What has been your experience exploring locally amidst the pandemic?

2. What are your top tips to explore locally and explore safely?

3. What are 3 hidden gems you discovered so far during your local exploration?What recommendations do you have for those looking to explore your hometown? 

For even more ideas, read “6 Simple Ways to Be a Tourist in Your Hometown

If your hometown is New York State (or you just want ideas of things to check out post-rona), check out the following blog posts:

Check the responses from

12 of my Favorite Travelers turned Local Explorers!


Tip #1Get there when they first open and during the week.

Less people so you can socially distance and explore safely.

Recommended by Saundra from The Chane Traveler

Connect with Saundra: Instagram

Local Exploration Spot: Georgia

1. What has been your experience exploring locally amidst the pandemic?

My experience of exploring my state has been really seamless. The places I have locally explored are mainly hiking and/or visiting national parks. Hiking the different trails, seeing multiple waterfalls, and BBQ. We visited most of the national parks very early so that we wouldn’t face many restrictions. The reason we went early was that the National Park has a car limit due to COVID-19. Since we were driving 2 to 3 hours, we didn't want to have to wait to get in the park. I hate to say it, but most people weren't wearing masks. However, they were trying to social distance. But, that was hard at times.

2. What are 3 hidden gems you discovered so far during your local exploration? What recommendations do you have for those looking to explore your hometown? 

Local Exploration Spot: Georgia

So each of the three gems is part of the 7 Wonders of Georgia. Our quest is to visit all seven. I googled hidden gems in Georgia, National Parks, Waterfalls, and Road Trips in GA to discover this. 

  • Providence Canyon: We first went to Providence Canyon, known as the Little Grand Canyon of Georgia. I had heard about it before but never did much research until COVID 19. The Canyons are about 150 feet deep and were caused by erosion due to poor farming practices in the 19th Century. It is also home to a rare plum leaf azalea. While walking the floor of the canyon, I saw hues of pink, yellow, orange, purple soil. There are five canyon trails on the canyon floor. The canyon floor has a thin layer of water, so be sure to wear hiking boots or sneakers unless you don't mind getting muddy

  • Amicalola Falls: This is my favorite. It is the largest waterfall in Georgia. We parked in the middle of the trail, which leads you to the middle of the waterfall. Just a quick walk to the falls. Then, you walk down about 175 stairs to enjoy the scenery and walk to the bottom of the falls. Walk back up and then walk 443 steps up to the top. Now, your thighs may be mad at you, but the views are amazing at the top. Of course, go at your own pace with the steps

  • Tallulah Gorge: That is the last one so far. It is where I liked to have died twice

Need more resources? Check out The Chane Traveler posts


Tip #2Search Instagram hashtags for your city! Find a blogger who is exploring your city and follow along! 

I share everything that I do with my followers so they know that people are out and about and still trying to have a life, even in a pandemic. There are actually worthwhile places to see in your own city (or close to it)!

Tip #3: Check your city’s website for things to do.

Many times, there’s a wealth of information available that we have never seen because we take our cities for granted.

Recommended by Ashlee from Will Drink for Travel

Connect with Ashlee : Instagram | Facebook | Pinterest | YouTube | Blog

Local Exploration Spot: Baltimore, Maryland

1. What has been your experience exploring locally amidst the pandemic?

My experience has been a really great one! Most people follow the rules and wear a mask as well as stay 6 feet apart. Whenever I see the rare person who isn’t, I keep my eye on them and steer clear!

2. What are 3 hidden gems you discovered so far during your local exploration? What recommendations do you have for those looking to explore your hometown? 

Local Exploration Spot: Baltimore, Maryland

1) Tubing down the Gunpowder River in Monkton, MD

2) Baltimore City walking trails

3) A picnic in Latrobe Park with Ice Queen Snowballs for dessert: 

INSIDER TIP:  Follow the food! Food is big in Baltimore. Therefore, if you find a good restaurant, there is usually an interesting area to explore nearby!

Need more resources? Check out Will Drink For Travel’s posts


Tip #4Pick locations that have low numbers and are practicing social distancing

Tip #5: Map out what you want to see.

Make sure establishments are open and of course...


Tip #6: Don’t be bummed that you can’t travel internationally, but embrace the experience.

Recommended by Tia from Tia Takes the World

Connect with Tia: Instagram | Facebook | Pinterest | YouTube | Blog

Local Exploration Spot: Abu Dhabi, UAE

1. What has been your experience exploring locally amidst the pandemic?

My experience traveling during COVID-19 has been eye-opening and an adventure! It sucks that it took a pandemic to make me explore my own backyard. However, I’m glad that I have been able to do it.

I have been able to explore beaches that I never explored, climb sand dunes, drive out to some of the less popular locations, and just enjoy the world around me!

The problems that I faced were only being able to explore one emirate (Abu Dhabi) as you HAVE to take a COVID-19 test to travel through the other Emirates. Another problem was having to wear a mask in the car with more than one person...can you say ANNOYING!!??

People are definitely social distancing. The UAE is not playing! Staffers at every establishment that you go to wear masks and there are capacities based on the size of buildings that are being very closely monitored. It’s really amazing!

2. What are 3 hidden gems you discovered so far during your local exploration? What recommendations do you have for those looking to explore your hometown? 

Local Exploration Spot: Abu Dhabi, UAE

3 hidden gems that I’ve explored during my explorations have been:

  • To see amazing sand dunes. Moreeb Hill is supposedly the tallest dune in the UAE, and one of the largest hill climbs in the world.

  • I’ve visited the home of the first sheikh of the UAE, Al Ain.

  • I’ve also visited the largest Oasis in the UAE and UNESCO (al-Ain oasis)

If anyone ever looked to explore the UAE I suggest taking a closer look at Abu Dhabi. It’s so much more than the grand mosque, Ferrari world, and Emirates Palace.

Need more resources? Check out Tia Takes the World resources: 


Tip #7:  Consult this fact-based, and medically vetted infographic, to decide what you want to do for the scale of risky activities.

Since I still want to see/hang out with family members, I won't do: indoor dining, bars, movie theaters, amusement parks, aka anywhere a lot of people are congregating and social distancing isn't possible, traveling by plane, etc. So yes, I am taking a lot of social activities out of my options. However, this is also the most time I've spent with family/loved ones consecutively in a very long time (years!) and not something I want to give up.  Depending on where you live, your familial and living situation, your own personal health, and personal risk tolerance, this will look different!

Tip #8: Minimize risks while exploring outdoors -- just because you are outdoors does not mean it is fully risk proof.

Things you can do to minimize risks while exploring the outdoors are camping (in a tent or RV), AirBnBs where self-check-in is a nice contactless option, hotels with individual AC units, using your own hand sanitizer when filling up the gas as well as when touching things (handles, buttons, etc.), and stay within your contact bubble! 

Tip #9:  Limit your contact with strangers.

You can do this by using virtual/contactless payments, taking your own food/drinks whenever possible, and taking ROAD TRIPS! I took a day trip to Devil's Lake State Park in WI, a very popular state park and it went pretty smoothly. It's ~3.5hr drive for me, I had preemptively purchased my park pass, so there was no need to exchange $ with anyone/interact with employees unnecessarily. My friend and I had taken our own food in a mini cooler, we filled up gas near home, brought soap/water/hand sanitizer to wash hands in case the park didn't have any (they did, yay!), wore masks in the more popular landmarks where social distancing wasn't possible, etc. 

Tip #10: All in all, you have to be aware of the rules at your destination AND the rules for when you come back home--

especially if you're crossing state lines.

At the time I went, there were no rules about quarantining. As of last week, however, anyone that's been to WI has a 14-day mandatory quarantine if they return to the Chicago area...because of a spike in cases and deaths. So, just go with a flexible mindset, and have a plan A, B, and C. 

Recommended by Sandra from SJ Torres

Connect with Sandra: Instagram | Twitter

Local Exploration Spot: Illinois

1. What has been your experience exploring locally amidst the pandemic?

I've had a lot of positive experiences exploring locally these last few months--from walking/hiking to running, to biking. I work remotely in my chosen career, but in non-pandemic times, work usually has me traveling quite a bit (both domestically and internationally). So historically, I hadn't had much time to explore my own backyard. Because I have several family members with chronic health conditions and/or are immunocompromised, I've taken to exploring a lot of the forest preserves and public lands in my neighborhood and surrounding towns/cities since it's one of the least risky activities to do.  I've also ordered take-out/curbside pickup from restaurants and had outdoor picnics with friends. I happen to live in the southern suburbs of Chicago, so it's nowhere near as densely populated as the city (Chicago). There's plenty of public green spaces, making social distancing relatively easy. Being in wide-open spaces, there isn't much need for masks unless you happen to be in a popular lookout spot/landmark and there's a lot of people around you. Within the state of Illinois, most guidelines have mandated masks when you can't socially distance (ex: grocery stores), but if you can, masks are not required (ex: forest preserve trails). 

2. What are 3 hidden gems you discovered so far during your local exploration? What recommendations do you have for those looking to explore your hometown? 

Locally Exploration Spot: Illinois

  • Messenger Marsh Park + Trail- 3.44-mile trail, some of it is paved, but a good portion of it is pretty rugged, and at some points even share the trails with people on their horses! Wildlife is plenty--there were some fawns and deer just prancing about (remember to keep your distance and don't bother them!). There's also a dog park, which is totally worth it.  When I went (Sunday afternoon), I ran across only 2 other people walking their dogs. Dassit.

  • The Forge Lemont Quarries- Not a hidden gem, but super new (opened this summer!). It is a a new adventure park that includes ropes courses, ziplines, and climbing walls, mountain biking, hiking trails, and serene fishing spots. The park grounds are public and open to anyone, for free. You only need to pay for any of the waiver-based activities. It is also dog-friendly as long as they're leashed. Best bonus? All the trails and access points are ADA accessible and they designed an entire series of aerial challenge courses and zipline components to enable participants with physical disabilities to participate in activities at height and also offer adaptive Mountain Biking and adaptive Paddlesports. I see you inclusive outdoors!

  • The I&M canal trail/I&M Canal National Heritage Area-another one that's not necessarily a hidden gem, but somehow still doesn't get as many people as I thought it would. It used to be a 96-mile hand-dug canal that stretched between LaSalle, IL, and Chicago, IL. However outside the city today, the canal towpath enjoys new life as a trail, outdoor museum, and a way to build community. My favorite stop is in Ottawa, IL at John Hossack's Greek Revival manor house. It overlooks the Illinois River giving you incredible views, but also carries some very rich history--John Hossack, an Irish immigrant and prominent businessman at the time, was an abolitionist through and through, and his manor was a stop on the underground railroad.

Need more resources? Check out Sandra’s resources: 


Tip #11Ask locals for hidden gems and suggestions on new places to visit outside of the normal locations!

The hot spots like Beale Street, downtown Memphis, and National Civil Rights Museum are all great, but there is more to explore right outside of Memphis in smaller cities. 

Recommended by Raqhelle from Raqh the World

Connect with Raqhelle: Instagram | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

Local Exploration Spot: Tennessee

1. What has been your experience exploring locally amidst the pandemic?

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE: Memphis is rich in cultural diversity, art, and the best of all - Southern cuisine. The main restriction I have faced is how hard the small businesses were hit in Memphis, including the local population. At first, little protocols were in place to fully enforce safety during the pandemic. However, as businesses opened up, more places were beginning to think strategically on how to keep people safe while going back to a new normal. Many new restaurants have QR codes instead of menus, take temperature checks, and limit the number of people indoors or seating in the restaurant. 

CHATTANOOGA, TENNESSEE: I chose to visit a close city outside of Memphis that would bring fun, quiet, and the beautiful outdoors! Chattanooga, TN welcomes all of those things. We visited waterfalls, painted outside, ate great food, and explored hot spot locations like Ruby Falls. Not everyone wore masks, but if they were enforced indoors at restaurants and attractions, they did follow the rules. Chattanooga was a small city and it took less than 10 minutes to get to each location. Therefore, it was easy to distance ourselves from others. Many attractions required booked appointments and limited capacity indoors. A lot of restaurants with specific experiences like Stir, known normally for their open buffet to eat at while waiting on your food, were no longer available and you had to tell the waitress instead to bring the delicious snacks and desserts to you. We also did a pedal pub with only my direct friends instead of grouping together with other strangers. 

JESSIEVILLE, ARKANSAS: Recently, I decided to indulge in a crystal digging adventure at Ron Coleman Mining in Jessieville, AR. I had visited before with friends two years ago and decided to visit again because of how quaint and exciting it is. There isn't a better way to explore hidden gems than to find some too! Arkansas is rich in diamonds and quartz crystals and welcomes a variety of outdoor activities that are a little safer and pro-social distancing. Ron Coleman Mining enforces masks in their gift shop but does not require it to be worn outside. Everyone who participated in mining complied with their rules and wore their mask indoors and even outside at their zip line adventure. In all, you will take away a wealth of information on the background of crystals around the world and have the chance to find your own in their huge mounds of dirt while also embarking on a new adventure across the only zip line that zips across a crystal mine. 

2. What are 3 hidden gems you discovered so far during your local exploration? What recommendations do you have for those looking to explore your hometown? 

Local Exploration Spot: Memphis, TN

As I have explored locally, I have found new places to eat outdoors to enjoy the hot sun and practice social distancing. The best places to have picnics are at the riverfront at Mud Island, Shelby Farms, and local parks. I also found out about victorian homes in Memphis (in the eastern Midtown section) like the Mallory-Neely house and Magevney House.

Insider’s Tip: My best tip to try and explore locally is to choose activities and places that have limited people. Memphis couldn't wait to go back to dining out, and to their regular routines. Therefore, many places seem to be packed and less safe. Think of activities that are outdoors or take classes that require appointments and less capacity. Shelby Farms offers perfect outdoor space for picnics, biking, kayaking, and canoeing. Other classes are offered like painting, candles, pottery, and glassmaking.

Local Exploration Spot: Chattanooga, TN

Chattanooga is tucked in the mountains giving you enough opportunity to stay close to downtown or rent a place closer to Lookout Mountain. Chattanooga brings hidden gems like hiking, waterfalls, and biking trails to practice social distancing. The city also has great opportunities for eating locally which will have fewer people. There are a variety of blogs available to find the best places to eat. Call or look at recent posts to discover any changes due to COVID-19 if not posted on attractions or restaurant websites. 

Insider’s Tip: My tips for Chattanooga include booking with Airbnb in order to have a chance to choose games, painting, and activities that practice social distancing. My Airbnb was cute and in the middle of downtown, which was close to all the attractions and restaurants we visited! Enjoy what Chattanooga has to offer and support local businesses!

Local Exploration for Jessieville, AR

Crystal Digging Adventure at Ron Coleman Mining in Jessieville, AR is a hidden gem for Memphis because of its a 3-hour drive tucked near Hot Springs, AR. A lot of people are familiar with Nashville but are not familiar with the opportunity to dig your own crystals. Many people have found huge crystals that = big bucks! You never know if you'll find your next tuition payment lol. 

Insider’s Tip: Tips for planning your next crystal digging adventure include packing your own lunch, a ton of water, sunscreen, wearing old clothes and hats, and bringing joy to your experience. It's easy to practice social distancing while digging while at the same time meeting other diggers that camp for days or weeks at a time because they love digging!

Need more resources? Check out Raqh the World’s resources: 


Tip #12:  Choose activities that you can drive to rather

than taking any sort of public transit.

If my car can't get me there in my personal bubble, I'm not going! Lol During a pandemic, safety is key. So I chose mostly outdoor activities where social distancing was possible.

Recommended by Nikki from Nikki World Boss

Connect with Nikki:  Instagram | Blog | Facebook

Local Exploration Spot: Ontario, Canada

1. What has been your experience exploring locally amidst the pandemic?

The most challenging thing that I had to deal with traveling during the pandemic is finding out if the activity/place was even open. Some places opened up, then an employee tested positive for COVID-19, so they closed. Other places, such as a particular waterfall that I wanted to visit, were open. However, since it was one of a few outdoor spaces open, huge crowds flocked to it, and now it's been closed. Closures change daily!

2. What are 3 hidden gems you discovered so far during your local exploration? What recommendations do you have for those looking to explore your hometown? 

Local Exploration Spot: Ontario, Canada

  • Tobermory Ontario: Tobermory is about a 3.5-4 hour drive from Toronto. If you are craving a beach, this is a pretty good place to visit. It's no Caribbean, but, you do get to enjoy the clear water of Lake Heron! You can snorkel, jet ski, visit a grotto, or suntan and relax at the beach. Tobermory also offers cute boutique shops and restaurants. It's a total cottage feeling. If you can snag a cottage or Airbnb, lucky you. If not, a one-day road trip will do the trick.

  • Flower Fields: You can also visit one of the many lavender or Sunflower farms. I've never really been into flowers. However, since these flower fields are outdoors and I'm able to social distance, they became a hot spot for me. Some places you can check out include: Bonnieheath Estate Lavender & Winery and Lochland Farm

  • Niagara Falls: It isn't much of a hidden gem, but for just 1.5 hours outside of Toronto, you can pack a whole lot of fun into one day or a weekend. You can take a boat ride close to the falls, ride a huge Ferris wheel, check out haunted houses or try amazing restaurants overlooking the falls. You can stop at Niagara on the Lake for some wine tours (Niagara wines are some of the best in the world!). 

Ontario Canada, has beaches, waterfalls, flower fields, museums, and unique restaurants. As much as I can't wait to hop on a plane and travel internationally again, it's been fun discovering gems in Ontario.

Need more resources? Check out Nikki World Boss’ resources: 


Tip #13Try something different!  Try to do more outdoorsy activities -- I think that is a given.

I especially recommend this to people who don’t normally do this kind of thing.

Tip #14: Support the hotel or attraction that is taking extra precautions.

This requires doing research about what measures a hotel or attraction is doing to keep people safe. 

Recommended by Sarah from She Travels

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Local Exploration Spot: Montana

1. What has been your experience exploring locally amidst the pandemic?

Bozeman, MT is a college town and I think because of that, people are more willing to wear masks and be socially distant. Montana actually just passed legislation that requires everyone to wear makes in public buildings. It seems that in more rural areas, companies have the mandatory mask signs up, but they don’t enforce it. So, there hasn’t really been anything we “weren’t allowed to do.” Restaurants, stores, and everything else are still open. However, we’ve tried to make it a point to do more activities outside.

2. What are 3 hidden gems you discovered so far during your local exploration? What recommendations do you have for those looking to explore your hometown? 

Local Exploration Spot: Montana

  • Yellowstone National Park. If you come to Bozeman, I’d highly recommend spending a day or two exploring Yellowstone

  • Different hikes around town. The mountains surrounding Bozeman make for some amazing hiking views. While you’re out on a lot of these trails, all you can hear and see is the nature around you, which is an awesome way to clear your head!

  • Beaverhead Adventures in Dillon, MT (near Butte). They will take you into the mountains and let you ride around for the day. The views you’ll see and the adventures you’ll have are incredible.

Need more resources? Check out She Travels’ resources: 


Tip #15Pack hand sanitizer and backup masks when you set out.

Tip #16: Find reviews on Yelp or Google to see what other people have encountered at a destination you want to visit.

That is a way to research the destinations you want to go to and see how they're handling the pandemic, so you're aware.

Tip #17: If you don't want to go too far, use Instagram, Pinterest, or blog posts to find what lovely things exist in your local area so you can get to know your hometown even better.

Recommended by Sam from Some Call Me Adventurous

Connect with Sam: Instagram | Blog | Facebook | Pinterest | YouTube | Twitter

Local Exploration Spot: Pacific Northwest (Washington & Oregon)

1. What has been your experience exploring locally amidst the pandemic?

The pandemic has really made people aware of providing the much-needed space that didn't exist before with crowds gathering at different spots. More people are doing road trips, which allow them to stay with a small group, and then when arriving at a destination, I've definitely noticed people giving room for viewing and photos, which has been nice. Most outdoor places don't have a person count they keep to, which makes it easier to just get in the car and go. I don't wear a mask if I'm outdoors (and it's just my partner and me). However, once we see people approaching, we put the masks on and keep our six-foot distance. 

2. What are 3 hidden gems you discovered so far during your local exploration? What recommendations do you have for those looking to explore your hometown? 

Local Exploration Spot: Washington State

  • On one of the hottest days, I looked up lakes to visit for a swim and found Lake Cushman. It's a huge lake that is about 2 hours from Seattle with plenty of spots for getting in the water. It was the perfect day trip!

  • Diablo Lake is in the North Cascades and is also only 2 hours from Seattle. The turquoise water is so vibrant and the landscape is impossibly gorgeous! 

  • If the drive isn't too much, heading down to Oregon to visit West Union Gardens in Hillsboro is the best spot for sunflower field photography and berry picking. 

The Pacific Northwest has so many beautiful places to seek out, so you'll never be at a loss for things to do. There's nature everywhere you look. Therefore, Google some local hikes or drives and you'll be set! If you want to be super adventurous, you can just start driving and you'll be sure to find something. 

Need more resources? Check out Some Call Me Adventurous’ resources: 


Tip #18:  Explore your backyard. Most people who live in tourist cities have never even visited most tourist sites. 

How many New Yorkers do you think have visited the Statue of Liberty? With fewer crowds, visiting local sites will give you a new appreciation for them. Thousands of people visit these sites for a reason and in DC we are blessed with countless sites! The city even has amazing signage and free historic walking trails you can follow. 

Tip #19: When possible visit popular sites on a weekday.

From Monday-Wednesday, places are far more likely to have smaller crowds.