Local Exploration: A Cure for Wanderlust

share beauty where you are...

By: Matt Van Swol
October 18, 2016

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It’s been almost a year since I left college in Chattanooga TN for a small Georgia town nicknamed “Dis-gusta” (Augusta, GA). If you’ve ever been to Chattanooga before, you know of the abundant mountains, the many rivers and swimming holes, the rock climbing, the hiking…it’s virtually everywhere. When I moved to Augusta, I became pretty depressed. I saw pictures on Instagram and Facebook of stunning places my friends were traveling to out West. I was poor at the time, I had no extra money to travel... It seemed as if everyone was right; there was nothing to do in Augusta. It wasn’t until I became interested in photography that I really started to put this theory to the test. Is there really nothing to do here? Is there really no beauty at all?

Turns out…there was. In fact, some of the most beautiful photos of my entire career were shot in Augusta GA, but had you told me that a year ago, I probably would have laughed at you.  Here’s the problem: unless we see beauty staring at us in the face, we are not likely to go look for it. It’s easy to look at photos of Iceland, Switzerland, and Caribbean beaches and see beauty. However, Augusta is a place where beauty is hidden in the forests, swamps, and rivers that few people know of, or ever explore. Because there are no signs for it, no road-maps to follow, we generally assume that “if it’s not advertised, it doesn’t exist.” But that’s not true. Because of this, I made it my mission to create 10 Adventures on The Outbound specifically for the people of Augusta. I wanted to make it 1) easy to find and 2) visible enough to share. So, starting this past summer, I created 10 Adventures that anyone can do, ranging from easy to hard, all easily accessible on The Outbound. I challenge you to do the same in your town. Give people a reason to go outside and explore on their own.

One of the many excuses I’ve heard from folks is that there is nothing to do in their town, there’s nothing beautiful to go see or anything fun to do. My response: It’s simply not true that your town (or wherever you live) is devoid of beauty. I think the problem is that we are lazy and afraid of failure. If it takes effort, we aren’t up for it. If we trudge through the woods for hours and don’t find anything, it’s a loss and we “wasted our time.” This kind of thinking, which is partly influenced by our culture’s intimate fear of failure, is why we choose to continue driving instead of pulling over to explore. I’ve been asked hundreds of times how I find the places I do and I give the same answer every time, “the only difference between me and you is that I pull over, and you keep on driving.” That’s it. So next time you see something that catches your eye, a sunset streaming over the Western sky, a bridge running over a creak…why don’t you pull over? Let life slow down enough so that you are able to enjoy and celebrate beauty.

On a personal note: it took me years to understand this, and even more years to put it into action. You’re so busy trying to get ahead, trying to complete more schooling, pile on more activities and pack your resume that you end up looking back and realizing that you didn’t enjoy any of it. Though things ended up working out for me, it took some major life struggles to bring me to my knees and admit that I wasn’t happy. My problem was that I was searching for me, when I should’ve been searching for beauty. I was taking photos to get more followers than to inspire more people. I was living for me. So, let yourself go, stop taking yourself so seriously, learn to enjoy the small things, display and celebrate beauty, and inspire others to do the same.

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.