When I moved to Chicago in October, 2001, I knew I wanted to write for a living, but I didn't know how I was going to make that happen. With newly-minted Journalism degree in hand, I decided to wait tables while I figured it all out. Fortunately, I quickly fell in love with my new city, and a few months later had an idea for a neighborhood-based website focused on River North. I called it The Local Tourist.
Ever since then, until last year, nearly every waking moment was all about TLT. When my husband and I were dating he had to convince me to put the laptop away during dinner. Gradually, he convinced me to take the rest of the evening off as well. I began to find a bit of balance, but I still worked a minimum of twelve hours a day and every weekend.
After nearly fifteen years, it got to be too much. The passion, the drive, waned. I was tired. I was frustrated. I was not fulfilled and I was, frankly, bored.
Then a beautiful thing happened. In October of 2016 (what is it about October?), I took a press trip to Charles City, Iowa. This tiny town of about 8,000 people was exciting and charming and I could not WAIT to tell its stories. I was invigorated, and as soon as I got back, I bought the domain drivebytowns.com.
I thought I was paving the way to a new future. I was, but not in the way I expected.
Although I'd originally started The Local Tourist as a way to write for a living, for years I'd been doing little more than managing. Managing user generated content. Managing advertisers. Managing a gazilion revenue streams and hosting a gazilion events to try to pay for it all and maybe make a living. Trying to foster a team. Trying to grow a social media presence. Trying to drive traffic. Trying trying trying. Even when I was writing, I wasn't really writing. I was attempting to compete with sites that had Staffs and Budgets and I kept pulling myself, and my drive and passion, out of the site. I resented it when people said that I was The Local Tourist because I wanted the site to be bigger than I am, and I wanted to be more than just my website. "I'm so much more than that!" I'd think.
The truth is, TLT is bigger than I am. The Chicago site almost runs itself, with scores of events, businesses, and specials added daily by people that are not me. I've got writers who have been sharing their passion for years, one for an entire decade (yay Janelle!). And while I am more than The Local Tourist, I also AM The Local Tourist. I'd just lost sight of what that meant.
I had dreams, you see. I wanted The Local Tourist to be in every major metropolitan area as a one-stop, go-to resource for everything fun. The thing is, I never realized what that actually meant and what it would do to my personal life (or lack thereof). And when I found out, I knew that really wasn't my dream at all.
When I founded TLT in 2002, I came up with the tagline, "Experience the fascination of a tourist; Feel the comfort of the local." THAT's what the site was supposed to be about. It's about exploring a place with passion, and finding what makes it unique. It's diving into the history and the people and the character, getting under the skin to find the heart. It's not about the newest, hottest, most popular, best, etc. etc. Other sites do that, and they do it well. But that's not TLT.
Last year I thought I was done, and I launched a site dedicated to small towns and "two lane gems." Then something unexpected happened: by starting a new site, I found a way to breathe life into the old.
"But what does that mean for The Local Tourist???" you ask.
If you're a fan of the Chicago site, you won't see much of a change because most of it (and it is minor) has already happened. There's been an increased emphasis on evergreen guides: in-depth pieces on the places you know (or want to know), like Millennium Park and the Botanic Gardens. The events calendar and the food and drink specials continue to grow as more hosts and businesses learn that they can add their own content. The team will continue to cover events, and I'll keep writing - just with a little more opinion and, hopefully, a modicum of charm and a minimum of annoyance.
The biggest difference will be the content beyond Chicago, as I share what it means to be a Local Tourist wherever you are. In August I visited Roseville, Minnesota, and I've got stories to write about that "Perfectly Positioned" town near the Twin Cities. There are tales to tell from Madison, Wichita, Oceanside, Albuquerque, and Yuma. I have travel tips (SO many travel tips). If you want to read those stories, subscribe here.
Drive By Towns is also thriving. I'm posting excerpts from my upcoming book, "Two Lane Gems, Vol. 1," weekly. Last week I was in Hendricks County, Indiana, and I'll be writing all about why you should pull over and stay awhile in Danville, Plainfield, and Clayton.
And not to gloss over that oh-so-important phrase, "upcoming book..."
That's been the biggest change of all. At 47 years of age, I took my childhood dream and made it a reality, and that has given me the confidence to use my words here, there, and everywhere. I've got a lot of 'em, and I hope you enjoy them.
Thanks for reading, and for being a Local Tourist. I AM The Local Tourist - and so are you.