One Step Back, Five Steps Forward (Or, what happened to Drive By Towns?)

Sometimes you head in one direction without knowing where you're going, yet you still end up where you need to be.

In October I celebrated the one-year anniversary of Drive By Towns, a site I started because I was stuck.

For years – YEARS! – I’d felt like I’d fallen into one of those giant potholes that seem to spread the width of Chicago streets after the snow melts (and yes, it does melt. Eventually).

It was a veritable sinkhole of my own making. I’d taken The Local Tourist, a concept that had started as a simple River North-based website, and morphed it into a giant bright-shiny-object black hole. Begun as a way to write for a living, I was managing and monitoring and admin-ing my way through the day. After nearly fifteen years I was pulled in so deep I could barely see daylight and I was craving the sun.

So, I climbed back out. I launched Drive By Towns and began writing again. I traveled. I wrote a book about Two Lane Gems. I remembered what it means to be a “Local Tourist.”

I thought Drive By Towns (let’s just call it DBT for brevity’s sake) was necessary. I created a separate and completely different brand from The Local Tourist (TLT). I even assigned personalities to the two sites: TLT was the party in heels and DBT was the hike in the woods.

And then there was Two Lane Gems. That’s the title of my book series, which originated from a category I’d been using on DBT.

The Local Tourist. Drive By Towns. Two Lane Gems. You can see where there might be a problem.

This excess of riches became apparent when I started promoting my book in earnest. People would ask me what the difference was between Two Lane Gems and Drive By Towns, and as I explained it I realized that I had grabbed another shovel and was digging an even bigger black hole.

Time to simplify.

DBT wasn’t a separate personality; it was simply an expanded set of interests. TLT has always been an extension of me, and I can party in heels on Friday and hike in the woods on Saturday. I can dine on foie gras on Monday and eat boxed mac ‘n cheese on Tuesday. Being a Local Tourist means truly experiencing a place, and that’s not defined by population size or location, but because the site had been minutely focused on Chicago for so long, I was blinded to the broader definition. I needed to let go of my preconceived notions.

I needed a break.

Now I can see that there’s no need for a separate website for smaller destinations; those tiny towns are part of what it means to be a Local Tourist.

What happened to Drive By Towns? Everything that was on that site is now here, on The Local Tourist, and you can see those posts on the Travel the U.S.A. menu above.

Two Lane Gems has its own website, but it’s just about the book series. All of Drive By Towns’ social accounts have been converted to Two Lane Gems, since that’s what I was posting anyway.

In hindsight, it might seem like I hadn’t needed to create Drive By Towns in the first place.

But I did. I never could have gotten to where I am now if I hadn’t taken a detour. When you do the same thing, over and over, every day every week every month every year, you lose sight of what you can do. Of what is possible.

By stepping back, I’ve leaped forward.

You may be wondering why I’m sharing this. There are a couple of reasons. One is to let DBT’s followers know it hasn’t disappeared. The posts are still here, and the concept is still here, and it’s going to play a huge role in the future development of TLT.

The other is because it might help others. I’ve been doing this a loooooong time, and it may seem like I have my stuff together. (Unless you know me, and then you’re laughing uproariously. Shhh. I can hear you.)

I’ve seen several huge sites disappear over the years, and I’m still here, so I must be doing something right, eh? I am, but I’ve also made a lot of mistakes.

Starting Drive By Towns wasn’t one of them; however, it did highlight some pretty big changes I needed to make. Maybe by sharing my roundabout journey, someone who’s been hesitating to make a similar leap might decide it’s time to take their own detour.

I broke a mold of my own making, and I ended up having the best year of my life. Now I’m poised to make 2018 even better. I have direction; I have drive; I have passion, again, when I thought it was lost.

Drive By Towns was my scenic overlook. It showed me a vista I didn’t know existed and pointed me in an entirely new direction that somehow led me exactly where I needed to be.

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