Wintertime in the Chicago area - like most of the midwest and northern states - tends to be pretty boring. Try Googling "things to do in the Chicago area," and the vast majority of options are meant for the summertime. People tend to stay inside as much as possible here in January, and for good reason. If you want to experience something besides the typical touristy suggestions (museums, famous restaurants, etc.), you're going to have to get creative, especially if it means leaving your house. Robbie was feeling a little ill from the rocky ship he'd just gotten off after working a music cruise, and we just couldn't seem to think of anything to to do for our date, so he went to bed. I stayed up, because our unsuccessful attempt at devising a plan just made me me even more determined to come up with something awesome.
What I ended up doing to solve our little predicament seems so obvious to me now, because it's something I'm constantly doing for the blog and my businesses: I brainstormed. I sat down on the floor with a notebook and pen, and compiled a list of every single idea that came to my head. Some of these ideas weren't necessarily different or new, and some didn't even sound like fun, but I wrote them down anyway and crossed my fingers.
On Saturday morning, we got up, got dressed, got in the car, then grabbed a quick coffee and read over the list I'd made. I never would have thought to make a brainstorm list for something like a local day date, but it was actually kind of amazing to have all of these activities to choose from. It worked out even better than it would have if we'd made a set plan on Friday too, because we were able to pick something that we happened to be in the mood for at that very moment.
As simple as it may seem, making a brainstorm list might just be the #1 best way to come up with fun things to do, even if it's not-so-fun time of year, and even if you live in place where you're sure you've done everything. The next time you're bored or want to plan an inexpensive but fun day with your partner, family, or yourself (!), try it. Just take out a piece of scrap paper or notebook and a pen, and jot down every idea that comes to your mind. Use that amazing creativity you possess and record everything. If it's an activity that seems played out or too obvious, record it anyway. If it's a place that sounds boring at the time, record it anyway. If it's something so new or different that it's outside of your comfort zone, record it anyway. You never know when a "bad" idea can inspire you to come up with a good one, or when something that seems unappealing to you now might sound like the best idea ever in the future. Try to be as specific as possible too. Instead of writing down "go to the movies," list which movie(s) you'd like to see and the times they're playing. Rather than writing down "take pictures," list a particular location and the types of things you could photograph there. And if you live somewhere like I do where the winter months are harsh, and online searches therefore only seem to provide suggestions for the summertime - do a quick search anyway. Yes, I had to weed through a mound of warm weather activities, but there were a few community calendars and Yelp and TripAdvisor entries that helped me think of things I wouldn't have otherwise. For added inspiration, I also looked through some photos of fun places we'd been in the past.
With the help of my trusty list, we decided to have a little adventure, and drove out to a tiny town we'd never heard of. It was about an hour away, and it boasted a massive and well-rated antique mall (see above images). The long drive in the country made for a nice mini getaway, and we got to spend the day pursuing vintage goodies in a cool new place! Best of all, the entire day cost next to nothing. The only money spent was for gas, snacks, and a couple of treasures to bring home. (I got another vintage camera to add to my collection, and Robbie got a pristine copy of the Beatles' "Rubber Soul" on vinyl). We saw a killer sunset on the ride home too! If I hadn't decided to make the list, we probably would have never found this place or even gotten out of town to experience somewhere new.
I'll admit that while I was making my brainstorm list, I actually laughed a few times at how silly some of my ideas were. But it was the seemingly silly, boring and obvious ideas that led to the good ones! I was also shocked that I could read my ridiculously illegible handwriting the next morning. That's the best thing about brainstorming and recording spontaneous thoughts. When you take away the pressure, gather lots of impromptu ideas, and avoid second-guessing or over-thinking, you're bound to come up with a few gems that you likely would have completely missed otherwise.
- Write down every activity and place that pops in your head, no matter how silly or boring it may seem.
- Even if you're planning for a whole day, write down the little activities too. (I listed grabbing coffee, even though it only took a few minutes. It was fun to have some extra things to do to fill in the gaps!)
- Try to avoid being vague. Jot down specific places, times, and activities rather than broad ideas.
- If possible, make your brainstorm list in advance. That way, when the time comes to go have your fun, you can choose something that fits your mood.
- For some extra help, check out local community calendars, Yelp and TripAdvisor. There may be some great activities or places you've never heard of lurking right around the corner. Also try using photos from past trips or adventures for inspiration.
- Make your list on scrap paper or in a regular old notebook with a plain writing pen or pencil. Save your pretty art journal for another project, and make this one simple, fast, and even messy! The best brainstorming happens when you're not trying too hard.
The next time you're convinced that there's nothing fun to do where you live, try making a little brainstorm list of your own. You'll be surprised at how easy it is to come up with something amazing.