For my birthday weekend, I figured it was the best time to ask for some moolah to go on a new adventure. Granted, I couldn’t go very far, but I didn’t really need to. Living in Orlando, there are so many cute, artsy cities just a few hours away. I decided to pick a couple that I have been really wanting to visit and make a weekend out of it, only coming back to Orlando to sleep. Though some of the plans crumbled do to Bike Week and rain, I would label the two trips as successes in my travel book, and I’m really happy to share the experiences.

DeLand, FL

I believe it was Facebook that I saw an article on the best places to visit near Orlando (I’ll link the article here if I can find it). DeLand was one of those places. It was described as the “Athens of Florida”, and I was immediately intrigued. I imagined lots of artistic and thrifty stores and graffitied streets. When my boyfriend and I arrived, we were rather shocked to find that DeLand was hosting “Bike Week”. The downtown area was lined with motorcycles, and my jean shorts and cute beach top seemed extremely out of place among the leather-clad, unruly bearded men and rockin’ chicks. Never had I ever wished more for my leather jacket to magically appear on my shoulders. However, I wasn’t about to let the bikers throw me off of what I had come for.

My first stop was to the Indie Marketplace, only to find that it was only open on Sundays – which the Facebook article had not informed me of – and, of course, it was Saturday. Though this brought on a brief wave of disappointment, I again forced myself to explore downtown. Beyond the burley laughs of drunk bikers, my boyfriend and I stumbled across a strip of vintage antique shops and a record store. To my pleasure, each shop had glorious trinkets from teapots to designer handbags, and I was in awe over the beautiful gowns. In fact, I purchased myself a simple black cocktail dress from the 20s and a couple intricately designed handbags for a grand total of fifty bucks. One of the stores was three stories and each floor ranged from furniture to knick knacks to French designer clothing. To say I was in thrift heaven was to say the least. I no longer cared that the Indie Marketplace wasn’t open.

To end our exploration, we checked out the record store, which had a great selection of rock LPs and some awesome indie/alt rock choices. I was a particular fan of the album cover banners the store had hanging from the ceiling and walls like streamers. Demand, truly, didn’t fail to amaze me. For such a small and undeveloped town, it had a lot more to offer than I thought it would – even with all of the bikers bar crawling.

Since our day in DeLand was rather short due to the large biker crowd, we decided to hit up Blue Spring State Park. It was only about twenty minutes away, and though it wasn’t open for swimming it was hosting an influx of Florida Manatees. So, seeing as I’d never seen a manatee, I thought it’d be cool to checkout. End result? They really just looked like giant brown blobs floating in the water. Th upside was that the park was beautiful, and my boyfriend and I explored some of the hiking paths. There were nice boardwalks that led throughout the woods and different points that reached out into the water. I really want to visit again sometime when it warms up. Swimming is probably amazing out there.

St. Augustine, FL

On Sunday, we took on St. Augustine. It is about a two and half hour drive from Orlando, and unfortunately, it was quite rainy. So, most of the normal sightseeing attractions, such as the light house and the fort, were off the table. However, this led us to, again much like the biker situation, make the best out of the situation and discover our own little adventures. First, we strolled among Uptown shops, looking at some of the vintage and thrift shops. My favorite was a little book shop. There’s nothing like a shop of aged books. The smell is just wonderful, and if you’re a fellow book enthusiast like me, you know what I mean. After Uptown, we were getting pretty hungry. We decided to walk the other direction, not entirely sure where we were going, and ran into this little downtown area, which you’ll see in the photo above.

This area was definitely the more touristy area. There were tons of little alleys we were able to go down and find places to take photos dressed up as pirates or get prophecies from an old-timey Zultan machine. The best part? Pizza Time – an Italian, New York Style pizza joint rated second best in the US. I had the Margaheritta slice and have been dreaming about it ever since. Literally, the BEST pizza I have ever tasted. However, I admit I’m not the most “cultured” in pizza, having grown up in a small town in Alabama. Either way, that pizza was dang good.

We walked past the fort a few times on our way between shops and coffee, and I admit it was impressive just to look at. Much like Blue Spring State Park, I’d love to go back on a sunny day, to enjoy the beach of St. Augustine and the outdoor attractions. I’d especially like to make the hike up the lighthouses 200 and counting steps for the majestic view it holds. I guess it will just have to go on my bucket list until I can go back!

Overall, I thought the weekend was a success, especially since I did little to no planning. My boyfriend and I just packed a little to -go bag and went. If there’s anything the weekend taught me about traveling, it’s that sometimes you just have to do it. If you’ve got enough for gas, and it’s just around the corner, there’s no reason not to go. The trip doesn’t need to be about spending money. Honestly, if I hadn’t bought that dress, purses, and that slice of pizza, I wouldn’t have spent a penny. Adventure doesn’t have to cost anything, which to me means no excuses. I used to think that in order to be a travel writer, I had to go somewhere exotic. In reality, I’m sitting in Orlando near some of the top tourist attractions in the US. So, let me lesson be one for you too. I you have dreams of traveling, remember that not every adventure needs to be this huge, big deal. Travel can be as small as visiting a shop in your town you’ve always wanted to go to. You don’t even have to spend a dime if you don’t want to. Travel is all about just going out and doing it.

Always,Jinapher J. Hoffman