Congaree National Park is one of South Carolina's pristine preserved wildlife environments | Photo by Leslie Cross on Unsplash

If you’re feeling stir crazy because of months of pandemic-related confinement to your home or hometown, there will be a day soon when travel will feel safe and comfortable again. 

For most of us, it can’t come soon enough. For many, it may not matter exactly where the destination is. It’s just important that it not be at home.

For that reason, let’s think about traveling with a purpose of helping fellow South Carolinians. Instead of heading off to some far-flung destination, consider staying closer to home this year and visiting a region in the Palmetto State with which you’re not familiar. 

Not only can this connect you more deeply to our home state, but it can help businesses in a big way. The tourism industry, which posted almost $24 billion in economic activity in 2018, took a huge financial hit during the pandemic with experts predicting revenues dropped as much as 35%. That could be a loss of $8 billion to local hotels, restaurants and businesses that service visitors, which include everything from gas stations and local shops to sporting venues and tour companies. 

“What we’ve learned in our community is that 40,000 of our neighbors depend on the hospitality industry to feed our families,” said Doug Warner, vice president of media and innovation with Explore Charleston. “After the year we’ve all had, the return of that industry is paramount.

“Parts of our state’s hospitality economy have boomed, such as golf and state parks, but the regular mom-and-pop businesses need our support more than they ever have.”

So if you live in the Lowcountry, you might want to think about visiting the Upstate to see how hip Greenville’s downtown has become. Someone from the Upstate might deepen their love for South Carolina by visiting Pearl Fryar’s topiary garden in Bishopville or enjoying small Pee Dee towns like Lake City, where there is a vibrant art scene. People often make jokes about Columbia — mainly because of the work, or lack of it, at the Statehouse, but the area has lots to do for everyone. And then there are miles of beaches and outdoor fun along the coast. 

“Our impulse to see and experience a larger world is the subject of my new book, Why Travel? A Way of Being, a Way of Seeing,” said Charleston travel writer Bill Thompson in a column published this week. “And while this moment of the pandemic may seem a rather odd time to be publishing it, this collection of essays and travel articles arrives with a glimmer of hope that soon we can start planning our travels again.”

Traveling offers a way for people to reenergize their souls and do more than see sights, he said. 

“Physician, poet and humorist Oliver Wendell Holmes noted that a mind enlarged by new experience never retreats to the confines of its old dimensions,” Thompson said. “That’s what we’re after. An expanded, and expansive, view. You don’t get that from sitting in place.”

Here are some ideas, by region, of where to go: 

In the Upstate, enjoy bubbling mountain streams and adventures in places like Caesars Head State Park or the Jocassee gorges. Learn about textile history at old mills. Make the Revolutionary War come alive at Cowpens National Battlefield or in the town of Ninety Six. 

In the Midlands, take a hike in Congaree National Park. Visit Riverbanks Zoo and Columbia museums. Check out the Dupont Planetarium in Aiken, the Newberry Opera House and downtown Rock HIll. 

The Pee Dee offers more than South of the Border (which is fun). Downtown Florence has neat shops and restaurants. Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet is a huge hit, as are beachside attractions throughout the Grand Strand. Bishopville has the Button Museum and Hartsville is home to Coker Farms National Historic Landmark.

Throughout the Lowcountry, dabble in history in Charleston’s and Beaufort’s historic streets and buildings. Visit sites along the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor stretching from Myrtle Beach to St. Helena Island to Jasper County. See the Angel Oak on Johns Island, the ruins of Old Sheldon Church, and the charms of old Bluffton.

The whole world is out there — but remember, so is the whole state.

Andy Brack is publisher of Charleston City Paper. Bill Thompson’s new book, Why Travel? A Way of Being, a Way of Seeing, is published by Sojourner Books and available Feb. 28. Have a comment? Send to: feedback@charlestoncitypaper.com.