A Beginner's Guide to Visiting County Seats
Everyone has a different motivation for wanting to travel roads less trod. If you've decided to jump in head-first and start collecting counties, first-off: congrats! You're now part of a tiny cohort of folks that spend weekends and vacations on backroads and hamlets. Welcome to the madness!
This is not intended to be persuasive or all-encompassing. Guide is probably a misnomer. Truth be told, I just wanted to put together a list of things that I wish I knew when I started in 2013 so that others can learn from my pain.
Plan, but not too much
It might seem counter-intuitive, but hear me out. The first trips I went on in middle Tennessee were really spontaneous. My wife and I would take a day trip to a few places, I'd take a solo overnight trip to gather several counties in a chunk. These trips were fun and I really got excited about the project doing these. When you try to plan every single minute of your trip, you end up feeling pressure to stay on track to get as many counties as possible in the day or two (or more!) that you've allocated.
It's the most fun when you have time to see the sights and spend some unstructured time in an area with history. It's not to say, don't try and research interesting things ahead of time ...just don't go overboard.
It's the easiest approach - see the things that are around you. There's no pressure to see everything, as you can easily return if an attraction isn't open or a restaurant is closed. Ultimately, the smaller towns have a lot to offer and you almost never have the same hassles of metropolitan life (paying for parking, waiting an hour for a table) and you might find that you have some new favorite spots to return to with friends and family!
It may be tempting to hop on a plane and head to Delaware or Rhode Island to be able to knock out a whole state in a weekend... and hey, maybe that's what gets you motivated! However, I'd advise you to start local as that's where you can have a more easygoing and continuous relationship.
Find Personal Connections
One of the most interesting things I've done is visit some of the counties that my ancestors have lived. Whether you already have a good understanding of your roots or need to spend a few hours sleuthing on Ancestry.com, there's a satisfaction to walking down the same Main Street that was there when your great-great grandparent lived there.
Talking to friends from across the country & coworkers that have relocated from far and wide, I've also gotten great suggestions of places to visit from folks that grew up in small towns or knew of attractions that'd I'd be passing on my journey. The best stuff is usually inside the heads of people we know!
People Want to Share Their Story
As a general rule of thumb, people in small towns are more than willing to share their story. Pride for where you live runs especially deep in places that don't get many visitors. Don't be afraid to strike up a convo with a waitress or a gas station worker. Often county seats have antique shops or other local establishments run by long-standing residents that are a treasure trove of local knowledge! A basic convo can turn quickly into a history lesson depending on who you meet and how busy they happen to be.
Happy hunting, and most importantly - get out there and see something you haven't seen before!