It’s not as easy to be a tourist in your own town as in a foreign one, but by proactively including five ingredients you can find yourself novel local travel experiences that are almost as extraordinary.
A Novel Approach
Jetting off to exotic lands is the lazy way to travel. All you have to do is spend a chunk of money and time to get there, then let the destination do the work for you.
And by “work,” I mostly mean spoiling you with novelty. For us travelers, these novel treats include unfamiliar smells, tastes we can’t replicate back home, foreign tongues, sights cameras can’t capture, and new social connections. The mind-opening, perspective-changing experiences we get from such novelty is the reason we travel.1Well, that and to get away from crappy weather.
But you don’t need a passport to get yourself a healthy dose of novelty. You can find it in your own backyard by being a tourist in your own town.
It just takes a bit more work.
Here’s how, illustrated by our recent adventure playing tourist in our hometown of Vancouver, Canada.
The 5 Ingredients for Being a Tourist In Your Own Town
Great travel experiences bring you closer to your travel companions and introduce you to memorable new bit-part characters for your life story.
There’s no reason you can’t achieve the same as a tourist in your own town.
In our case, it was our friends David and Camille who kickstarted the reconnection. They invited us and our friend Paul to join them for a local excursion. We hadn’t hung out together for ages, so we were keen to tag along.
✓ Do Something Unusual
Have you noticed that even though gravity is the same everywhere on earth, most people prefer to bungee jump off bridges in far-off lands rather than close to home?
Travel does that to us. For whatever reason, it gives us the gumption to try things we wouldn’t dare (or bother) do at home.
But you can give yourself that gumption without leaving your hometown, too.
In our case, bungee jumping wasn’t the activity David and Camille had on the docket for us.2Phew, because Kim’s scared of heights everywhere in the world, so that would have been a disaster. Instead, we went blueberry picking in a guy named Harold’s big backyard.
Obviously, blueberry picking isn’t the type of adrenaline-filled activity you pay someone to film to show to your grandchildren someday. But it’s something we don’t normally do. And it was in an area we’d otherwise never go to, a remote corner of the Vancouver suburb of Richmond. So it fit the bill for a novel travel experience.
Plus, Kim and I collected nine pounds of organic blueberries in our bins, and one pound in our bellies, as souvenirs.
✓ Find Some Funky Flavors
Food is a cornerstone of travel because it creates novel sensations for at least four of the five senses. (Sound is borderline.) And, like bungee jumping, we feel compelled to eat more adventurously when we travel.
But food travels, too. So it’s easy to take your tastebuds on a trip without leaving your town.
Especially easy in our case. We were in Richmond, where some areas are so Chinese that business owners don’t bother putting English on their billboards. And lots of those businesses are restaurants.
Paul, who runs a restaurant marketing agency, asked around and got a tip to go to HK BBQ Master. Kim and I had heard of it. We’d actually seen it on Netflix. Seth Rogan took David Chang there on Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner.
But HK BBQ Master hadn’t let its fifteen minutes of fame get to its head. There were no photos of their celebrity patrons, no lines of tourists, and the prices were reasonable. Most importantly, our platter of BBQ chicken, pork, and duck with bok choy on the side hit at least four of our senses in novel ways and was at least a 4.5 out of 5 overall.
To maximize novelty when traveling, you have to improvise. Planning everything in advance may allow you to tick off all the “top attractions,” but it slams the door on the more memorable experiences travel guides and blogs don’t cover.
So leave plenty of wiggle room in your day of being a tourist in your own town to go with the flow and see what happens.
Our improvisation was dessert. To satisfy our sweet tooth and complement our umami BBQ, we pulled up Google Maps, searched “dessert,” and picked out a nearby spot that looked interesting and had never heard of before: Kam Do Bakery.
Inexplicably, the one thing Kam Do can’t do is accept credit cards, so we had to make do with the $15 in cash we scrounged up. That turned out to be plenty. It got us an exotic assortment of their supposedly famous “wife cakes,” green tea and peanut mochi, cheesecake, and pineapple, green bean, and taro buns.
It made for a much more memorable medley than two scoops of ice cream from Vancouver’s “must try when you visit” ice cream parlors.
✓ Change the Setting
For a novel travel experience, you have to feel out of place. That’s why we seek out unusual architecture, landscapes, and environments. They wake up our awe and appreciation for humans’ and Mother Nature’s ingenuity.
It may not be quite as awesome, but you can feel similarly out of place in your own city by venturing to areas your routine never takes you.
Harold’s blueberry farm and the Richmond restaurants met this criterion for us. So too, did our last pitstop, Iona Beach.
Even though it’s beside the airport, Kim and Paul had never been there before and David, Camille, and I had only ever been once. It’s more windswept and marshy than the Vancouver beaches we go to all the time. And it gave us a different perspective of the city, surrounding mountains, and seascape than we’re familiar with.
It was a sweet spot to watch the sun set on an unexpectedly fun day of being tourists in our own town.
Happy Hometown Travels
I’d be lying if I told you our day of being tourists in our own town was as extraordinary as our gorilla-glimpsing hike in Rwanda or eating 24 foods in 24 hours in Taipei. But it sure as heck beat doing the same old boring thing we normally do in Vancouver.
You can do the same wherever you live.
Try it. Don’t be lazy.
- I’m Traveling, Even Though I’m Stuck at Home, The Atlantic. For the first time in 30 years, travel writer Rick Steeves didn’t go to Europe this summer. He shares how he’s learned to travel in his hometown of Seattle (and, incredibly, cooked pasta for the first time in his life).