I’ve had friends tell me that I should launch a lifestyle blog, and I guess, in a way, this is that. But it’s also really a blog about embracing and learning, and one of the best ways I think you can do that in your lifetime is to simply travel and learn about other cultures. Each of us has our own way of living and enjoying the magic of life, whether you want to climb to the top of Kilimanjaro or get helicoptered there. Someone might judge and say, what’s the point, if you don’t climb it? But for some the joy may not be in the climb but in the view from the top. Whatever floats your boat.
I’m not a wild, physical adventurist. I like food, drinks, talking shit, and relaxing. I like conversation, and reading, and thoughtfully absorbing the view in a beautiful and unique space. I adore architecture, and history, and ancient buildings and artisanry. The older the history, the more fascinating it is to me. I don’t care how I get there — bus, plane, on foot — but I want to learn. That’s the drive behind my quest to travel — to understand how other people do the things they do, and why.
I have one friend that likes to walk for 18 hours a day and not even bother with public transportation — just walk an entire city in a day if he can. Not my cup of tea, but I do learn from this friend, and join him for some of those hours of the day as I find ways to make a city my own in my own way.
Here are some ways you can make a city yours …
Explore talents and interests of your own that you don’t have time for at home
When you travel, if you’re alone, you’re entirely free to make your exploration of that city as rich and as varied as your interests are. When you’re at home, you don’t have time to practice guita, but why not take a flamenco lesson if you’re in Spain? If you’re a painter, you could take a weekend or 2-3 hour class, and paint something glorious you’d never get to practice on while at home in your day to day.
Whatever it is, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a tour. Tours try to redux what 5000 people have seen and done into the “top” activities, but those activities are not one size fits all. I have one friend who hates the historical stuff — she’d rather go shopping. She is not at all moved to tears by ruins that are thousands of years old, but I am. I’m not going to make her go see Stonehenge, I know better.
If you like to carve wood or make furniture — why not hunt down a recommended craftsman and learn a technique? Or, go out into the boonies to watch them make beautiful things from scratch. Love perfume? Hit the top known perfumeries made in the region you are visiting, and get to know them. Wine — visit local vineyards. Food? Ooooh, food. We’re going to talk about food. But high-level — take local cooking classes. From locals. Learn how to cook their traditional dishes, and get the story on their food history.
Balance treks on the beaten path with unknown territory
Yeah, go clubbing or take a boat around a marina, sure — but these are superficial ways to explore a city. Going to the top of the W hotel for a drink is something you can always do, anywhere in the world, and it’s fun. But you won’t necessarily get anything new from the experience. You’ll see a lot of other tourists oohing and ahhing, and a nice view, great drinks. But that’s about it, and you can get that experience anywhere else in the world.
Try a small, intimate tour of something unique versus the big bus tour everyone else takes. An example — Stonehenge allows a couple of tours to bring small groups up to TOUCH the stones. At sunrise or sunset. Amazing. You don’t get that on a big bus of 80 people.
Look up things to do as if you were a local! What would you really want to do if you lived in this place — wherever you live now, do you really spend your time visiting your local tourist spots and official historical buildings, or do you like to take your friends to unique and special places you learned about while living where you do? Now, go do the same thing you do wherever you visit across the world!
Schedule time for doing nothing in particular
I’m a big fan of spending a few days doing absolutely mundane things, which is why I tend to like renting a vacation home, so you can feel like a local. This includes going to the grocery store, taking out the garbage, navigating the streets occasionally without taxis. Cooking your own meals. Wandering around in a new neighborhood without having a specific intent is especially important — when you travel it’s easy to get overwhelmed with a hitlist of things you HAVE to do, which becomes as stressful as being at home, with chores and projects.
I like vacation to feel like I’m living another life, and to absorb that other life appropriately, I like a couple of casual days where you just see what’s up, with no serious plans. No special tour of some ancient wonder, no pre-paid tickets. Is there an opera or musical on? What’s a local music festival? Is there anything at the movies tonight? (I totally saw a movie in Paris in the winter, and I’m not sorry!)
Acknowledge you’re a tourist, but embrace living like a local
In between claiming the usual territories we all visit when we go somewhere famous — leave stretching room for the little magical moments you can’t plan for. That moment when you walk past something and are delighted or surprised. Avoid overplanning your trip, and let the city embrace you as you explore it, so it can truly become a part of your DNA rather than a distant, passing memory.