Sometimes you want to travel but it’s just not possible — perhaps you can’t get the time off work, or you’re saving for something important. But it’s always possible to keep the travel mentality alive, by being a tourist in your own backyard.

To listen, hit play below or find episode 336 in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud:

We’re definitely not recommending you scrap your travel plans and have a “staycation” (and oh, how we hate that word), but there’s a lot about your home town or region that you’ll never have seen because you just weren’t looking. And we’re not just talking about the tourist attractions, either.

How to be a tourist in your own backyard

1.Show someone around

By far our favourite way to see our city with different eyes is to show a visitor around. Invite a friend or family member to stay with you, or meet up with a tourist through Couchsurfing, Meetup.com, Herepin, or other services devoted to getting people together.

Visitors are a great way to be a tourist in your own backyard.
Having a visitor (Like Sherry) is a great way to see your home town in a different light

2.Take a camera

If you’d prefer to go it alone, start small — by taking a camera with you. Your phone will do, though if you have a fancy camera, here’s a good chance to use it! Head into the city, alone or with a friend, and decide on a number of photos you’d like to take. Keep your eyes open, and if you see anything worth taking a photo of, take it — even if it’s something you’ve seen a million times already.

Dave playing with his new camera
Take a camera!

3. Get a tourist brochure or an events magazine

Go online or into the tourist information office and get information about your town. Usually there will be a list of recommended sights to see. Do them all. Take photos at each attraction, and blog about it afterwards. If there are a lot of things to do, divide the list into regions and spend a day in each region, but try to do everything, no matter how many times you’ve done it before.

4. Sleep elsewhere

If you’re really looking for the holiday feeling, get away from your house. You could do a housesit in a different part of town, or stay with a friend or Couchsurfing contact. You could even splurge and stay in a hotel or hostel! Changing location will help change your attitude to your own home town.

I wasn't joking about the car... We stayed in the Hostel Lollis with a Trabant for a bed.
Sleep somewhere else!

5. Go public transport

If you’re like us and you drive everywhere, using public transport can be an adventure in itself. But even if you catch the train every day, you can still make it exciting. Get a map of the public transport network, close your eyes and point at it; the stop closest to your finger is your destination for the day. Buy a ticket, hop on the bus or train and just wander around. How is it different to your neighbourhood? How is it the same? Take photos and blog about it afterwards.

If you often take public transport, you could consider hiring a car instead — and go somewhere the public transport doesn’t.

6. Choose a theme

Perhaps you don’t feel like doing touristy things, or the things in the tourist brochures feel a bit stale. Or maybe you’ve just followed our advice and DONE all the things in the tourist brochure. No worries — you can still dig deeper. Choose a theme and explore everything your city has to offer in keeping with that theme. You could visit all the parks within a 10km radius of your house, or all the cafes in the central business district. You might need to make a list and tick it off as you go — and make sure you keep taking photos.

Visit every winery?
Visit every winery
Theme ideas:

  • visit every park
  • visit every cafe
  • visit every winery
  • visit every children’s playground and go down the slide
  • visit every building that’s over 100 years old, or that was built in a certain year
  • have a picnic at every beach
  • do a pub crawl

7. Become a collector

Becoming a collector is similar to choosing a theme, but a little more refined. Instead of choosing things to do, you’re choosing things to find. They might be things you can pick up and keep, or things you can only take a photo of. Once you’ve chosen, head out and start collecting.

We were once in Vienna for an extra day after missing a flight and didn’t feel up to visiting any of the tourist attractions — we’d seen everything we wanted to, and felt a bit bitter about still being in the city. So we decided to head out and collect photos of stencil art — small street-art paintings spraypainted onto walls and fences using stencils. We saw a side of Vienna we’d never seen before, and chose to go down streets we wouldn’t normally have taken. Plus, we turned a negative experience into a great memory.

Collect street art... or something else.
Collect street art… or something else.

What does your town have to offer that you’ve never considered looking for? You could collect photos of posters, or of different street signs. Or you could collect physical items like funny-shaped leaves or the sugar sachets from different cafes.

Collection ideas – photos

  • street art (stencil art, graffiti, posters)
  • road signs
  • interesting letterboxes or fences
  • flowers

Collection ideas — physical items

  • sugar sachets
  • beer mats
  • admission tickets

8. Geocaching

Getting a little bit more technical here! You’ll need to download an app for your phone at a minimal cost — the expense is usually worth it! Basically, people hide something somewhere, and its GPS location in the app. You then choose the cache you’d like to find and the app will tell you how far away you are from it. Follow the arrow on your GPS and you’ll find the treasure … except it’s not usually that simple!

So what are you waiting for? Choose a technique and head out to discover your city. What have you learned? Leave comments below.

This episode of the Indie Travel Podcast is sponsored by Allianz Global Assistance.

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Note: this podcast was first recorded in 2009, and was revisited in 2017.

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Your thoughts on "How to be a tourist in your own backyard podcast"

  • I really love that idea of becoming a collector! I never really thought of it that way, but what a great way to spend an accidental extra day in a place. I missed a flight in Prague and had an extra day in the city...wish I had thought of this! :-)

    on December 13, 2009 at 6:54 am Reply
  • Great post! There have definitely been times when we didn't have the money to go anywhere. Becoming tourists in our own city has been a great alternative and given us some fun memories as well as cool pictures. Sometimes traveling abroad can be really stressful even though you'll have good times as well. Being a tourist in your own city gives you the fun without the stress either logistically or financially.

    on December 14, 2009 at 1:17 am Reply
  • We live in NYC, so it's pretty easy for us to become tourists in our own backyard. We've lived here for 15 years, but there are still a million things we haven't done or seen. We've been to the Met and MoMA many times, but just recently we went to the Museum of American Finance for the first time. We've been to Chinatown dozens of times, but we went to Chinatown in Brooklyn for the first time not too long ago. When you can't get on an airplane, it's still fun to take a day trip to explore somewhere new.

    on December 14, 2009 at 3:19 am Reply
  • I'm just outside of DC and the number of museums is immense. When you add in the number of special exhibits coming and going, it becomes entirely overwhelming. One way I've made sure that I see at least a few of the exhibits that I otherwise wouldn't is that I've offered to be an exhibit buddy to several of my friends: if they want to go to something new, but don't want to go by themselves, I've agreed to go with -- no matter what the exhibit is. I see some cool stuff this way and most of it I would never see any other way.

    on December 15, 2009 at 7:41 am Reply
  • i have to agree with this. i was born and raised in manila but i can still see that i haven;'t explored much of the country's capital and its role in Philippine history.

    on December 14, 2009 at 11:22 pm Reply
  • Thanks for this awesome writeup guys! Good reminder for just how easy it really is to travel and enjoy the wonderful world around us! Say hey to Matt for me.

    on December 17, 2009 at 12:00 am Reply
  • Pub Crawl! Awesome, I am all about incorporating beer into getting to know your city better. I think Geocaching is an incredibly cool concept, thanks for bringing it up.

    on December 18, 2009 at 10:18 am Reply
  • Great Advice guys. I was drawn to this podcast as I'm about ready to loose my mind in the US...I feel completely stuck. Love the tips - especially the one abt themes! Thanks for getting me interested in being here again!

    on March 11, 2010 at 10:47 am Reply
  • This site is awesome. I continually find something new & different listed here. Appreciate that information.

    on September 13, 2011 at 7:19 pm Reply
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    on April 12, 2017 at 4:46 pm Reply

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