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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
- street art (stencil art, graffiti, posters)
- road signs
- interesting letterboxes or fences
Collection ideas — physical items
- sugar sachets
- beer mats
- admission tickets
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.
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Note: this podcast was first recorded in 2009, and was revisited in 2017.