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How to Explore Your Own City as a Tourist

new york city

Walking Down 5th Avenue near 52nd St.

People, even travelers, often take for granted the city that they live in. When studying abroad in Sydney, Australia, I went sightseeing and made sure to have unique experiences everyday. My roommates and I even decided not to get a TV because we were afraid it would keep us from exploring. When talking to locals, I realized I had seen and done so much more in THEIR city than they even had. I thought this was weird, until I met travelers who had visited New York. They knew all of the sites of Central Park, had climbing to the top of the Statue of Liberty, visited the Chrysler Building, taken in the views at the Top of the Rock, and more.

“They’re just buildings, nothing special,” was always my response. But, why did I think this way? Why wasn’t I as excited to experience amazing architecture, art, history, and culture in the place where I lived as I was in the regions I visited. It was because I was taking my home city for granted.

Recently, I returned from Africa where I often took public transportation (the tro-tro) with feelings of amazement, anxiety, and  wonder each time. I would often snap photos whether inside or outside the vehicle, always so eager to capture every single detail and moment on camera. Hell, the smallest action, such as a woman putting her baby on her lap on the tro-tro, would cause me to start taking notes and documenting the moment. However, I ride the New York City subway all of the time, with people performing, screaming, selling things, telling jokes, preaching, and more, and I don’t even give it a second thought.

I decided I needed to take a new approach and, like a Staycation, begin looking at New York through a new, more curious set of eyes. Here are some tips of how I have begun to look at my home city through a tourist’s eyes:

Start From Scratch

What I mean is, pretend like you’ve never experienced the city before. Don’t think “Oh, I walk through Central Park everyday, I’m not adding that to my to-do list”. Instead, visit each site with virgin senses. Take photos, write down notes, listen to sounds, smell the air, try to get a feel for the culture, and try to be active in the space. Maybe the park/museum/restaurant/other has a special feature you always knew about but never tried, for example, wine pairing, a tapas tour, petanque lessons, historical walking tours, or something else. Try it out and get an interactive experience.

Have a Goal in Mind

When visiting a new destination, many travelers have a purpose for being so engaged with the region. Maybe they want to enrich their own knowledge, broaden their experiences, build their blog content, write a feature story for a publication, capture amazing photographs, or just have a plethora of stories to regale their friends with. Whatever it is that drives you, use it. Bonus: If you’re a travel writer or photographer, this will give you a wealth of expert knowledge from a local’s point of view (with you being the local). And, you won’t have to spend $1,000 on a flight.

You could also fine-tune this to have specific destination goals in mind. For instance, instead of aimlessly wandering down 5th Avenue in New York yesterday I created a goal to create a free walking for my readers. Not only did I visit museums, churches, and outdoor spaces I had never seen before (and some I’d seen but never really noticed), I learned how to have a fun day on a budget in my own city (and sampled some heavenly Baklava from a taco truck in Tavern on the Green in Central Park. Not free, but definitely budget-friendly…and delicious).

Join a Meetup Group

I am obsessed with Meetup! I belong to a bunch of different meetup groups, from active hiking groups to groups that seek out spicy fare restaurants to girls who just like to hangout and explore New York together. This will give you new material to work with if you’re a travel writer or photographer, and will also help you to discover new places. If there isn’t a meetup group that interests you in your area, start one yourself. Other options include reaching out to the CouchSurfing community or even other in the travel community (Twitter is great for this!).

Jessie Festa standing in front of grafitti wall

Hi, I’m Jessie on a journey!

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2 Comments

  1. The Drinking Traveller on January 29, 2015 at 4:06 am

    Great idea to give yourself a goal! I had this issue in Brighton, UK, so can add “make a list of things you’ve always wanted to do there…and do them all!” and “get lost (with a camera)” to this.

    • jess2716 on January 30, 2015 at 12:11 am

      @The Drinking Traveller: I find it a bit fun. Like I’m a secret agent with a mission 🙂

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