I don’t spend a ton of time travelling, due to business, work, fatherhood, career, school, and a plethora of other things but when I do I have committed to “Stop Being a Tourist”. About 11 years ago when I went to Europe on tour for music I made a commitment to myself to not be a tourist when I was travelling. This doesn’t mean that you can’t and don’t take in some of the tourist “hot spots” wherever you are visiting, but it means that you also make a priority of connecting with locals and spending time at local hot spots.
While I was touring in Europe and performing throughout the country of Austria I was fortunate enough to be spending my time with local artists and musicians so they took me to all of the local pubs, restaurants and local gathering places. I spent a majority of my time surrounded by people that could not speak English, or could barely structure an English sentence. A good way to measure whether or not you are “mingling” with locals or caught in a tourist trap is to be aware of the language being spoken. If you are in a typically non-English speaking country and everyone is speaking English, you are most likely in a tourist hot spot and not getting an actual locally authentic experience.
When I go to Las Vegas, I promise myself to spend no more than 1/3rd of the trip on “The Strip” and spend the rest exploring Old Vegas and the communities around the area. For example, on my last trip I rented a car, drove out to the dam, and then to Death Valley California, stopping in many small communities having conversation with people and attempting to experience their environment authentically. When I get a tattoo in Vegas it’s not at one of the celebrity famous shops on the strip, it’s at a local tattoo shop where someone would most likely go if they lived in the area.
A drive down to Portland, Oregon included stopping in Astoria and spending time on the beach, but also staying at a hotel primarily used by locals commuting or for business trips. I engaged with the community and asked around for local things to do. One of which ended up being driving about 10 minutes out of town and finding over 1,000 Sea Lions sitting on a dock preparing to sleep for the night. It was an amazing site that I couldn’t find anywhere online prior to going and none of the touristy websites spoke about it.
Recently, on a trip to Los Angeles and Disney Land we spent only 40% of the time at the actual theme park. The rest of the trip was spent driving to communities like Laguna Beach and even into some inner city areas of LA. I’m not saying that these places aren’t tourist spots, because they quite often are, however the further you get the more local you get. I was able to have conversations with local business owners and patrons of restaurants that were simply on their weekly family dinner outing, or similar activities. I love finding a section of a beach that isn’t used a lot and provides a lot of relaxation and peace. I am equally as happy travelling somewhere with beautiful scenery and reading a book as I am having a conversation with someone local.
Why am I writing about this? Why do I think this is important?
Because engaging with locals creates empathy, understanding and broadens your knowledge of cultural diversity. Ethnic backgrounds, religions and income levels should not prevent you from interacting with different people who live elsewhere. I have been provided some of the most brilliant insight and business models by people who I normally would not have connected with if it wasn’t for travelling to their location and engaging in activities that they normally partake in.
Some things you will encounter are tough to see. Child poverty, Drug Addiction, or sometimes seeing a man who is simply immature and making poor decisions in life, but in the end it will in some way broaden your perspective and how you think about things.
There are ALWAYS two sides to every story, and EVERY SINGLE PERSON you encounter in your life is going through some shit you know nothing about. Why not expose yourself to some of it?
Just my 3.5 cents…