As winter continues and the days get colder, I find people begin to think of travel: warmer places, tropical beaches, and spring trips. My inbox fills up more than normal with questions on where to escape to, what to see, and things to do. And lately there has been a common theme to these emails: people want to get off the beaten trail and avoid the “touristy” stuff.
”I don’t want to go to Paris. It’s too touristy. Where else can I go that is like it?”
I cringe when I see statements like this. I understand the desire to get off the beaten track, to explore places and find hidden gems. We want a glimpse at the local life. We want to be Indiana Jones and feel like we‘re discovering and experiencing something new, not simply joining a horde of other tourists and buying into mass consumption.
It’s good to see something different and explore what hasn’t been Disneyfied for tourists. But this idea that simply because a place is popular, it’s become “too touristy” and thus ruined is crap.
Paris is not touristy.
Neither is New York City.
Or any other city in the world.
The problem isn‘t the destination—the problem is where you’re going. The only thing that’s touristy are the spots you choose to see. The beaten path is beaten because it’s popular and everyone wants to see it. Why do the crowds clutter around the Eiffel Tower? Because it’s amazing. Why do people flock to Times Square? Because it’s iconic.
But if you’re sick of tourists and want a “local feel,” avoid those spots. Venture away from the crowds. Odds are good that you won’t find them a few blocks over. 90% never stray off the path. To say a city of millions of people is “touristy” is to focus on the tourist spots and then say that the whole city/country/region is like that.
And that’s just not true.
I live in New York City. Every day thousands of tourists wander its streets. I don’t notice them. I rarely see them. Why? Because I’m not walking around Times Square, clamoring to see the Wall Street bull, or fighting my way around the Met.
Instead, I hang out in local neighborhoods and shops that most tourists won’t ever find or go to.
If you‘re only visiting the most famous sights, you’ll find any place touristy. Walk away from that area and head down a back alley and into a new neighborhood, and suddenly you’re surrounded by locals and experiencing local life.
Next time you cringe at all the tourists, look at your surroundings. Are you in a famous, highly popular area? Then change where you are. Don’t skip the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre, and make sure to walk the Champs-Élysées. But then keep walking—you’ll leave behind the crowds who will never venture past that one block, and you’ll be free to explore new, untouristy areas all by yourself.
And once you start doing that, you’ll never call any city touristy ever again.
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