I visited Paris, France during my senior year of high school. And like any good tourist, I patronized local restaurants, cafes, and retailers, not just the large chains and department stores.
To make sure I enjoyed as much as possible, I also never spent my time or money in the same place twice. There was just too many great places to see.
“I want to experience what a local might experience,” I told myself. I enjoyed the trip immensely and was glad about how I chose to explore France.
I’ve used the same method in New York, Orlando, and other cities I’ve visited and it always works. There was just one problem with my reasoning.
Locals don’t actually appreciate their own cities like tourists
Frequent were the days I wished for a trip so I could experience something original and new. I wanted to drive somewhere far away with cool things to eat and see and do.
As of writing this, I live in a suburb outside of Atlanta, Georgia. When people come to visit, they want to see Atlanta’s aquarium, the zoo, and the World of Coke. I never want to go with them. I’m such a native here that I haven’t even been to the new World of Coke. Although I encourage exploring your local area, I’m still not perfect either.
Some experiences have gotten me out of my comfort zone. My friends have convinced me to try weird or famous restaurants near Atlanta, and I went to a concert for my birthday. I loved those experiences, and in a hope to recreate them, my usual choice is to go back to the exact same place where I had a great time.
Sometimes I have get the same level of enjoyment from a return trip, but usually it diminishes the more I do the same thing. I’m also guilty of being a chain guy, going to the same Chick-fil-A dozens of times in a single year. I have a favorite Starbucks. And all the time that I return to these conveniences, I yearn for my next long-distance vacation or chance for a friend to pull me into a local adventure.
Then one day I realized that I could have a local adventure at any time.
Exploration has to be forced or intentional, not comfortable
I had a work meeting coming up, and I had to plan a middle point for eating with my contact. After finding the half-way point, I searched Google for restaurants in the area.
The city was full of chains I didn’t like and smaller places I had never heard of. I became frustrated. I was about to give up and send us to a noisy, crowded Starbucks location until I stumbled across a restaurant that I had to visit for its name alone.
It was called What The Pho. I like Vietnamese, I had never been there before, and the name made me laugh, so I set the meeting there.
The food was great, the atmosphere was cozy, and the service was solid. But I hadn’t found the place on reputation or anyone else’s suggestion. It wasn’t familiar or even appealing from the road. I had basically been forced to behave like a confused tourist even though I was only 15 miles from home.
The accidental adventure was so much fun that I had to try the method again rather than memorializing What The Pho (although I’ve been back a couple of times.) Almost every week now, I try to pick a destination off the beaten path with a name or front I haven’t noticed before, and I’m checking the boxes on places people would visit my area to see.
I’ve discovered dozens of new things that I love, and have only rarely had a bad experience (and never a regrettable one.)
My tips for better enjoying your hometown
Tourists try to find a gem because tourists know they have a limited time in an area. They also can’t always fall back on familiar places.
Locals have much more time in their own town than visitors do, but it’s not unlimited. Plus, even with unlimited time, you’ll never try everywhere if your adventure frequency is 0 times per year. Locals have to search too.
Here’s what you can do to jump start your search:
- Set your next date in a place you’ve passed frequently but never visited.
- Flip your standards upside down. Visit the ugliest restaurant you can find or choose somewhere at the far limit of your drive, not the closest place.
- If you’ve put it off, try all the local famous places you’ve avoided because they’re cliche or filled with tourists.
You’ll start to learn new methods and see places that would have been invisible to your eyes before. You’ll get brave, you’ll have fun, and you almost certainly won’t regret it.