If you travel abroad, you will inevitably get lost in some town or city despite your best efforts. If this occurs, don’t panic. You might just be on to something.
People that travel a lot do not like to admit a particular fact. There are parallel universes wherever you go. No, I am not talking about string theory, bubble theory or any other form of quantum physics. I am talking about the normal aspects of a location versus the tourist aspects.
When you travel to a destination, you will no doubt be told there is something you must see or at least read as much in a guide book. Typical places include churches, museums, historically important buildings and what have you. While seeing these things may or may not be important in the scope of things, one thing is undisputed. You will typically be with a herd of other tourists when you see them. The locals? Not a one will be in sight.
If you hit just the places you are supposed to on a trip, you really are missing out. You are simply following the tourist herd, and not seeing what life is really like in the town or city in question. For example, I live in San Diego. Tough, I know. All the places my friends and I go on weekends or at night are not in travel guide books. I’ve been to the world famous San Diego Zoo one time. When I was 7. Yes, it is amazing, but the locals just don’t go there. It is primarily a tourist destination. A person visiting the zoo knows nothing about what San Diego is really like. Admittedly, they may not care.
When you get lost in a town or city, don’t freak out. Unless you are in a really bad neighborhood, you are being given an opportunity to actually experience the real story in that location. If possible, try to find a café or coffee shop where there happen to be locals. Start chatting them up! They will be surprised to find a tourist has strayed from the tourist zone and will often talk with you all day. They will also tell you where you should really be going if you want to immerse yourself in what is really going on in the city. I did this once in Lagos, Portugal and a family practically adopted me. I ended up on their fishing boat cruising up and down the coast, drinking wine and having one of the best times of my life.
At the end of the day, traveling is about discovery. While cultural highlights are worth seeing, you tend to find they are so only because you need to say you saw them. For the real action, intentionally get lost. Then and only then will you really be visiting the city or town you are in.
Burton Jones is with TravelYeti.com - your online travel information source.