While traveling for business or some specific pleasurable goal, a series of new cities can seem like a succession of similar airport terminals and hotel rooms specifically engineered for their familiarity. It can be difficult to find the essence of a city, like a date where you find that the only thing you find you can talk about is movies (never again).
While touring a city, first, determine your goal.
These goals can be broken down into three categories: sites, sights, and people. The difficulty in finding these increases, but often one will lead to another:
- Sites are Profile Picture bait. If you find yourself at the Chicago Cloud Gate or on top of the Empire State Building, one of the main sights will be people taking photographs to show people where they’ve been. A list of these sites can be found in places where a lot of people new to a city are passing through. Walking between these places increases your chances of finding sights.
- Sights are more elusive, since they rarely make it into brochures. The reason for this is that the people who write tourism guides have often lived in the city for a long time, and the Columbia Angel in the park is merely another piece of stonework. Graveyards can be a gateway to seeing sights, you can catch the style local artisans are inspired by. Riverfronts can be a treasure trove of sights; many have been overtaken by industrial parks but that doesn’t negate the city’s aesthetic.
- If your goal is to find people, you should accept that you simply might not succeed. While in a city, you will be completely surrounded by new people, and a negligible amount of them will give you the time of day. Because of the stereotype of the awkward tourist, some tourists will attempt to conceal the fact that they are new in a city. This is nearly impossible. Most people in cities will go to the same places every day. Whenever you try to meet new people, imagine that you’re a stranger in a small town. People will question your reason for being in “their” place for the first time. To meet people, find an event. Events seek to draw in new people, and stories are shared eagerly.
Conscious Tourism requires seeing cities as more than a series of buildings and millions of faceless people. To really see a city, look at every part of the place as an extension of an individual. From the skyscrapers to the vulgar graffiti. The only way to see the forest is to look at the trees.