How many times has someone asked you for ideas when visiting your hometown and you rattled off a list of “must sees” and “must dos” that you’ve never actually seen or done? When we lived in Seattle, I did it all the time. Sure, I would have a few personal favorites to share. But a lot of my recommendations were things like “go to the Space Needle” or “drive out to Snoqualmie Falls.” Neither of which I’d done in more than a decade.
It makes sense if you think about it. If you are living somewhere (and don’t have plans to move) it feels as if there will always be time to go on that tour or visit that sight that you keep recommending. And so you keep putting it off.
Expats tend to be better about this—at least if their post is temporary. For my friends who are in Norway “for good” (or at least as long as they have small children) they often know the neighborhoods well, but don’t have personal experience with many of the things that tourists want to see and do.
One of the reasons why expats (or anyone who moves someplace “temporarily”) feel more motivated than others to explore is that there’s this concern (often only felt subconsciously) that people won’t believe you really lived in a place unless you’ve been to the places that they’ve seen on Instagram. And so they are much more likely to go on the tours, or at least visit the must-see sights.
But you don’t have to be an expat or a recent transplant to be a tourist in your hometown. Five years ago, before we moved abroad and more than five years after each of us moved to Seattle, Fernando and I instituted (or tried to institute) a new routine to address the fact that in some ways we didn’t really know Seattle.
Enter the Summer of Tourism in Seattle!
The idea was simple. Every weekend for three months we would do something touristy. The goal: learn more about the city and actually do the things that we often told other people to do.
To help, Fernando’s birthday present (and the true impetus for the project): a deck of cards describing different neighborhoods of Seattle and the things to do in them. Every week we would pick a card from the deck and then visit the neighborhood and sights listed on it.
As a practical matter, I think this experiment only lasted about a month. We had a great day at the Ballard Locks and saw some parts of the International District that neither of us had been to before (but also missed out on some sights that closed early on Sundays, our designated day for tourism). We rode the Great Wheel twice so we could compare the daytime to evening experiences (daytime won by a landside), although I’m not sure if that was on the cards or just something we came up with on our own. But for whatever reason, we never did Ride the Ducks, which is perhaps the tourist activity I have most wanted to do for the past 10+ years.
After a few weeks, my workaholism got in the way of our summer of tourism. I felt the need to go into the office “for just a few hours,” and by the time I got home, things were about to close. But even though we eventually made it to many of the places in the deck, I wish we’d been more consistent. Mostly because it was fun. And usually reasonably inexpensive entertainment. And because now that we’ve moved away, it is hard to fit sightseeing into our packed schedule when we go home for a visit.
How to Plan Your Hometown Tourism
1. Buy a Guidebook.
Or just go on Pinterest. Back when we did this, Pinterest was still in its infancy, and I don’t even think I had an account yet.) But approach your planning in the same way that you would a trip to a new city. Find out what tourists want to see and focus your initial planning on those attractions.
2. Consult a local events calendar.
This is a little bonus for you that most tourists won’t be able to take fully take advantage of. Since you are (usually) in the city you are “visiting,” you can take advantage of most special events that interest you. So get yourself a calendar (in Seattle we had both monthly local magazines and free weeklies to choose from) and identify some must-attend events you didn’t know about to include in your plans.
3. Set aside a regular time for your tourism.
Even if you don’t suffer from workaholism the way I did, life has a funny way of filling up your schedule such that there is no time for fun. So set aside a day of the week just for touring. In cities like Oslo, Sunday is a good option because all the stores are closed. In Seattle, Saturday probably would have been a better option since museums and other attractions are more likely to be open late. Maybe your schedules are such that setting aside an afternoon or evening during the work week is more reliable. Whatever you choose, put something on the calendar as a regular appointment so that you are more likely to follow through.
4. Start out by identifying the two things that you most want to do and schedule them.
We chose our destinations randomly from a deck of cards, but while some might like the spontaneity inherent in that, I think I’d prefer to make sure that I get to my top choices. (Like that darn Ride the Ducks ride.) So approach your hometown tourism the same way you would a visit to a new city and pick a couple things you most want to do to get started.
5. Repeat steps 1-4 over and over.
That’s basically it! Once you’ve crossed your top choices off your list, go back and repeat the process again and again until you’ve experienced all that your city has to offer. (And that interests you.) And don’t forget to keep checking the calendar—you might find yourself returning to someplace you’ve already visited for a special event.
Are there any tourist attractions where you live that you keep saying you’ll visit “someday”?