Friday, July 03, 2009

Top Ten Ways to 'Travel' in Your Own Backyard

1. Sunbathe

Put on your swimsuit, pull out your beach towel and layout. It doesn't take too much imagination to picture your self on a beach somewhere--close your eyes, the sun is the exact same sun. The quiet woosh of the cars are waves. The birds? Well those are seagulls!

When your tan gets really fabulous and folks ask you where you just got back from vacation to, feel free to lie and say Aculpoco.

2. Eat foreign food.

I guarantee that unless you really live in the backwoods, you have some ethnic restaurants in your hood. Now eating pizza at the Upper Crust here doesn't count. Chinese joints with forks are nixed too. The more times that 'authentic' appears on the yelp review page, the better. Live music gets double points. Go to an Indian restaurant on a night they have a sitar player or when your local Mexican joint has a mariachi band.

An equal substitute would be to shop in ethnic markets for food--dip into one of those European markets or Indian groceries. If you can't understand the language of the shoppers, you're in the right place.

3. Take the train or bus to the last stop.

I'll never forget the time I took a train to another train to a bus and then walked a quarter mile to a park seemingly in the middle of nowhere--in Queens. I had the place to myself for the day as I hiked, crossed bridges, spotted egrets. There are dozens and dozens of the 'end of the lines.' Pick one and see what you find.

This picture here is not some National Park--it's the Hollywood Hills--see LA in the background (beneath the smog)?

4. Attend a cultural festival.

Every upstanding cultural group has festivals. The summer is the best. Week after week saint processions go down in the North End here in Boston. We've got Chinese Dragon Boat racing, the Puerto Rican parade, Bastille Day. Get yourself out on the street, bring your dancing shoes and some cash for all the great street food.

5. Hang out in an ethnic neighborhood

That said, don't think you need to wait for a holiday to experience another culture. Just go hang out there. Los Angeles is the best for this: they boast the most Mexicans outside of Mexico, the most Koreans outside of Korea, Samoans outside of Samoa. You get the picture. Each neighborhood is surprisingly distinct. I ended up getting my apartment in Koreatown last year. I learned to love kimchi, would drink pitchers of Hite, hang out in Korean-style coffee shops and party it up in the local Karaoke bars.

Perhaps your town doesn't boast a Korean-only 20 block radius for you to immerse yourself. But I bet there's a Chinatown with some cool shopping or a Hispanic neighborhood with killer arepas or pupusas.

6. Go to touristy places.

This is the opposite of going to cultural-hot spots, but nonetheless fun, and will put you right in the 'I'm a tourist' mindset. Take a guided tour. (Here in JP, our historical society offers free tours every Saturday.) Go on a harbor cruise. Go to the museum. Have a drink at Cheers.

For the love of God, however, please do not eat at Hard Rock Café, Johnny Rockets or Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. This will not make you feel like a tourist--just an asshole.

7. Get lost.

How many streets are in your city? How many do you actually walk down everyday to get to work--5, 6? Take a wrong turn and see where it takes you! Maybe you'll find a cute botique you never knew about or a creperie off the beaten path.

8. Show someone around.

There's no better way to force yourself to look at a city anew than to show someone around. They'll notice things you never have. It also gives you an excuse to act like a tourist. I never would have taken this picture if I wasn't hanging out without my mom.

9. Pretend!

Boston's not too far from the old world, so it's easy to walk some of the financial district on the way to the post office for work, pretending I'm off to a museum in Vienna. At Haymarket I pretend that I'm shopping at a Catalunyan Boqueria. Bike through the Fens and pretend they are Dutch canals. A little imagination and you can put yourself anywhere.

10. See with new eyes.

Part of that special travel feeling is seeing things for the first time. Retrain yourself to notice the details in your own city. Raising my line of sight just a bit, I saw the art-deco embellishments on buildings downtown I had walked by hundreds of time without wonder. Biking across the Harvard Bridge last night at dusk I saw the city's skyline from an angle and time of day I never had before and all of a sudden it was new and beautiful.

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