You know that feeling of flow when you’re travelling, completely absorbed in your own thoughts and plans? For example, when you’re traveling with a friend and you two are busy ticking off all the places you want to see while speaking to one another in your native language.

I call this the tourist bubble because you’re hardly engaging with locals and are immersed in your plans and conversations which hardly allow any spontaneous interactions with locals.

Recently, I traveled to New York City for a week. I had informed myself about recommendations by interviewing friends and colleagues about their experiences when they visited the big apple. Most of the feedback I received suggested that NYC is so massive and gigantic, a week will barely be enough which is why they recommended purchasing The New York Sightseeing Pass.

Almost trapped in New York

When we (my family and I) arrived to our Airbnb apartment in Brooklyn, I was so excited to shower, get changed and head out to explore. The first two days we simply went with the flow and explored whatever we felt like by walking around Brooklyn and taking the subway to familiar-sounding places – not much planning involved.

On the third day, we decided to book the recommended 3-day New York Pass in order to get more bang for our buck because it allowed us to enter and see all major attractions at no additional cost. That was when I noticed the need to plan our day so that we visit attractions that are at least somewhat close to each other. We we’re all highly energetic and began our exploration each day after breakfast yet we quickly realized that not more than 3 attractions a day are realistic. Hence, we agreed on prioritizing the attractions we wanted to visit.

We made the conscious decision to stroll around between the attractions, grab a coffee, start some conversations with strangers and simply enjoy at our own pace. In addition to using Google’s services for planning our days, we deliberately asked New Yorkers in the subway, on the streets or in coffee shops about their recommendations.

Not only did we get useful information, but we also had fun exchanging random stories and laughs.

How to escape the tourist bubble

Especially when traveling as a family as in my case, it is easy to get absorbed in a tourist bubble. By contrast, when you travel alone you are far more likely to get external inspiration and have direct contact to others outside of your own bubble.

Yet even in a group you can actively engage outside of your immediate thoughts and plans by approaching others and leaving buffer beyond your tight schedule. Similarly, when you’re an expat, you often engage with people from your home country or other expats – especially when you know “I am only staying for X months”. We learn most about the place we are living in by engaging across various cultural groups and trying out new ways of engaging with others. Whether you’re staying for a week or a year, take the pressure off and allow for some “unplanning”.

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