Every destination has its must-see sights. Some are so iconic you know them immediately: the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty. Others are heartily recommended by friends: You have to try this restaurant. But I find the best way to enjoy a place is to flip the logic around. Instead of the most destination-y thing to add to your collection of lifetime experiences, try to find the most “you” thing you could do in that destination.
I first discovered the joys of this approach when I found myself on a work trip that put me in London for just 48 hours, most of which I would either be sleeping off the jet lag or putting in my required appearance at a conference. I had been to the UK on a family vacation as a kid, so my first thought was that I had to revisit Big Ben and the various castles from our old family photo albums. But there was no time.
Frustrated, it occurred to me that if I can only pick one or two things to see, why not choose the things that are the most “me” instead of the most “London”? Being a weird nerd, my immediate next thought was: I bet there’s a great medical museum somewhere.
There are, in fact, many excellent medical museums in London. I ended up visiting the Hunterian museum, which was a truly unforgettable experience. I’ve since used the same approach to explore other cities, visiting the Dittrick when I was in Cleveland (their extensive exhibit on the history of contraception is a must-see), and the Museum of the History of Medicine in Paris.
More ideas from the Lifehacker team
So what can you do in a new place if museums aren’t your style? Our managing editor Meghan Walbert likes to hike, which she says “is great because you really get to experience the natural beauty of whatever new place you’re in without doing a touristy thing.”
You don’t have to get out of the city to explore, though: freelance writer Rachel Fairbank says her go-to is “a run and/or really long walk around the city, which helps you scope out interesting places you might otherwise miss.” Staffer Meredith Dietz agrees, pointing out that she prefers running “both because it helps me cover more ground and because I like the idea that joggers never look like tourists? Makes me feel like I’m blending in like a spy.”
Staff writer Stephen Johnson finds offbeat attractions on Roadside America; I’d add that Atlas Obscura is another guide worth checking. (He visited a surgical museum in Chicago, thanks to a Roadside America listing, so this tip is endorsed by both of us.)
Finally, I’d like to highlight our editor-in-chief Jordan Calhoun’s tip: “I visit a local comic book store in whatever new city or country I visit.” Besides being a fun way to spend an afternoon, shopping in a new place will leave you with great souvenirs.