a man standing in front of a wall with art

For many people, travel anchors around a singular attraction, or set of attractions. It could be a desire to visit Times Square at night or watch the sun rise behind the Eiffel Tower, and whatever it may be for you, there’s no wrong way to travel.

Those things are legitimately cool. But for me, personally, it’s not entirely what I seek.

As the world starts thinking about their next trips, thinking about adding more purpose and place to travel & tourism can go a long way. It’s a desire to seek more lasting and memorable experiences, and things you can’t, or won’t find at home.

I travel to expand my palate of taste, my understanding of cultures outside of my personal experience; and to see if there are other places in the world I could actually live.

It sounds a bit hippie, I know, but once you’ve been lucky enough to tick off the big attractions and travel “everywhere”, it’s the deeper part of travel that hooks you in for life. It’s a very expensive, but very rewarding habit. That’s probably why I love points.

My goal in any city is the same: find “my” neighborhood, and work from there.

a bicycle on a bridge over a canal

That’s right: in any city I visit, my first order of business is to establish where I, or perhaps a person I’d aspire to be might actually live in this metropolis, or destination.

I want to create an understanding of their life.

In most cities, it’s not where most tourists are. Where would I fit into the equation of this exciting place, in an alternate life, if I moved here 10 years ago and shared my same passions?

I ascribe to every travel cliché like foodie, boutique shopper, cocktail enthusiast and coffee snob, so figuring out where that would land me in any city I visit around the globe is vital.

This simple task has lead me, without fail, to my favorite travel experiences and deepest memories. Yes, I love sunsets and I appreciate famous landmarks, but having an existential or fantasy experience is what leaves the most lasting impressions.

It’s the tastes you’d hop on a plane just to experience once more, or that little shop behind the alley way, where you got that thing that few others will ever seen.

There’s just nothing quite like the moment where it clicks, and you see your potential “best self” in a new destination. For a fleeting moment, or matter of days, you become a local. Perhaps the greatest thrill, is that it’s not always easy. In a city where you don’t speak the language, or people tend to live far away from the central business district, it’s the thrill of exploration that takes you outside of the standard travel experience.

It’s being in Tokyo, without the ability to speak more than a few words of Japanese, or read any of it, yet you find your group – or the group you’d like to hang out with – and you see what their commute entails, what time they eat, and whether they go out for a beer after work. If so, – where?

You find the best coffee shop, the perfect wine bar where the “other you” would be, if you lived here. It’s these spots which become invaluable memories and sometimes, even friends too. You know that you’re onto a winner when you’re the outsider.

It’s connecting the life you know at home, with a surreal life abroad. When you put the two together, you realise that we’re all pretty much the same.

a man wearing a face mask
Gilbert Ott

You find the perfect neighbourhood, the great “local” and find people of similar preferences. In the best cities, this is all made even more fun when there’s choice.

Do you go for the West Village in NYC, or perhaps Soho?

But what about Upper West Side, or DUMBO. In Melbourne, is it Windsor, Fitzroy, or somewhere like Brighton? London – where do you even start? Finding your alternate life abroad is such an escapist thrill and such a great way to get a deeper sense of not only culture, but how far a salary goes in that country.

Once you’ve ticked off the big ticket items like the Colosseum, Eiffel Tower, Washington Monument, Angkor Temple and all that – give this simple concept a little whirl, and see where it takes you. For me, it’s filled my brain with whims of fantasy and excitement only travel is capable of creating.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Pretty down to earth. Unlike people that travel in a luxury bubble and call themselves well traveled.

    They zip through travels and get exhausted and make a deal about not wanting to travel anymore. Have been doing it wrong all along.

  2. Very interesting. Can you do follow up articles about what favorite neighborhoods you want to live in and why in said big cities like Paris, London etc?

  3. Very interesting and spot on . It’s getting under the skin of the country and feeling like you’re home. Thank you.

  4. @Debit “They zip through travels and get exhausted and make a deal about not wanting to travel anymore. Have been doing it wrong all along.” LOL, I do like his blog, too, but wonder if each additional glass of Krug just makes him miss real life with real people and non first-class problems even more.

  5. I thought we were the only ones who travelled like that :p

    For the other half and I it’s imperative we get out of ‘the big city’ and explore the more rural areas. Our first trip to England we were there for 16 days and didn’t set foot inside the M25 once. Something we are quite proud of. We have gone back since a few times and have started to explore London a bit but our hearts are in the small towns, and the villages on the outskirts of the bigger cities. The same goes for when we were in France, Italy, and Ireland. The best people, the best food, the best driving roads, are all away from the tourist attractions, away from the financial centres, away from the hustle and bustle of ‘the big city’.

  6. What works for me is South Florida for 6 months, downtown Vancouver, Canada for the best 5 months (May-Sept)….and NY for short visits before & after Vancouver…..with some other side trips thrown in. No desire to ever be in cold, freezing weather.

  7. Love this concept! <3 One of my favorite things to do in a foreign city is … laundry 🙂 (Which is a good thing, since it's something I always HAVE to do 😀 ) I love finding the local laundromat, hanging out for a hour or two in a place where the locals go to do their washing, grabbing a coffee or glass of wine at a nearby café, and having wonderful, enlightening conversations with people who actually LIVE there, and can give you the insider info on where to go and what to do.

  8. A quick test to see if you have what it takes is to see if you can have the local breakfast. I find many people are rather inflexible when it comes to breakfast. Try a Japanese breakfast or Taiwanese breakfast and see how you do.

  9. First time writing a comment here. This article struck a chord with me. I have travelled a lot for personal and business reasons – domestically and internationally. My thought always when visiting a new location is, “Could I live here?” My thought in many cities, has been, “no way” – no regrets though on making the trip. In some cases, I’ve said I could live here.

    Asking such a question follows my immersion into the local culture as much as possible. My cultural immersion (preceded by a lot of research) has clearly enhanced my life. Also has created a lot of good stories for my friends.

  10. This is a great concept! I’m not sure if I’ll ever have the vacation time to do that (I only have 15 business days vacation) but one thing that comes close is visiting friends who work/live abroad and staying with them. I’ve done this for Oslo, London, Paris, Warsaw, Moscow, Kathmandu, Singapore, Geneva, Vienna, Beijing, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Nairobi, Hong Kong, Mexico City, and Cairo. It’s a different experience and you get to see how a friend adapts in a new setting and also learn the differences in culture from a life both of you know back home (NYC for me) and in their new abode.

  11. Great article Gilbert.
    We (my wife and I) used to stay mainly in nice hotels during our world travels, but over the last several years we’ve had many memorable experiences in neighbourhoods near the cities renting apartments or houses and (trying to) live like a local.
    I’d pretty much travel that way now any time I can.
    I think you still have to tick the local iconic attractions off your list, but once you’ve done that, then go get lost in the place are surrounding areas.
    Off the tourist trail is where (in our experience) the most memorable experiences happen.

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