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To Enjoy A Place, 'Take Your Nose Out Of The Guide Book'

Ed Ronco
Yes, you should see the big sights. But pausing just to look at the everyday things nearby — like this evening gathering near a river in Kyoto, Japan — can add a lot to your sense of a new place.";s:

Here’s how not to do it: 8 a.m.: breakfast, 9 a.m.: Eiffel Tower, 10 a.m.: Arc de Triomphe, 12 p.m.: lunch in nearby café, 12:30 p.m.: Louvre, 3 p.m.: Notre Dame, and so on.

That's too much, too fast, says KPLU travel expert Matthew Brumley.

“We approach everything with our giant list, and we feel we’ve had a successful day if we’ve checked everything off,” he said. “We become trophy hunters.”

By simply collecting trophies — say, pictures in front of this tourist attraction or that monument — Brumley says we’re missing out on enjoying the journey.

OK, so maybe you like that. Maybe trophy hunting is your thing, and you spring out of bed every morning excited to hit seven or eight things on your list. But in his time leading tour groups to far-away places, Brumley says he’s noticed an interesting trend in what resonates with visitors.

“It wasn’t the Eiffel Tower, or the Colosseum, or standing in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa,” he said. “It almost always is some little village they’ve never heard of, enjoying an evening stroll through a little town … trying the food, trying the wine.”

So, how to make that work?

Prepare, But Don't Plan

Brumley says good travel experiences come when you least expect them. You obviously can’t force an authentic experience, but you can do a little research ahead of time. Pick a neighborhood to explore. Know how to get there and get back, but plan little else in between.

Credit Ed Ronco / KPLU
See this list? Don't do this. Don't plan out every second of your trip. Worry less about seeing every possible sight, and more about taking in what's around you.

Allow yourself time to explore, and don’t worry about what some expert is saying about some specific site.

Wait — is a tour guide recommending you ditch your tour guide?

“We’re very good at telling you what to do,” Brumley said. “But the trade-off is that you’re missing out a little bit on the experience by not discovering the place on your own.”

Brumley builds in big blocks of free time to let his clients explore without him. If yours doesn’t, don’t be shy about asking for it. The guide is there to help your experience, not to be the center of attention.

“It’s really fun to meet people at the end of the day and hear their stories,” he said. “Everybody’s so excited about the little place they stumbled upon that no one’s ever heard of. It makes life a bit more rich.”


Matthew Brumley is the founder of Earthbound Expeditions, which organizes group travel to destinations around the world for various clients, including KPLU. "Going Places" explores all aspects of getting from Point A to Point B, what to do once there, and in between. 

How do you travel? Are you a go-getter trophy hunter? Or do you prefer people watching from a park bench? Somewhere in between? Tell us in the comments below.

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.