How Not to be a Tourist

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As much as I love travelling, I actually hate planning for my trips, mostly because I am too lazy. So instead of making a checklist of must-visit places, I’d rather go to a destination and explore it according to my whims and fancies – which I suppose makes me more of a traveller than a tourist.

So how else does one not become a tourist? Firstly, leave that guidebook at home, especially if you’re travelling to a big city like Sydney or London. There are plenty of travel applications you can download on your mobile device and read on the go. I usually e-mail myself details and directions so I can read them on my BlackBerry without looking like I'm lost or clueless. While it is important to be somewhat prepared and well researched for a trip, I prefer to let myself be guided by my surroundings, and go where my feet and eyes take me. Once, in Paris, I wandered off the main drag of Rue Saint-Honore onto a quiet street and was pleasantly rewarded by an amazing vintage store where I scored some great finds I'm still proud of today.

When I arrive in a city, I will go to the newsagent to pick up a local lifestyle magazine, which is the native's guide to new restaurants, store openings and events. I prefer this to following a guidebook, because a local publication always has the latest on what the city dwellers are up to. I also love's Do’s and Don'ts that tell you what other guides don't. For example, when in Melbourne, "Don’t expect fast food to be fast. Fast food is delivered in an Aussie ‘no worries’ pace." And when you’re in Beijing, "Do figure out which way is north. The city is a square and everyone gives directions like they are holding a compass."

It also always helps to have local friends or friends of friends who can share their tips and tricks on where to go and what to do. This is where social networking comes in very handy – a quick status post such as "going to ___ next week, any recommendations?" on Facebook always gets you lots of great advice and suggestions from friends, and sometimes even connections with locals they know. On a ski trip last year in the Italian Alps, friends who lived there recommended a restaurant that was up in the mountains and could only be accessed by snowmobile. We had to park our car at a pre-specified spot, and at an agreed time, snowmobiles came to ferry each guest up to the restaurant. The fun of being whisked away into the snowy darkness towards a warm and hearty meal was truly unforgettable, and without the local advice, we would never have had the pleasure!

Travelling for me is all about the experience of being immersed in a culture. When I travel, I typically book an apartment or house via the website I co-founded – I love exploring neighbourhoods and familiarising myself with the local scene, so staying in a native resident’s home is the perfect way to immerse myself in the daily buzz. It also means I have access to a kitchen – one of my favourite things to do is go to nearby grocery stores and bakeries to pick up local produce, and sometimes even try cooking up a meal.

All of this probably wasn’t possible, or as easy, just a decade or two ago. Now, anyone who is wired can take off on a trip without much planning and actually still find themselves with a packed itinerary – just not the one a guidebook or tour agency prescribes.


Jia En Teo



Frustrated by unreliable online accommodation classifieds, Singaporean entrepreneur Teo was inspired to start Roomorama, a platform for short-term residential room rental transactions. She now divides her time between Singapore and New York.


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