When I Stopped Being a Tourist

While traveling, 99% of the time I am perfectly happy being a tourist.

I am a firm believer in TripAdvisor restaurant reviews and Lonely Planet attraction recommendations. I plan my accommodations ahead of time, usually opting for a top-ranked hostel on Hostelworld. I like waking up early and packing the day with sightseeing. I take selfies unabashedly (though I do draw the line at buying a selfie stick.)

I am not a fan of the travel blog advice to toss aside the guidebook and “get lost” in a city. Such an experience depends on the time and place, and more often than not, requires careful planning. Wandering a Moroccan medina during the day—perfect. Doing in the same in a random neighborhood in Berlin—you’ll probably end up overpaying for a mediocre dinner and strolling along glorified shopping strips.

I say this not because I am uninterested in authenticity or how locals actually experience their city. On the contrary, I accept my situation for what it is. I am a tourist, and I don’t live here. People-watching in the square or lingering in a corner cafe will not make me local.

I figured that living abroad would be different. The longest time I have spent in another country was two months in Guatemala during college. Even then, I moved from city to city and stayed primarily in homestays. I never had to make a life on my own overseas.

Yet when I moved to Dublin last September, I still felt like a tourist. I didn’t have an aha moment, but slowly, I began to see Dublin less as a place I was visiting and more like home. I came full circle by the weekend of November 22, my 11th weekend in Ireland. That weekend, I did not get in a train or bus; I did not host visitors; and I did not check any Dublin attraction off my list. I honestly can’t remember what I did, and to me, that’s part of being home.

In this post, I would like to share some of the things I’ve done to help me break out of the tourist mindset.

Try untraditional cuisine

Dublin has no shortage of spots touting authentic Irish food, like shepherd’s pie, beef and Guinness stew, and meat-laden Irish breakfast with black pudding. But restaurants that aren’t aimed at tourists better reflect the diversity of Dublin. My recommendation: Hop House north of the River Liffey, and the best Korean restaurant I have ever been to.

Go for a run

Running helps me explore new areas of Dublin. I spent my first few months running the common circuits in Phoenix Park and St. Stephen’s Green. Only in the past month have I started to expand my routes. Last weekend, I stumbled into Ringsend Park, and eventually onto the first beach I’ve seen in this city. You won’t find it on the tourist sites, but it boasts one of the prettiest views I’ve seen of Dublin.

Beach in Dublin

Beach in Dublin

See the site less traveled

Skip past the top-10 or must-see lists and opt for a tourist attraction that is less popular. Last weekend, I took a day tour to Newgrange, a passage tomb built 600 years before the Egyptian pyramids and 1,000 years before Stonehenge. During the Winter Solstice at sunrise, the sun aligns perfectly with the passageway opening and floods the inner chamber with light. It’s not as heavily advertised as say, the Guinness brewery, but it’s well worth the trip.

Opening to Newgrange

Opening to Newgrange

None of this makes me local, but I don’t consider myself a tourist either. I suppose I fall under the catch-all expat category, but I find that too transient. I have made roots here, and I feel settled. So instead, when asked where I come from, I keep it simple: I live in Dublin, and it’s grand.

Dublin at sunset

Dublin at sunset

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