Why We Hate The Question, “What did you do there?”

We love to travel. We take trips whenever we can. And, inevitably, when we get back from a trip, we hear, “Wow, sounds fun! What did you do there?” (Or its cousin, “Sounds like a fun trip you’re planning, what will you do?”)

And the answer, more often then not, is: NOTHING.

Well, not quite nothing, but also not anything that anyone would want to hear about. We say, “Oh, we drank a lot of coffee and wine, we ate a bunch of food, we walked all over, we slept for a long time.” And we hear, “Oh, but anything else?” That, or a remark of surprise that we skipped over this or that giant tourist draw.

The thing is, most tourist draws can be skipped. We know this, and they’re still a trap that we fall into from time to time. When you Google a city you’re visiting, they’re all you see. And whenever we do end up tempted into visiting one of these “Top 10 Things To Do In ____,” they are more often than not the worst part of our vacation. Old City in Dubrovnik? Crowded, with nary a local in sight. Pyramid of the Sun near Mexico City? Crowded and hot (and we forgot sunscreen!) Grand Palace in Bangkok? Crowded and pricey!

Pyramid of the Sun near Mexico City, covered with tourists
The Pyramid of the Sun probably isn’t worth the crowds and hassle.

This is not to say, of course, that these sites are not beautiful, amazing structures. They certainly are, and it’s no wonder that the tourists flock to them! But the experience of spending time at them is almost never the awestruck, mouth-gaping, world-opening sensation that the travelers are looking for. (Although sometimes it can be, like at Angkor Wat or Harajuku or or even the Gardens of Versailles.)

View from Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The view from Christ the Redeemer in Rio is one of those that’s worth it!

Usually, the experience involves annoyance at the crowds, annoyance at the lines, annoyance at the prices. It involves physical discomfort as you stand in the sun or the cold or the rain and wait in line. It involves getting caught up in what everyone else is doing, namely trying to snap a crowd-free picture for the ‘gram (impossible). Because really, what other option is there? It’s difficult to stand and admire beauty when your main sensations involve crowds, selfie sticks, and souvenir junk for sale.

But then, what do we do with our time while abroad? Well, mostly, we wander.

We wake up late, with no alarm. We head somewhere for breakfast. Then we pick some sort of vague, far-off destination; maybe a park or a monument or a neighborhood, and we walk there. On the way we get a glimpse of what life is really like in the city we are visiting. Maybe we stop for a coffee or a wine or a beer. Maybe we read a little bit. We walk more, we eat more, stop by another park. We might go back to our Airbnb to rest and then go eat or drink or wander again.

Teraca Vidilica in Marjan Park in Split, Croatia
Making the most of our time in Split, Croatia

Are we missing things? We might be. The trouble with tourists traps is that sometimes they’re actually worth it, and you never quite know until you get there. (We find that much travel advice online waxes enthusiastic about everything, so it’s hard to trust what you read). But, on the other hand, we’re certainly enjoying ourselves! We’re also getting a deeper look into the country and the culture by seeing the business and residential neighborhoods that people spend time in every day, not just the tourist centers.

Everyone’s travel style is different. There are people who will never cease to be baffled by this way of wandering and who are convinced that we are going about our trips all wrong. But although we rarely return with a satisfying answer to, “What did you do there?”, we always come back feeling refreshed, relaxed, happy, and a little more knowledgeable about one more corner of the world. And isn’t that the point?

What’s your travel style? Tell us about it in the comments below!

2 comments

  1. I enjoyed reading this! I feel the same way. It amazes me how people just go from one giant tourist trap to the next and don’t really see a city! My thing is I never wait in giant lines to climb things to get a “view” – I’d rather spend that time seeing the sights than only staring at them from high up! We recently went to Paris and everyone is always asking if we went to Versailles – while I do want to see Versailles someday, we opted for Fontainebleau on our first trip to avoid crowds – all the chateau you could ever want, and I was the *only* person in line to buy tickets! xx

    1. I totally agree with you – when you go from one attraction to another, you get no sense of what the city is actually like, or what makes it unique or special. I love Versailles, but visiting Fontainebleau instead to avoid the crowds is a great idea!

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