A Traveler’s Confession: I Hate Sightseeing

I love to travel but I hate to see the sights. Have you ever found yourself running around looking for obscure museums and other tourist attractions while on a trip and wondered what the point was? I prefer to spend my travel time on the road the same way I enjoy my leisure time at home: wandering around, meeting people and indulging my curiosity when I stumble upon something of interest.

Depending on who your travel companion is, it might be a struggle to avoid sightseeing. My wife, for example, is much better at sightseeing than I am. I enjoy museums, but I prefer strolling through, stopping to read only the most interesting exhibits. She, on the other hand, is often quite content to read every word on every plaque in the entire place while I roam around looking for a bench and a newspaper to pass the time.

Our biggest tourism incompatibility, though, is our divergence on archaeological sites. I’m more of a history buff than my wife is. In fact, I like to read history books and, with some rare exceptions, she does not. But I hate schlepping around archeological sites and she loves it. These places, by their nature, lack shade and somehow it always seems to be 100 degrees when you visit them. I’m not ashamed to admit that when given the choice between visiting Pompeii this summer and eating at the world’s best pizzeria in Naples, I chose the pizza and I don’t regret it. (I can read a book or watch a documentary on Pompeii, but reading about pizza isn’t the same)

My worst nightmare is being part of a guided tour where I’m herded around and lectured. If the guide is outstanding, it’s barely tolerable for me, but most of the time I’m looking at my watch or searching for an emergency exit I can slip out of. If the attraction only offers guided tours, I’m most likely to give it a pass. I’d much rather look around on my own and have a guidebook or brochure I can read at my leisure. For me, travel is all about freedom and having to abide by someone else’s schedule and tastes is not my cup of tea.

I’ve been to London twice in the last decade. On the first trip, I ran around like a mad dog visiting all the “must do” sights listed in my guidebook and, while I enjoyed many of the attractions, I felt tired and ready to go home after three or four days of hardcore sightseeing. I went back in August of this year on another four-day visit but this time I made a point of visiting just one real tourist attraction-the British Museum. The rest of the time I just picked a neighborhood that sounded interesting, took the tube there and wandered around.

If I saw something of interest, I went in, but I wasn’t out searching for specific attractions. I spent a lot of time walking on quiet, residential side streets, taking the pulse of the city and its residents. It was a stark contrast to my previous visit because when you “see the sights” in any city, you’re surrounded by fellow travelers, who know little about the place you are trying to digest.

I enjoyed my second, non-sightseeing trip to London infinitely more than the first and by the end of the four days, I wanted more, not less of London. I’m not suggesting that people visit Cairo and skip the pyramids or travel to China and pass on the Great Wall, but if you just run around from one tourist attraction to the next, you won’t get much of a flavor of what a place is really like. Take my advice and don’t obsess over seeing the sights. You’ll save some money and you might have a better time too.

[Photo/video credits: Dave Seminara]