As a tourist, you always suspect that you’re getting a very tailored and commercial experience. Sometimes that glitzy, crafted stuff can be fun, but if you want more, there’s a great way to get it: Go on a date with a local.
This suggestion is inspired by personal experience, but also an essay for The Guardian from Debbie Kent, in which she recommends following strangers around to get a sense of what routes a local person will take throughout the day.
She regards it as an artistic exercise, and tries to make it clear she has no intention of creeping anyone out:
I tell myself I’m not stalking the man in the pink trousers – I don’t know his name or anything about him, and when he leaves the public space of the street to enter a private block of flats, I abandon him and find my own way back to the central Republic Square.
Personally, I think following people around without their knowledge is creepy, though it’s come up in art plenty of times before. Performance artist Vito Acconci did pretty much the same thing in the '60s, and even took photos of his marks.
Grant says her “follow a stranger” project is part of instructions from Serbian artist Miloš Tomić, whom she works with. I can’t recommend it as a strategy to the masses, especially as a woman who has been followed by strangers who may or may not have been doing an art piece, but who were definitely freaking me out.
But I can recommend another way to see the city from a local’s perspective: Go on a date with one of them! This is something I do all the time while travelling. It isn’t always easy, but it can mean going to places you wouldn’t know about — from bars, to restaurants, to beautiful streets tucked away from the main drags.
Here are a few tips for setting up a one-on-one tour with somebody who knows their town.
If I’m looking for someone on a dating app who might want to meet me for a drink, I always put in my bio that I will only be in the city briefly.
Going on a date can be a big investment when it comes to time and energy. If someone is looking for something serious, I want them to know I’m just passing through before they decide to meet up. If we match, I will sometimes reach out and just reiterate when I’m leaving and when I’m available to meet so it’s even more clear.
Another option that has worked is asking folks I know in the place I’m visiting if they have any single friends who might want to go out. Yes, you can ask your friends to do the same tour, but I’ve had occasions where they were unavailable. They still might know somebody cute who’d love to have a night out.
The fun thing is that most people excited about the idea of meeting a stranger are usually more spontaneous and open to adventure.
The same rules apply to dating apps when you’re in a new town, only more so. Meet someone for the first time in a public place you can verify ahead of time. Yes, I often go places with people that are unexpected, but I always try to get to know them somewhere I feel secure first.
If things progress, I ask their last name and send a screenshot of their photos to a friend. That sounds ominous, I know, but the reality is strangers can be very strange. I’ve been lucky and never had an encounter where these safety precautions were necessary — but I still always take them.
Ask For Advice
I’ve had people who can’t or don’t want to meet, but who were very willing to tell me what I should check out. If a few local people in a row tell you to go somewhere, you should go. They know the line between what’s fun for visitors and what’s a tourist trap, generally.
They’re also offering this advice completely willingly. Folks often want to give advice on how to enjoy a place they love. I’ve found a few folks who would take me on a date one night and recommend what I should do on my next date. There are some very generous people out there.
One Night Stands Are Fine To Enjoy — Or Skip
I’ve told people about this exercise and had most of them assume I sleep with every person I meet. If I did, I wouldn’t feel any shame about it. However, I do think it’s a bit sad that most folks assume that’s the only reason someone would meet with you.
Yes, there are certainly some very direct messages in my apps that are only offering a tour of a bedroom. Despite what people might think, there are far more from folks who just want to meet up, talk about their life with a stranger, and enjoy seeing their surroundings through new eyes.
In a way, going on a date with somebody who is visiting can be like a little holiday for you, too.