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Localized Confusion

Remember me? (Atlanta Botanical Garden)

We all know we’re supposed to Travel Like a Local. And we’ve also established that you should Live Like a Tourist. But what if you’re a tourist in a place where you used to be a local?

Travel Like a Local Like a Tourist?

It’s an odd feeling, returning as a tourist to a city that used to be home. Streets, buildings, and landmarks feel familiar, yet distant. Even after short absences, time takes its toll on the landscape and starts to distort your memories of what a place looked like. If you’ve been gone for any significant period of time, construction is likely to have changed the cityscape in shocking ways, as if you woke up one morning and an entire skyscraper had been constructed next door overnight. Having moved a few times in my life (ahem), I’ve started to become accustomed to this particular kind of mental confusion.

Aside from the disorientation, there are some definite advantages to Traveling Like a Local Like a Tourist (TLLLT, for serious lack of something better). First and foremost, you already know your way around – no fumbling with GPS or maps! You also already have insider knowledge of the best restaurants and shops and neighborhoods. (Assuming, of course, they’re still around; I was heartbroken to discover that my beloved Chocolate Pink Pastry Café in Midtown Atlanta had closed after I moved away. And when I returned to Geneva for the first time after my move, I found that the entire central train station had been renovated and my “insider knowledge” had been rendered completely moot. But I digress.)

TLLLT is not entirely a bowl of cherries. Being map-challenged as I am, I run the risk of being overly confident that I remember how to get somewhere. The primary danger, however, is that you’ll fall so much back into being a local that you’ll miss the “tourist” part. There’s something about returning to your old stomping grounds that makes your brain snap back into its old routines, like a muscle memory for your daily schedule. If you’re not careful, you might find yourself making a run to Target when you could be visiting a museum instead. I lived in Atlanta for about 8 years and never toured the state capitol. And now when I return to Atlanta as a tourist, you know where I want to go first? The Fresh Market. I know, I know.

Perhaps if Living Like a Tourist is hard, TLLLT is even harder.

In the rush of our daily lives, it’s easy – even excusable, to a point – to brush past the touristy bits of our hometowns. But once we’re wearing our tourist hats, we really have no excuse. We just have to exercise vigilance. Ultimately, the best part of returning to your former hometown as a tourist is the opportunity to make amends for failing to Live Like a Tourist while you were a local – and finally give the city’s culture and history the attention it deserves.

One of these days, I might even tour the Georgia Capitol.

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