If you look at the itinerary of pretty much any tour in the world, you'll see the way travel is popularly done. It's a highlights reel. It's a series of sights and attractions and experiences that should be ticked off your list; it's a set itinerary of things to see and do.
It's not just people who do tours who travel that way, either. That's just the example that's easiest to demonstrate. Most people, whether they're young or old, independent or in a group, tend to approach travel in the same way, tend to look at the world as if they're reading through a guidebook.
Here are the things to see in this particular place: the castle, the museum, the shop, the gallery. So you see all of those things, and then you move on. That's a commonly accepted method for travelling the world.
But maybe it's wrong. Maybe we've been doing travel wrong this whole time. Maybe there's a better way to see the world.
I was chatting to a friend the other day who was hitting me up for tips for her first ever trip to Tokyo. Where should she go? What should she see? What are the must-dos?
That depends, I said – what sort of experiences are you after?
"Just give me all the tourist attractions," she said. "The first time I go to a city I like to do the tourist attractions. Then the second time I can do the 'live like a local' thing without worrying about missing out."
That was what got me thinking. Are we doing this all wrong? To me, the absolute best thing to do in Tokyo is the "live like a local" thing. It's to rent an apartment in a suburb like Shimokitazawa or Koenji or Ebisu and just soak it up – wander its little streets, call in to its shops, eat in its neighbourhood izakayas, drink in its bars, and just act as if you live there.
An Izakaya in Tokyo Photo: Alamy
That's so much more enjoyable that trying to race around the city seeing the not-particularly-impressive tourist attractions: the temple in Asakusa, the shrine at Meiji-jingu, or even the Ghibli Museum, as cool as that is. Tokyo, to me, is a city of lifestyle rather than highlights that require checking off. It's a city to take in small chunks rather than attempt to tackle as a whole.
So… why not think about every city like that? Why not assume that the hunt for "attractions" is ruining what could be an amazing experience in any place in the world? This isn't even about lofty goals of "authenticity" either, or cultural education. It's simply about enjoying yourself, about having the best time travelling that you possibly can.
Live like a local. Why not? It's never been easier. You can rent an apartment in a tourist-free suburb, easily. You can use a translator app to go to cafes and restaurants that don't have English menus. You can utilise cheap flights on budget airlines to justify travelling to a city and doing none of the touristy things you would normally be expected to do.
Looking back, most of my favourite experiences have involved travelling this way. The same as yours probably have. They've involved surprising brushes with local culture in places where people have just been doing their thing. And they've been so much more enjoyable and fulfilling than going to see curated displays of what these destinations are supposed to be about.
Picture doing a trip to Rome like this. You would have to forsake the opportunity to visit the Colosseum, to stare at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, to toss coins into the Trevi Fountain. Those are big things to give up. You would also, of course, forsake the opportunity to stand around waiting in queues for the privilege of doing those things.
Pizza in the Trastevere district Photo: Alamy
Instead, you could rent an apartment in a suburb like Trastevere, or Testaccio, or Pigneto, and just do the things that people do there. You could get up late and have a coffee and a pastry at a local bar. You could wander the streets of your neighbourhood and see what's around. You could buy lunch from a deli. You could go out for dinner and drinks in the same area. You could repeat this over a few days until you start to know people, and people start to know you.
Maybe that's the best way to travel. In this age of the tourism explosion, when popular attractions are just going to become more and more crowded, the best way to see the world might just be the way my friend would do a city the "second time": doing the local thing. Bypassing traditional tourism culture entirely. That sounds pretty good to me.
How do you like to travel? Do you check out the big attractions? Or just try to live like a local?
See also: The 10 things travellers get wrong
LISTEN: Flight of Fancy - the Traveller.com.au podcast with Ben Groundwater
To subscribe to the Traveller.com.au podcast Flight of Fancy on iTunes, click here.