Living Like a Tourist

Tiffany Tseng
Nov 17, 2019 · 5 min read

Earliest this year, I took the longest vacation I’ve ever taken and spent 9 days in Scandinavia.

Our vacation started in Oslo, found us taking taking a train to Flam and a fjord tour to Bergen, brought us to Copenhagen for a couple days, and ended in Stockholm.

At the time of the vacation, I knew that I needed a break, but I didn’t realize how much taking time off would help me refocus my priorities and perspective on living more generally.

In particular, I realized that many of the things I did on vacation, including planning our daily itineraries while also leaving room for aimless exploring, was how I aspired to live my life, even when not on vacation.

Here are some mindsets of being a tourist that I have since been applying to my day-to-day life:

You’re more open-minded

When immersing yourself in a new culture, there will be inevitable faux pas and embarrassing mispronunciations — and that’s ok. Cultures have evolved over hundreds of years, and it would be impossible to become fluent overnight. When you’re on vacation, you give yourself permission to take in as much as you can, even if you’re a novice to a new language, transit system, way of using cutlery, etc. You’re more open-minded and forgiving of your mistakes.

Street art in Oslo

You prioritize

When you’re visiting a new city, you have a limited amount of time, which forces you to prioritize. A question I would ask myself is, “What would I be sad to have not done, in the few days I have?” Instead of being stressed out by the prospect of trying to cram in an infinite number of things to do, you prioritize what you can reasonable get done and recognize that even if you lived in a city for years, you wouldn’t be able to do everything you are interested in. Ultimately, you see this as an opportunity to return in the future to do things you weren’t able to squeeze in the first time.

Trygve Fredriksen’s Filipstad Banana at Henie Onstad outside of Oslo

You let yourself relax

Tourism and leisure often go hand in hand. I generally feel guilty when I feel I’m not being “productive,” but part of being on vacation is letting yourself take in the scenery without rushing through. The train and boat ride from Oslo to Bergen, through the fjords, gave me a lot of time to think while being in awe of the natural landscape. You take time to just enjoy existing and appreciating the experience.

The fjords on the train ride to Flam

You give yourself permission

Going on vacation gives you an opportunity to do things you wouldn’t normally do and make purchases you wouldn’t normally make, like buying a souvenir that caught your eye, or making a once-in-a-lifetime purchase on an experience that would normally be outside your budget. There are unique experiences that you realize you can only take advantage of while you’re there, and you worry a little less about whether the choices you are making are a solid long-term investment.

Monkfish at 108

You have a backup plan

Sometimes it rains while you’re on vacation. In the case it happens, what are indoor activities you can still enjoy, like spending hours in a museum, or exploring an indoor marketplace? You try to plan for things that are outside your control and see them less as missed opportunities and instead frame them as a way to appreciate diverse offerings in a city.

Black Diamond library in Copenhagen

You memorialize your experience

Some people print a book of photographs from their vacation; others write blog posts about what they did. It’s often a ritual to reflect and synthesize your experience when you return home in a way that helps you remember and return to it. In the process, you often connect with other people to share and exchange stories of the wonders you saw.


Since getting back from vacation, I’ve been applying some of these mindsets to the way I’ve been considering many decisions in my life.

Being in NYC can be really overwhelming, but thinking of my time here, and life more generally, as I would if I were a tourist has helped me manage and enjoy my time in the city much more.

I gave myself permission to buy a used bike and ride through the park without a destination; I decided to join the local co-op even though I had reservations because it’s so specific to the area I live in and I get an opportunity to see a new side of Brooklyn culture; I let myself do things I don’t feel I’m good at, like illustrating, because I recognize that it’s ok to be new to a culture and not know what you’re doing; I made the steps to finally start volunteering at my local library, something I wanted to do since I moved. And I’m even trying to do touristy things in NYC, like going to the Morgan museum, taking the train to Beacon, and hopefully finally going to the Queens museum to see the Rube Goldberg exhibit.

Clearly, there are instances where thinking like a tourist does not make sense and you need to think hard about sustainable life choices. But in many of my day-to-day decision making, being more open-minded to new experiences has helped me appreciate myself, my friends, and the city I live in through a healthier and more nourishing perspective.

Tiffany Tseng

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