How to be a tourist at home

— by Nilgin Yusuf

All images Unsplash

There’s nothing quite like the ritual of the holiday. When we pack our belongings, lock the door and head somewhere different, we feel a lightness in our step and our worries evaporate. Distanced from our usual routines, chances are we’ll enjoy new encounters with places or people. Being away encourages a sense of freedom, discovery and possibility. Hopefully, we return with our spirit and senses revived.

But what if we aren’t going away this summer? What, if by circumstance or design, we’re staying put? After all those enforced constitutional circuits of the Covid years, we might feel bored by the same old routes and over familiar scenery. But, could the idea of ‘holiday’ be less about place and more about perspective?  It’s not so much where we are but how we see it?

Although the word, ‘staycation’ has become a hackneyed cliché, the concept of being a tourist at home is a valuable one. It’s the difference between going on holiday and the holiday coming to us, and this idea has potential to enhance our everyday existence. This ability to see the familiar in a fresh way, is something prized by many artists. Picasso believed the purpose of art was about, ‘washing the dust of daily life from our souls.’

As a native Londoner, it’s only since leaving full-time work and becoming self-employed I’ve been able to truly appreciate my surroundings. In the last three years, I’ve had the time, clarity and curiosity to really engage with the city. On many walks, I’ve discovered more about local history, secret rivers, architectural oddities, niche museums and obscure churches, than in my previous forty years as a student and professional. The more I discover, the luckier I feel.

This time of the year, when the roads are quiet and traffic calm, is one of the best times to appreciate our surroundings.  We experience a similar peacefulness to the Christmas holidays but with the advantage of better weather. It’s when we might look around us and notice things. We might take a different route or walk somewhere instead of taking public transport. Even by remembering to look up and scan the tops of buildings can bear fruit, yielding all kinds of surprises, historical clues and architectural details.

Author and tour guide, Jane Peyton was so inspired by the many things she saw by looking up on her walks, she wrote Looking Up in London in 2003. But, this isn’t just a London thing. Peyton lives in Brighton and just the other day stumbled across, ‘a fabulous house with a large Indian dome and Hindu/Orientalist architectural details.  I discovered it was designed around 1831 by superstar Brighton architect, Amon Wilds and that he lived here.’


Blue Badge Tourist Guide, Katie Wignall suggests we ‘bring the luxury of time we reserve for holiday on our daily walks. If we take time to pop into that church we normally rush past, sit in a garden or look at a memorial, we are reminded we are moving in the footsteps of many others.’ A firm believer of being a tourist at home, Wignall turned her love of walking and exploration into a business after she was made redundant in 2015. What started as a weekly blog seven years ago is now a full-time pursuit.

When we scurry from one place to another with our eyes welded to mobile phones, shop windows or our next destination, we permit life to pass us by. Instead, we should use these peaceful times to conquer the blight of ‘inattentional blindness,’ or a general oblivion to our surroundings. The phrases welcome home and bon voyage are not mutually exclusive. They can be the same thing.


Six Ways to be a Tourist at Home


Deviate from your usual path, take a different route, get lost. “Just by crossing to the other side of the street can reveal something you’ve never noticed before” believes Wignall.

Explore at unusual times, early morning or dusk.  Dickens, an insomniac, was a night walker and found the inspiration for many characters and stories on his wanderings. Things can look different at different times of the day and night. But be safe.

Book onto a guided walk about the history or architecture in your area. Get acquainted with the local history society or there may be a dedicated section in your library.

Move with the times. Places evolve. It’s interesting to witness change and explore newly developed areas. Don’t become a curmudgeonly ghost of the past and take time to explore the new.

Speak to people. On holiday, we make new friends; at home we ignore strangers. Flip it and spark up a conversation with a neighbour you’ve never spoken with, or to a passerby.

Stop, look up, listen. Switch on your senses and engage exactly as you would on holiday. Start a blog or document what you see as a visual memoir.


Nilgin Yusuf is a freelance writer. You can find her on Twitter @Nilgin and Instagram @nilgin_yusuf

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There’s nothing quite like the ritual of the holiday. When we pack our belongings, lock the door and head somewhere different, we feel a lightness in our step and our worries evaporate.