At an unknown point in history, someone took the first selfie of themselves pretending to pinch the top of the Eiffel Tower. It was probably very funny. Since then, approximately 50 million people have taken the same picture. But there's a growing movement that does things differently. One that looks beyond the clichés and the crowds. Some people call it untourism. It's all about taking the path less trodden, going off-piste and under the radar.
Here's our guide to being an untourist. It'll help you forge better memories, have more worthy encounters and take cooler photos. (But if you really want to take a selfie where you pretend to pinch the top of the Eiffel Tower, go for it. It's still pretty funny.)
1. Get to know the locals
The best thing about your destination – better than the food, even – is the people. You could chat them up the old-fashioned way – or try smart initiatives like Marry an Amsterdammer for the Day which, after a cutesy fake wedding, helps you explore in the Dutch capital with a bona-fide local. Or there's Rent a Finn, which’ll pair you up with a friendly Nordic chum who may let on why Finland is consistently rated the happiest place on Earth. At the very least, they’ll probably know somewhere decent to eat.
✈ Fly to Amsterdam – book flights
2. Give something back
Why not take time out from your break to make the world a better place? Leket, in Tel Aviv, is a forward-thinking organisation that, among other initiatives, picks surplus produce in fields that would otherwise be left to rot, then processes and packages it to be passed on to Israeli food banks and other worthy nonprofit distributors.Register on their website to donate as little as two hours of your time – get some exercise, make some friends and reap some serious good karma.
✈ Fly to Tel Aviv – book flights
3. Get lost
A defining trait of naff modern tourism is our over-reliance on gadgets, ratings websites and online maps. So put your device down, basically, and get lost. Adventure planners like Black Tomato go all out on that concept, and will cheerfully plonk you and your mates out in the Moroccan wilderness (following at a discreet distance to make sure you're OK). Or, if you'd prefer to be discombobulated in a more urban setting, The Worst Tours is a collective of out-of-work architects in Porto who curate meandering pay-what-you-like tours of the city that are structured as 'debates' and modestly rated on their website as 'so lame'.
✈ Fly to Porto – book flights
4. Drink in the local culture
Lots of us enjoy a tipple or two while abroad, and it’s worth making a little effort to sup some brews you can’t get at home. Most cities have a hooch that’s distinctively their own – Barcelona, for instance, is all about vermouth, best enjoyed at speciality spots like Las Vermudas, which has over 100 varieties of the fortified bevvie. Remember when you're parched to loudly declare “FER UN VERMUT!” (it means "vermouth time!") because – pro tip – it makes day drinking in the sun a whole lot more sophisticated.
✈ Fly to Barcelona – book flights
5. Deep dive a district
We get it – you're on board with the idea of being less touristy, but you end up staying in a hotel with, well, a bunch of tourists. Check out Urbanauts, a canny accommodation scheme in Vienna that plants you right where the locals live, in a less saturated, less central spot, untroubled by most box-ticking sightseers. If you want to sample life like a Viennese, why not give it a whirl?
✈ Fly to Vienna – book flights
6. Be nice…
… by making an effort with language. You needn't be a swot and revise your past participles (honestly, we have no idea what they are either) but a few key phrases – hello, please, thank you, goodbye, sorry – will serve you well and raise a smile. Apps like Drops or Duolingo teach vocabulary for dozens of languages through fun visual exercises. And dedicated handheld devices like Travis Touch Plus or Pocketalk can translate in real time. Word.
7. Make your own memento
Keyrings. Fridge magnets. Tea towels. Are we done buying generic rubbish? Good. Plenty of places around Europe let you make your own distinctive keepsakes and learn some nifty new skills while you’re at it. At Maison Candora in Paris, you can whip up your own perfume on a fun two-hour course. In Barcelona, craft your own Gaudí-inspired mosaic picture frame at Mosaiccos. And in Stäfa, Switzerland, Confiserie Isler will let you make chocolate – good luck getting it home without scoffing it first, though.
✈ Fly to Paris – book flights
8. And finally, stop taking selfies
Half the fun of travel is in documenting where you’re at, of course. But must you insert your mug into every single frame? For top holiday snaps, hang out with the pros and pick up some tips on photo tours, like a tailor-made jaunt around the mind-blowing scenery of Iceland with GeoTravel. Best of all, they offset you carbon footprint, so Iceland can stay just as gorgeous for the next wannabe snapper.
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