‘Social Spaces’: The Budget Traveler’s Happy Place

Travel Blog  •  Eva Holland  •  06.11.09 | 1:31 PM ET

Photo by ForsterFoto via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Over at Travel Generation, Bruce Thurlow has put together a list of nine “social spaces”—parks, markets and so on—that he argues are the key to truly appreciating the life of a new city.

I agree: I think I’ve done some of my best people-watching and observation on subway trains, on playing fields or in public squares. And the best part? These spaces are almost always free, or pretty close to it.

Here are a few spots to add to Thurlow’s list:

I’m going to disagree with Thurlow—who recommends that travelers steer clear of the store in favor of fresh produce markets—on this one. Markets can be wonderful, but I love foreign grocery stores—and besides, produce markets don’t usually have everything you’ll need, so a visit to the supermarket is probably a necessity anyway. You might as well enjoy it: cruise the aisles, and keep an eye out for the tiny variations that separate the exotic from the familiar. Supermarkets are full of them.

Public Libraries
Okay, so clearly the library (shh!) isn’t the best spot to chat up the locals. But it is a great place to catch up on any regional publications, and some branches will even have a local interest section set up with histories, maps and literature written by area authors. A friendly reference librarian can also be an invaluable source of information.

Train Stations
Or bus stations, ferry terminals and so on. Sure, most folks realize the bus or the train itself can be a great spot for some quiet observation of that strange species, the local—but have you ever sat for awhile in the station itself, watching several waves of commuters or travelers coming and going, without joining in the rush yourself?  It’s a people-watcher’s paradise. Plus, these are often interesting spaces beyond the human component—think of New York’s Grand Central, or the art in the Moscow Metro.

Getting laundry done overseas, ironing out (har) the differences in the process, can be another one of those practical tasks that leads to unexpected insights or experiences. Call me an introverted traveler, but I always enjoy a quiet hour or two spent watching the locals go about their normal lives. If I can get my fix while also getting my jeans washed, so much the better.

Eva Holland is co-editor of World Hum. She is a former associate editor at Up Here and Up Here Business magazines, and a contributor to Vela. She's based in Canada's Yukon territory.

1 Comment for ‘Social Spaces’: The Budget Traveler’s Happy Place

Cate 06.12.09 | 10:01 AM ET

A good list, I agree with the supermarket and train-stations. Libraries and laundromats have always been too quiet for me, but I shall visit them next time.

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