Lots of people who look into housesitting imagine themselves taking care of a luxury penthouse in New York City, a beach house in the Maldives, or a fin de siecle apartment in Paris. I’ve even had someone say to me, “I’m ready to do my first housesit! Can you hook me up with something in London in August? I’m thinking Notting Hill. And no pets – I want to have time to see the city.”
We’re 18 months into this with loads of five-star reviews and we haven’t even managed to land one of those top-notch sits. And we’re OK with that, because through sitting we’ve discovered something better than those top 10 cities plastered all over your friends’ Instagrams. They’re called alternative destinations.
The Places You’ve Never Heard Of Are Often The Most Interesting
Yes, London, Paris and Sydney are all great. And if you go to them you can get a selfie in front of a famous landmark, just like everyone else you know. But if you’re willing to take a deep breath and visit a place that your friends haven’t been to – a place that makes your friends say “You went where?” – you’ll discover unique things that most people don’t get to see.
One of the unfortunate truths of globalization is that many of the largest cities are becoming alarmingly homogenized. You’ll find Sizzler in Bangkok, Whole Foods in London and Sephora in Sydney. If you go to the major tourist spots, you’ll hear lots of people speaking in your own language, maybe even from your own town. (It seems that no matter what country we’re in, we meet someone from Bellevue, Washington.)
When you go to an alternative destination, everything changes. You’ll find small local businesses rather than big international corporations. The only tourists you’ll see are from the same country that you’re standing in. And you’ll discover all kinds of new things you’ve never seen before.
Swap Top Tourist Towns for These Smaller Spots
Paris is unquestionably one of the greatest cities in the world – but go to Nantes and you’ll see an entirely different side of France. The Louvre may feature legendary masterpieces. But the artisans of the Île de Nantes have created an extraordinary larger-than-life walking mechanical elephant out of wood and brass and leather. They’ve even built a three-story steampunk carousel. Nantes has a giant castle-cum-museum in the center of the city, street art galore, and a thriving vegan food scene. Yes, that’s right, a French vegan food scene.
Germany has a lot going for it. But have you considered Luxembourg? It’s smaller than Rhode Island and filled with breathtaking landscapes and gorgeous castles in various states of repair. Vianden Castle in particular is a storybook spot worthy of a Disney film. Luxembourg also has delicious, inexpensive wine that rarely makes it to US shores. And you’re never more than an hour away from France, Germany or Belgium.
Ko Phi Phi is the island made legendary by the film The Beach. But Ko Lanta is much more laid back, happier to see tourists, and has many areas where you will literally be the only person you see on the beach. Plus, it’s got what may be the best coworking spot in the world. (Miss you, KoHub!)
Tiny Towns Can Be Awesome, Too
Some of our favorite spots have been in even smaller places. We’ve looked after homes in tiny British villages that were perfect jumping-off points to see the caves of Nottingham, the place where King Richard III’s body was discovered, or the absolutely stunning Winchester Cathedral. And sometimes the delight is finding the little local things, like the 200-person village with a pub that makes an extraordinary roast dinner, or a bakery that has an incredible once-a-week pizza night.
The most surprising thing can be some of the strange synergies that develop from the destinations you’ve visited. We discovered the French artist Jean Julien because of an exhibit of his work at Central World in Bangkok. A few months later, we were in Nantes and discovered that it was his hometown…and he’d designed a rooftop bar in the tallest building in the city!
Don’t Underestimate the Fun in Being Exotic
Because many of these lesser-known destinations don’t see a lot of foreign tourists, you’ll have the benefit of being exotic to the locals rather than annoying. In small towns from Germany to Malaysia, we’ve been the first American that people have met. People are generally kind and genuinely excited when we’re interested in what their community has to offer.
You Can Still See the Tourist Top Ten
Spending time in these smaller destinations won’t prevent you from seeing the world’s top spots. Those major tourist draws are often located near the major international airport you’ll need to fly out of, so you can always take a weekend to get that perfect Eiffel Tower shot, visit Westminster Abbey or head to the top of the Empire State Building.
When you visit an alternative destination, you’ll truly get the locals’ experience. You may not be able to get some of the things you miss from home (did I hug a case of La Croix when I returned to the US? Perhaps!) but you’ll discover a whole new class of things to miss. (Dear kouign-amann from Rennes, no one in America uses the amount of butter and sugar that you do.) Instead of taking selfies at the same ten tourist destinations that everyone else does, you’ll see incredible things that few other tourists ever do. It may even change your view of the world. And isn’t that what travel is all about?