The conversation in the hostel in Greymouth went something like this:
Him: So how long have you been here?
Me: I just got here yesterday.
Him: Oh, me too. So where are you headed today?
Me: (confused….am I supposed to leave already?) Staying here. I just paid for another night.
Him: You’re going to stay another night? But there’s nothing to do here. What are you going to do all day?
Now I will fully acknowledge that Greymouth is not the most exciting of NZ destinations, and definitely not at the top of most travelers’ lists of places to visit. But that does not mean there’s nothing to do there.
In fact there’s not ‘nothing to do’ anywhere. (Wait, how many negatives was that?) This post is not about Greymouth. This is about everywhere. Every town or city or even a small village has something. Often more than one thing.
I actually see this kind of conversation as a bit of a personal challenge. I’ll make it my goal to see what’s great in that town, to come back to the hostel and when somebody else asks me (because that guy would obviously be gone) what I’d done all day, to be able to say ‘Well, I walked to X, and then I discovered a Y, and have you seen the Z? It was amazing!’
I want to see the look of shock on their face that not only did I actually find something to do in this town but would you believe it? It was good.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about having a day spent just lying in a hammock and reading a book. Or if you want to sit in your hostel and play Shithead all day, or spend an entire afternoon on Facebook, that’s totally cool. But don’t do that just because you think there are no other choices.
So now you’re saying ‘But Jenny, what exactly are these things I should be doing?’ And that’s why I’m going to give you a list.
Obviously, if you’re going to New York or London you don’t need ideas. You’ll find plenty to keep you busy without even trying. But should you find yourself in Greymouth, or Jianshui, China (and Jianshui’s lovely, I’m just having trouble thinking of somewhere that there might be nothing to do because I really can’t relate to that), maybe you need to refer back to this for ideas.
I’m not going to tell you about stuff you can come up with yourself that you would do just as easily at home. You can figure out what book to read and you know full well when you’re overdue with that email to your Mom. These are things that are travel/exploration specific, or activities where you might meet some locals.
They can be done solo or with a buddy or with a group. I’ve divided them into categories of where to look for your ideas.
Look Around You:
- Find a hike or a walk. Make sure if you’re going out in the boonies that you tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back!
- Walk the river or waterfront – lots of towns have water (that’s why they exist!) and that’s often where locals hang out. If there are docks you can watch fish and seafood being unloaded, or maybe catch sight of a seal.
- Wander the back streets. It’s an excellent chance to see how people in this place actually live. And to play with the kids.
- Visit a local market. You don’t have to buy. Markets are great for people watching and marveling at fruit and veggies you haven’t seen before or odd things that are for sale.
- Visit a supermarket. Alright, not everyone would be into this but I find foreign supermarkets to be fascinating. What is that gross-looking thing in that glass case? What can/can’t I get here and why? (This is possibly motivated by my ‘Could I live here?’ mentality I get when I visit anywhere) I’ll easily spend an hour walking around looking at everything!
- Eat! Ask for recommendations or look for restaurants or food carts that are full of locals. That market I mentioned above is a great place to sample cheap food, and don’t be afraid to try new things!
- Go shopping or buy souvenirs – maybe you need something for your Grandma? Maybe you need a new shirt? Maybe you just want to ogle things you can’t afford.
- Buy postcards for all your friends and sit in a park to write them.
- Sit in a park, square, or café and people watch. People are fascinating and actually you can learn a lot about a place just by observing. I like to take sneaky long-zoom pictures too, but be careful where you do this.
- Buy a sketchbook and pencil, find a great scene, and try drawing what you see. I promise it’ll make you see it in a different way.
- Take lots of pictures and practice your photography skills! Give yourself a challenge – take 5 portraits of locals (ask first!) or one photo of each colour or look for lines or shapes – or whatever you can think of.
- Get a massage. Especially if you’re in Asia, where they’re so cheap!
- Rent a bike or motorbike. Ride around town and out of town in one direction, then another.
- Rent a surfboard, boogie board, paddleboard, jetski, kayak, canoe, or sailboat and get out on the water!
- Rent a snorkel and mask and don’t forget your underwater camera.
- Grab a Frisbee and towel and head for the beach!
- Go bowling, ice skating, or find a swimming pool.
- Gather some people from your hostel and go to laser tag or paintball.
- Join a boat trip. Go diving, snorkeling, island hopping, fishing, sailing, or just cruising around the harbour. Can’t find any organized ones? Wander down to the docks and start asking if people will take you out!
- Check out local skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, or tobogganing options.
- Go horseback riding or visit a local farm.
- Spend a day at a theme park or amusement park, zoo or waterslides!
- Visit churches, cathedrals, temples, pagodas, wats, synagogues, or monasteries. In many parts of the world religion is a huge part of the culture and visiting these places can give you some insights into how people think.
- Find the local cemetery and have a wander through. Find the oldest grave there. Or the coolest.
- Volunteer. Can you help in a soup kitchen for a day? Or doing wildlife conservation? In Chengdu, China you can be a panda keeper for a day! Other places may just need help cleaning up a local waterway.
- Check bulletin boards at supermarkets, libraries, and community centres. They often have notices about local events, classes, and meetups.
- Sit in a bar or café and chat to the locals.
- Take a bus. Seriously, just hop on and see where it takes you. I knew a girl in Korea who did this, then when she had gone far enough, she’d get off and go back the other way. She got to know the city quite well this way. *Note: Make sure you have a way to get back in case you get lost. In theory you can just take the bus the opposite way, but it’s a good idea to have the address of your accommodation and taxi fare just in case.
Look to the Experts:
- Visit the town’s tourist information centre. This may be information overload, but lots of activities are expensive, so ask about free activities and local events.
- Ask at your hotel/hostel desk or hosts about their favourite things to do in their spare time.
- Browse in a bookstore or library. There will often be books, maps, and other info about the area.
- Check local newspapers for events, festivals, and exhibitions.
- Read your guidebook. There might be something you didn’t know about or you can plan your trip from this point on.
- Find a museum. Most towns will have a local history museum of some kind, and often others depending on what kind of economic activity happens in the area.
- Find a gym, yoga studio, sports field, or sports complex. See if there’s a drop in class or maybe a game you can join.
- Take a class. There’s probably something available that interests you – cooking, painting, drawing, pottery, weaving and dyeing, leather work, martial arts, tai chi, chainsaw carving…there will probably be one that catches your eye.
- Tour a local brewery or winery.
- Visit the factory producing whatever the local specialty is.
- Take a food tour of the local market or restaurants!
- Find out about performances. There may be ballet, symphony, opera, musicals, or local theatre, or just live music at the town pub.
- See if there’s a local sporting match going on. Whatever the most popular sport is in the area is sure to be an exciting game!
- Google ‘Things to do in Greymouth’ (or wherever, obviously).
- Check online expat forums for the area.
- Search for special events in the area, museum or art gallery special exhibitions, religious, cultural, or athletic events and festivals.
- Look for local photowalks or Instameets.
- Search for historical or architectural walking tours, either led by a local or self-guided.
- Check Meetup.com for local groups that interest you. Some are very active and might have a meetup during your stay.
- Check Couchsurfing.com for events and meetups.
So how did I spend that day in Greymouth where there was nothing to do?
Well I took a hike up King Domain for a great view (would’ve been better if the weather was clearer, but still good and I got a workout). Then I wandered up and down the high street of town, having a look, until I found my way to the local museum. It had tons of stuff and was somewhat haphazard and cluttered and thus pretty awesome and had chairs that Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip had actually sat in! I also took a walk along the waterfront and a short hike up Lion’s Walk for a view.
But there’s more than that, too. The day before I arrived in Greymouth I’d been just an hour out of town in Reefton and then the ghost town of Waiuta, and had stopped at the Brunner Mine site on the way into Greymouth. The next day on my way out of town I stopped at Coal Creek Falls for another short hike. And guess what? There was still more I would’ve liked to see while I was there, but didn’t get to.
Who said there was nothing to do?
How did you like my list? What do you do when there’s nothing to do? What else would you add? I’m sure I haven’t even come close to thinking of everything, so let me know in the comments!