Day One’s itinerary in Buenos Aires came straight off a list of famous sites and neighborhoods that I made weeks before traveling to Argentina (actually, Lonely Planet made the list for me): The Palacio del Congreso, The Palacio Barolo, The Palacio de…(by the third Palacio I began to forget the names, but I assure you it was a very pretty Palacio to look at from the outside), the brightly painted houses of La Boca district (the houses are painted MULTIPLE colors! The only thing more interesting than watching paint dry is watching paint that has already dried), the opera house….
The highlight of the day was a visit to the Pink House—the Argentinean White House, but pinker. So I went. Then I looked. Then nothing happened. It was like a Hollywood marriage; it lasted 5 seconds and was a complete let down. If the highlight of my day was this unfulfilling, how boring would the rest of my itinerary be?
By the end of the first day, I wanted to go home. Or go somewhere else at least. Anywhere else. I’d left Argentina without taking a Tango class, or going horseback riding with gauchos on a cattle ranch, or marveling at the largest ice cap on Earth outside of Antarctica and Greenland. I stayed for a week and did nothing but go from famous building to famous statue to famous building looking at life-sized postcards.
So much of what happens in any given city happens indoors, not outdoors. And the key word is happens. The construction of the Pink House and the Opera House happened centuries ago. They make postcards out of them for a reason—they’re things that people look at for a moment. What makes those places great are the things that happen inside of them. I had cabin fever outdoors in a city 79 square miles wide, yet would have been cured instantly had I spent more time inside of a cramped Tango hall with space wide enough to clap your hands at the mesmerizing performance of the dancers.
Being a traveler isn’t the same as being an outsider. Many people are outsiders in their own hometowns. They are the ones who pay for tickets to Six Flags, but never get on the rides, then complain that amusement parks are terrible because the food isn’t any good. Sight-seers are outsiders. The tourists who never venture off the double-decker tour bus are outsiders. What’s the point of flying 6,000 miles only to observe from a distance? You don’t need a plane ticket to do that, just a Travel Channel subscription. Sightseeing can be fine; it can be relaxing and it’s inevitably a part of any trip. But if you ever find that after four days of sightseeing, something seems missing from your vacation, it may be time to put the binoculars down, and interact with people, not with slabs of stone.
Ultimately it’s doing things, not just looking at things, that makes a trip an experience, rather than a viewing, which can be as depressing as it sounds.