Your New BFFs: Utilizing Public Spaces

Your New BFFs: Utilizing Public Spaces


In a few hours you’ll catch a bus to the next city where you’ve got a room already booked for you. Until then, you have every bit of your indecisiveness on your back and are aching for a place to give your feet a break.

Next week, there’s a late night flight waiting to take you across another border, but mid-morning is the hotel check-out, thank you for your stay. The space between is nothing but time. Waiting. A holding of the breath.

Travelers often occupy liminal space and must learn to navigate the in-betweens with grace and confidence. Thankfully, good people have created public spaces where you are welcome to linger and need only pay by choice, not obligation.

Let me introduce you to your new BFFs:

The Library

Recharge or research, surf or nap, the library is the foundational go-to for the public’s needs. When a foreign city offers no hint of home, find solace in the quiet company of paperbacks and still your anxious heart. If you’re in a city for an extended period, consider opening up an account and really make the most of the resources offered. Books, magazines, movies, music, newspapers – all free, all waiting for you.

If we ever find ourselves looking for a place to go where we will be welcomed and will not impose, we know there is a corner tucked away in the local library for us. A protected sphere where we can unwind, plan, discover, organize, indulge, and prepare our next steps around the country. After all, just surrounding oneself with books is inspiring, isn’t it?

Perfect for reading or sitting or researching or creating or learning about local happenings.

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The Café

Here’s one for free: find a café in the airport once you land in a foreign city and take a seat. Forget rushing the next step for a moment and buy a muffin or an iced chocolate. Adrenaline and emotions are high. The unknown is waiting just outside the glass doors. It will still be there after you take a few minutes to gather yourself, too. Instead of gawking about or walking back and forth looking for where to go, set your bags down and find the right bus. Get out your map. Breathe. Make a plan of action or just take a moment to enjoy where you’re at.

Cafés are the best for that. And not just at the airport. When you need somewhere to go to meet with friends or to be alone, surrounded by others, cafés require you to sip your beverage and slow down for just a moment. The good ones are bound to have comfortable seating alongside a comforting atmosphere. They want you to stay, so don’t be afraid to oblige them.

If it’s an internet connection you’re looking for or perhaps some live music or even just a spot out of the rain, the café is your go.

Goes well with games or studying or reading or writing or thinking or eating or drinking or friends.

The Museum

Hands down one of the best ways to immerse yourself in local culture. It may cost you a few dollars to get in the door – then again, it may not – but a wander through the carefully constructed halls of history can be an enlightening and entertaining way to utilize your time. Whether you are particularly interested in every snippet or not, seek out the points of connection between your story and the ones they are telling. Because in that space rests the potential for understanding.

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Great for learning about where you are or fueling creative endeavors or sharing in humanity’s story or showing off knowledge to your friends.

The Shops/Markets

If you’re not an addict, or have serious self-control issues, malls and shops can be a nice way to spend an afternoon. I’m fascinated by other people’s passions and creativity. I enjoy seeing their crafts and wares. I find it fun to imagine what kind of house I would have if there was no financial restraint and what kind of things I would want to fill that space. I find some of my deepest ponderings about life are cluttered around the slightly controlled chaos of shops or markets.

If you prefer to still yourself at a bench or table, malls offer unbeatable opportunities to watch people and imagine their stories (or talk to them and hear them for yourself!). Shops are a welcomed place for wanderers, browsers, or vagabonds looking to find something unique while also killing a bit of time. Plus you are free to be as social or as reserved as you desire.

Best for getting something you forgot to pack or finding a great deal on that special something you didn’t know you wanted but now want more than anything or people-watching or not looking like a tourist.

The Park

Well manicured gardens, winding paths, open fields, climbable trees, playground equipment, lakes teeming with birds, flat ground stretching out to the constraints of our imagination. Parks are where things go down. Communities gather to celebrate or advocate or train or chill. Couples slip away from the hustle of the city to speak their thoughts in hushed tones. Runners run. Old men walk their dogs. Young children chase a ball across the expanse.

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My wife and I found ourselves stuck in a dingy city with a broken-down van in New Zealand last year. We were not excited about the hand dealt to us and were unwilling to spend more money for the comfort of a hotel or hostel or even a campsite. Feeling a bit like we had no place to go, we found a park, read under the shade of a massive tree, took a snooze, and when the time came, made our dinner. I’m not sure where we would have gone otherwise. For us, that park was for a few hours, our home.

And home made all the difference.

For playing or resting or soaking up this beautiful moment or joining in with locals or exercising.

I know what it’s like to not feel like you have a place to go. The opportunity is there for you to discover this new world and it becomes an almost overwhelming open-endedness. Whether you need time to gather your thoughts or just set your bags down for a little while without fretting over their getting nicked, utilizing public spaces is invaluable for saving some money and really seeing a place like a local.

There are many other set apart spaces I’ve neglected to mention here. Hiking trails, pubs, cinemas, nature reserves, local landmarks, but I have a feeling you’ll get good at finding those spots which have much to offer without causing a big hurt to your budget.  If nothing else, you begin to be a little more thankful for these public spaces where for a small time you can feel at home in the in-between.

A place where you belong.

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