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Architourism: A Cheap Way to Travel

I have always loved architecture and design. I love it so much that I even decided to study architecture in college (although I am not an architect now). But what does this have to do with money?

Rabin museum

The Isak Rabin museum in Tel Aviv

Well, as you know, I am currently in France, so the topic of frugal travel has been on the top of my mind. It is AMAZING how much it costs to see museums and historical sites. Visiting Versailles costs €18 per person! Checking out the view from the top of the Tour Montparnasse costs a whopping €14.50 per person! You can see how this could add up if you are visiting one or two site per day.

This is where my beloved architourism comes in.

Parque Lage in Rio de Janeiro.

Parque Lage in Rio de Janeiro

What is architourism?

Architourism is as simple as it sounds: architecture + tourism. Yes, I mean walking around and staring at buildings. Yes, I recognize that this may not appeal to everyone. BUT, let me tell you why it is great.

The Seattle Public Library

The Seattle Public Library

Buildings so often tell the history of a place. For example, here in Paris, I’ve yet to walk down a street that doesn’t lead me to stumble upon some historic monument or another. The city is just lousy with history. Going into many of these monuments is, as I said before, often quite expensive. But do you know what is free? Standing outside and taking pictures! Often, you can even enter the lobby and look around for free. If you bring a guidebook with you (or have a smartphone), you can read all about the building and its history, therefore giving you a great experience at little cost.

Parking garage at 1111 Lincoln Road in Miami

Parking garage at 1111 Lincoln Road in Miami

Extreme architourism

Wandering the city and looking at buildings is a great architourism starting point, and one I enjoy greatly. However, through my years of architecture school I have adapted a more extreme version of architourism that involves actively seeking out unique architectural features, even if they are not otherwise noteworthy. For larger cities, I have often been able to find entire guidebooks or websites devoted to modern and contemporary architecture. These buildings might be off the beaten path, but the benefit of this is that there are usually very few other tourists around. This can be a great way to see where and how people really live in a foreign city.

Beautiful home in the Garden District in New Orleans

Beautiful home in the Garden District in New Orleans

To do this kind of exploring, you really need a willing travel partner. My dad and I share a love of staring at buildings, so we often go off on our own on family vacations to see cool buildings. In college, I was happy to discover that my fellow architecture students also loved architourism, so site seeing became a very different endeavor. Picture 15 20-year-olds, dressed all in black and gray, all clicking away furiously on their variously professional cameras. We probably weren’t even photographing anything significant. We just took pictures of everything. I’m sure we were quite the sight.

Do you like architourism? How do you travel frugally?


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