On the Travel section's weekly online discussion last Monday, reader Steven Smith asked for recommendations for "things people can do to make ANY trip interesting." He gave two examples: "When in a foreign country, visit a grocery store to see the different products and how they are presented; and try to draw (even if you completely lack talent) a view, as that will make you notice details you wouldn't see just by clicking the camera."
We thought those were great ideas, and asked the chatters for more. They were full of suggestions:
* Take in a local sporting event. Go see soccer in Krakow, ice hockey in Stockholm or cricket in Bermuda. Aside from the athletics, the people-watching is fabulous, and the "cuisine" at the concession stand adds another level of adventure.
* Go to the laundromat. Not only do you get your clothes clean, you can also chat up the locals about attractions, restaurants, etc.
* Have a theme. Instead of trying to see every church, for example, focus on one artist and look for his or her works in museums, churches and other public venues. Other quests: empanadas in Argentina, bookstores in New York, gargoyles in Paris.
* Ask waiters for restaurant tips. They usually know the good places, especially new ones that haven't made the guidebooks. And they can tell you which spots to avoid.
* Go to Mass -- even if you're not religious, and even if you don't speak the language. It's a way to feel connected to everyone there and participate in a slice of local life.
* Visit a cemetery. They are frequently beautiful retreats, as well as historically and culturally fascinating.
* Sit on a park bench. Listen to accents, watch local pastimes (cricket, anyone?), absorb the atmosphere.
* Visit a bookstore. Independent bookshops frequently have sections featuring local authors and books about the area, and the staff is often friendly and helpful.
* Ride a public bus to the end of the line. This can be easy or challenging, depending on where you are, but you'll see parts of the city that are not on the tourist map. Probably the cheapest tour you'll ever take, too.
* Go to the library. Browse the stacks, watch the people, even check your e-mail.
* Go for a run or brisk walk early in the morning, the first day you're at a new location. You'll get a feel for the place and see the city come to life. Side benefit: You can eat extra pasta that night without feeling guilty.
* Take a photograph of whatever you're doing at noon every day. No waiting until a more picturesque moment comes up -- take it at your set time, whether you're in line for a restroom or on a snow-capped mountaintop. You may need to set a watch alarm.
* Hook up with the local running club and run with the members for an afternoon. Everyone's usually friendly and full of good ideas. Plus, you get to see parts of the city you might not see otherwise.
* Run errands. Deliberately leave items at home and buy them abroad. These may end up being your favorite souvenirs: the nail polish from Boots the Chemist, the hair clip from Paris, the CD from the London shop.
* Look for rocks. The ultimate cheapskate souvenir.
* Play Scrabble or cards. It helps make train, ferry or bus rides go by faster, is a nice diversion when you need some down time and can spark conversations with fellow passengers (for example, when they chime in to sympathize over your lack of consonants).
* Go to the movies. You can observe a lot of local culture in movie theaters, and the films are frequently shown in English with subtitles.
* Designate one meal as a picnic. Simply gather fruit, bread, cheese and wine from local merchants and find a spot with a view. Guaranteed good people-watching and an economical meal.
* Find a flea market and shop for unique trinkets, antiques, household items and photographs, instead of tourist junk.
* Bring items from home to trade with the locals. Swap your U-Md. sweatshirt for a lifeguard T-shirt from Cornwall, England. You'll both feel like you got the best part of the deal.
Got some travel tips of your own to share? Place your seat tray in its full upright position and join the Flight Crew most Mondays at 2 p.m. on www.washingtonpost.com (detailed instructions are on Page 3, under the What's the Deal? column).