Does Anyone Actually Like Visiting Museums When They Travel?

Me Visiting the Guyana National Museum

I can’t think of a trip I’ve been on that didn’t include visiting a museum. Time and time again, I’ve paid for this cultural experience. As I started thinking forward to future 2020 travel, one of the things I had to back reflect on was whether or not I actually liked museums and why I keep visiting them when I travel.

I’ve had a variety of travel experiences. Over the years, I’ve either visited museums as part of a tour group or on my own. Since my earliest travels were study abroad trips, the museum tours were mandatory and factored into my final grade. But I graduated several years ago, yet still, I continue visiting museums. Is this out of habit or genuine interest? And should I keep them on the itinerary for future trips?

What I came to realize is I genuinely do like visiting museums when I travel. Museums are great places to learn about the local culture when traveling. Depending on the type of museum, you can learn about local history, art, societal values, fashion, politics, food, and so on. In the case of museums that offer more of a sensorial experience – the opportunity to touch, taste, or smell something – these museums provide the most unique and memorable experiences. They can also be better for families and people with disabilities. Museums can offer an additional bang for your buck if they have free or low-cost classes, activities, or events. With so many different types of museums and possible things to do, you almost can’t go wrong. Almost.

Me at Indian Pueblo Cultural Center's Museum
Me at Indian Pueblo Cultural Center’s Museum. Albuquerque, New Mexico, 2017.

While I enjoy visiting museums, I realized I don’t like museum tours. Group tours just never seem to go at the right pace for me. I’m more of a visual learner than auditory. I want to process information at a pace I’m comfortable with and not feel pressured to keep up with, or pay attention to, someone else. Half of the time, I feel like the tour guide/audio is going too fast and skipping over the details I would want to know. The other half of the time, I feel like the group is lingering too long on one part of the museum. On these tours, I’m rushed or I’m bored, but never satisfied. But this is just how I feel about tours and has nothing to do with how I feel about museums themselves. 

My other issue with museum tours is price-wise, museum tours can be way more expensive than the cost of visiting the museum unguided. For example, a general admission ticket for the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) in New York City is $25 for adults; $17 for seniors; $12 for students. If you used a site like Expedia to book a museum tour, the prices start at $50 and keep going up. I’ve been to the MET countless times and still never seen everything. It’s a massive museum with so many different types of exhibits and events. I can’t imagine a tour would do it justice, or more importantly, have a pacing suitable for everyone in attendance.

Me with a Million Dollars at the Federal Reserve Museum
Me with one million dollars at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Money Museum. Chicago, Illinois, 2019.

Since I always want to learn more about the countries I’m visiting, I find that museums can be a good snapshot of a place’s popular culture, history, local people’s interests, etc. What I haven’t always enjoyed is a tour speeding or dragging me through those museums. Going forward, I think I love museums enough to keep visiting them and paying to visit them on my own. I’ll be more careful with how I spend my money on museum tours.

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