Next time you travel, hit the clubs to get to know a city


Welcome to The Upgrade, By The Way’s series on travel hacks and hot takes. See how to submit here.

When traveling to a new city, people often put the usuals on the list of to-dos: local food, historic sites and museums. For me, I often plan as much of my itinerary around nightlife as I can. Yes, museums and restaurants will tell you about the history and culture of a place, but bars and clubs can reveal more about the city.

Beyond serving as a stage for the best of local fashion and music, nightclubs offer an unstructured, unfiltered environment that allows you to fully immerse yourself in a place. A drink or two doesn’t hurt either.

Our 10 best City Guides, according to readers

Indeed, some cities — from Baku to Berlin to Bangkok — are defined by their world-renowned nightlife subcultures. For fans of techno, testing the door of the German club Berghain is a holy rite of passage. And within the United States, cities like New York, Las Vegas and Miami immediately conjure up the idea of ​​a wild time.

Equally interesting, if not more, is seeing how clubgoers create revelry in places that are more conservative, remote or unexpected. I’ve kicked up my boots at a country bar in Austin, kiki’d with drag queens at the only gay club in Reykjavik and danced barefoot until sunrise on the beach in Mustique in the Caribbean.

For club regulars, this advice is probably a no-brainer. For people of color and LGBTQ people in particular, nightlife outside America offers formative experiences — some that can challenge you, admittedly, and others where you can be more comfortable in your own skin. And for those who don’t go to clubs in their own city, let alone in a foreign country, what’s travel if not a time to try things you wouldn’t do in your hometown?

While any night out — at home or abroad — is a roll of the dice, you can put in a little work to help things go smoothly. Though it’s ideal to connect with locals through mutual friends, sometimes the best advice comes from just asking around. I’ve found myself at a seven-story club in Madrid off a tip from a dating app and at a rave in Ho Chi Minh City thanks to new friends I made while playing pool.

A little research on social media also helps. When planning out my travel calendar, I’ll often build around events such as music festivals that will attract a mix of tourists and locals. I also don’t hesitate to ask folks I know are based in certain cities.

Of course, safety comes first, and it’s best to always stay aware of your surroundings. But if you exercise the same common sense you would at home, you should be fine. Like my mom always warned me, keep your money out of sight and your drinks in sight.

So next time you’re in a big city, give yourself a night on the town. As much as you might learn about a place from the spontaneous, colorful cast of characters at a club, you might also learn a little something about who you are when you count yourself as one of them.

Dan Q. Dao is a travel writer based in Saigon, Vietnam.

Related Posts