I don’t travel in the US very often. It’s expensive, and I often assume it won’t be as interesting as a trip abroad. But my long weekend in New Orleans proved how wrong I’ve been.
In short, New Orleans captured my heart.
Before I went, everyone told me New Orleans is beautiful. Or it’s fun because you can get cocktails to go and walk down the street with them. Or the food is good.
All of those things are true. But they’re not why I fell in love. This city got under my skin for different reasons.
Dance all night…to jazz?
It’s 1:30 am on a Saturday night in New Orleans. You’re in a cavernous, loud, slightly divey bar. People are drinking cheap beer. Music is blaring. People are dancing.
No, you’re not in a seedy club with a bad DJ spinning records under dimmed lights, a disco ball hanging from the ceiling. Instead, you’ve pushed a few tables aside to create an ad-hoc dance floor in front of the bar. There’s a live brass band playing just a few feet from you. And you’re swing-dancing with some random guy who really knows how to dance.
Don’t know anything about jazz? Who cares – you can still enjoy the music! Don’t like what’s playing here? That’s fine, you can walk out the door and down the block into any one of 20-odd clubs, all with live music and no covers.
There may be cities with better music scenes, but I’ve never been anywhere where the shows are as fun and unpretentious as New Orleans.
Meet your neighbors, or total strangers
You won’t get much sleep in New Orleans, so if you’re like me, you’ll need lots of coffee to keep you going. You stop at the café across the street from your hostel to pick up a cup.
The woman serving your coffee asks if you’re visiting. You say yes. She spends the next fifteen minutes telling you about how she used to live somewhere else, moved down here to get work, and never left.[wp_ad_camp_2]
She tells you where the locals hang out. And she talks about how people are different here, life is different here, everything is better here.
You get the sense that people have strong ties to their communities in New Orleans. Everyone seems to know each other – but they’re also welcoming to strangers and newcomers. You won’t be greeted with rudeness for being a tourist. In fact, you’ll be welcomed with open arms. It’s one of the friendliest places I’ve ever been.
Be your weirdest self
My hometown of Washington, DC can be frighteningly cookie-cutter. Everyone looks the same. Everyone talks the same and does the same types of jobs. There’s intense pressure to fit in, to be like everyone else.
Not so in New Orleans.
Have funky tattoos? By all means, show them off. Want to explore modern art? Lots of places you can do that here. Prefer to shop at thrift stores and offbeat boutiques? New Orleans has you covered. Don’t have a 9-5 desk job? That’s cool – the bars stay open late so you have somewhere to chill after your shift.
This city embraces the quirky, the weird, the misfits. You’ll meet other people who share your interests but are nothing like you. Everyone has an interesting story to tell. The city and its residents ooze authenticity and have no tolerance for bullshit.
As one bartender said, “I fit in here because I don’t fit in anywhere else.” It was pretty refreshing for this Washingtonian.[wp_ad_camp_3]
Ready to get started?
Check out my post on budget travel in New Orleans for money-saving tips and restaurant/hostel recommendations.