When you leave your micromanaged tri bubble, the world opens up.

Traveling for a triathlon is inherently adventurous, because it’s inherently not a normal tourist trip. It isn’t a cruise or laminated itinerary with a tour company. Yes, you can stay at the official race hotel and increasingly you can opt into endurance travel tour packages. But sometimes the race hotel has a raging party going, and even the tour company can’t ride your bike for you. Triathlon is not a normal vacation activity and so it will, by necessity, take you out of the confines of normal vacations. You will inevitably end up having to troubleshoot something—how do you say bike pump in Chinese? What do you do when you have a fever in Mexico and end up in a regular, non-tourist neighborhood, at a regular, non-tourist drugstore?

In Sweden, with the sunlight stretching to 10 p.m., I jogged trails around the neighborhood with locals out for their evening runs, and I got lost somewhere in a construction zone. (Thank God for international data in this age of international travel.) In Finland, I wildly misunderstood the rules for lap swimming at the community pool. In Wisconsin and Texas and Montreal and Bermuda I met all kinds of different people—and not because I’m particularly friendly.

You can pay a lot of money now for “authentic local experiences” when you travel, for a chance to see what it’d really be like to live somewhere you don’t live. Except you know what the people who live in those places do? They run around their neighborhoods and they pick-up basics at the grocery store. They get lost and they ride bikes through town, and they go to the community gym.

I’ve been to a lot of places and I’ve had a lot of “authentic local experiences.” And I didn’t even pay extra for them. I just had to race a tri.