A 'Third Space' Is The Key To Americans Having A Better Vacation, According To Stanley Tucci

Stanley Tucci may be best known for his acting roles or his many award wins. However, his Italian-American roots might be more significant to the actor than his professional accolades. Tucci tapped into his origins for the CNN series "Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy," where he traveled the Mediterranean country, immersing himself in Italy's diverse food culture.

From his time spent in Italy, the TV star learned a thing or two about how to unwind and vacation the Italian way. He revealed to AOL that he believes Italians "are much better at taking vacations" than Americans. Part of this is the result of more time off given to employees by companies, but it's also because of the way "third spaces" are woven into Italians' daily lifestyles. "They're in every town where a lot of times people can just walk to them," Tucci explained. "Because America is so big and we've created this sprawl, you can't walk anywhere. And being able to walk to a pub, to a restaurant, to a café and then to walk with each other afterward — that's a really, really important thing and that has disappeared from American life because of the way we killed our cities."

What are third spaces?

Italians didn't invent third spaces, but they seem to understand the concept better than the average American today. A 2019 research paper published in the journal Health & Place describes third places (another term for third spaces) as locations in communities where people can congregate and socialize, including coffee shops, hair salons, and shopping centers. They're known as "third places" because they exist outside of the home or workplace, two spots where people often spend most of their time. Having a familiar third place to mix and mingle with others can alleviate stress, loneliness, and alienation, the paper shares.

Unfortunately, these hang-out spots have become less common in the U.S. According to the research paper, the presence of art centers, bakeries, barbershops, churches, and other local businesses has declined over the last decade, and pedestrian-friendly town centers are hard to come by. For many Americans, it's normal to simply drive to and from work each day, without making a stop to chat at a friendly diner or go for a run with friends in a local park.

Meanwhile, third spaces are a staple in Italian culture. Students flock to libraries and bookshops, while workers make time to duck into their local coffee bar or pub on their way home. The boot-shaped country's walkable streets and neighborhood atmosphere — where a market, café, restaurant, and salon may all be just a short stroll from your front door — make it easy for people to regularly meet and spend time together.

Where to look for third spaces on vacation

Stanley Tucci isn't the only famous traveler who has promoted the concept of third places on vacation. Samantha Brown also follows a genius trick to feel less pressured by time while on vacation, where she follows a daily ritual — such as visiting the same coffee shop every day during her trip — to stay grounded. The tip is an easy way to experience a destination like a local and take a break from the impersonal tourist spots.

If you're not sure where to start, consider looking around your hotel or accommodation for inspiration. If you find a cute lunch restaurant or inviting patisserie around the corner, make it a habit to visit regularly during your getaway. Chat with the owner and make yourself open to fellow patrons. You could gain a few friends, or at least local insights about the city, by the end of your trip.

Keep in mind that third spaces aren't limited to faraway locales. If you take a staycation or a budget-friendly "nearcation," seek out third spaces beyond your accommodation or the typical spots listed in guidebooks. Who knows? You might just find a nearby third place to enjoy even when you're not in vacation mode.