Whether you’re an avid traveler or not, chances are that at some point in time, you’ve found yourself in an unfamiliar town or city that was just waiting for you to discover it. Typically I’m one for just winging it when I reach a new destination, but in recent years I’ve realized the benefits of planning and strategizing to make the most of my visits, especially when I’m short on time.
After living in 11 different cities and traveling to more than 50 in the last two years alone, I think I can safely say I know a thing or two when it comes to truly discovering a new city.
So whether you’re an expert traveler or a newbie, allow me to impart some knowledge on you, young grasshopper, and you’ll be more than ready for your next adventure.
Read guidebooks AND travel blogs
Obviously I’m biased here, but I LOVE travel blogs. They’re awesome on their own or as a supplement to a guidebook. Reading guidebooks are great. They’re usually a one-stop shop for most of the logistical type information you’ll need, but blogs usually take things a step further and add their own personal touch, which makes them more entertaining. They won’t just give you ideas on what to do or see, they’ll actually tell you what it’s like from their own experiences. Blogs are also excellent for getting more “off the beaten path” information or a local’s point of view. What’s the best thing about blogs? You can actually contact bloggers personally and connect with them if you have any questions. I know I love to hear from my readers. *hint hint*
Connect with people on social media
Between stalking old friends from high school and watching random cat videos, people often forget that social media can actually be social. Not social in the sense that you know what everyone is doing but never dare to talk to them. I mean social as in actual human interaction. Revolutionary, I know.
Social media can be great for connecting with people in the city you’re going to. Search hashtags on Twitter and Instagram for that city and reach out to people who catch your eye. Start a conversation. Ask them for tips. Who knows maybe they’ll even offer to show you around. Either way, you have nothing to lose by simply reaching out. On my recent trip to New Orleans, I asked the Twittersphere for advice and ended up connecting with an awesome blogger who basically planned my entire trip. It was fabulous!
Besides giving you this vital travel tip, I will also use this opportunity to shamelessly plug my social media handles: facebook.com/shedreamsoftravel , twitter.com/shedreamstravel , instagram.com/shedreamsoftravel . Like me! Follow me! Stalk me! All that good stuff.
Talk to locals
This one may sound intimidating to do at first, but it’s really not so scary. If talking to strangers is not your forte, then start with some low-pressure situations first like talking to your server at a restaurant. They have to talk to you no matter what so fear of rejection is gone. Other than that, just look for little opportunities for a quick chat with someone. You’d be surprised to see how open people are to a little human connection. I’d even say that people often crave it. And on top of all that, people usually welcome a little ego boost with arms wide open. Ask someone for advice on their town, and they will most likely relish in the opportunity to show off their knowledge.
Take a walking tour
Walking tours are my favorite go-to activity on my first day in any new city. They’re the best way to get oriented and learn about the basic history of the place. Guides can also serve as a wonderful resource for specific questions about where to eat and what to do. In many major cities, especially in Europe, there are multiple companies that offer free walking tours. Of course they expect you to tip them, but that’s not so bad. Tour guides have to eat too, after all.
Wander around the city and get lost
After you get a general idea of where things are in a city, forget about all of that and just wander around. Getting lost in a city is by far one of the best ways to get to know it and find all of its hidden gems. It’s important to do all of your wandering by foot, though! The first time I walked my dog in the mini downtown area of my city, I was shocked by the number of cool places I had completely overlooked before when I was just driving through. You’ll notice a lot more when you stroll down the streets. Trust me.
Read the local newspaper
You know that random community newsletter you usually find for free at the grocery store? Well, those are great for finding out more specific information about the town or city you’re visiting. It may be harder to find one in larger cities, but if you can get your hands on a community newsletter or local newspaper, they’ll give you an insider’s peek on life in that place. If you’re lucky there will be a fun event going on while you’re there, and in that case…
Go to an event
Tourist sites and museums are fine and dandy, but going to a local event will really give you a feel for the heart of the city. Some of my best travel memories come from the random festivals and events I stumbled upon in different cities. It’s something different. Something fun. Something unique that not every tourist gets to experience so take advantage!
Check out the official tourism website
With all the guidebooks and travel blogs out there it’s very easy to forget about the official tourism websites of the cities we visit, but those are also great sources of information. Even the smallest towns and cities have an official tourism website that can give you a great overview of the destination if you don’t have a guidebook. Those websites tend to be very thorough and easy to navigate, and because they are official representatives of the city, they also often have special discounts and other perks for people who happen to pass by their website and find them. I know I’ve discovered a ton of things I didn’t know my city had just by checking out the official tourism board website.
There are tons of resources out there and ways to discover a new city so unless you like to be spontaneous and wing it, there is never a reason to start an adventure unprepared. Despite all these strategies I have for exploring a new place, I personally like a mix of spontaneity and planning. Gotta leave room for at least unexpected opportunities and adventures 😉