Get the Most out of Your Destination by Doing These 6 Things
New Experiences and Lots of Stories to Tell
Traveling to a new destination can be overwhelming. With so many attractions to visit and corners to explore, how can you possibly do the city justice?
Sometimes you come away from a location feeling like you barely scratched the surface, or that you got a good feel for the history but not the culture of the area. It’s impossible to do everything, so we’ve narrowed down six activities you should do whenever you’re exploring somewhere new that will give you a well-rounded feel for your destination.
Here are the things you should do in any new place you travel to, to truly experience the spirit of a given city.
Talk to a Local
Strike up a conversation with the street food stall owner, the taxi driver, the manager of the hotel or any other local you encounter during your stay. Chatting with the people who live in your destination will help you understand the culture in a deeper and more meaningful way.
Your new local friend might be also able to give you valuable tips and advice for what to do and how to stay safe during your stay. If you get really lucky, you may be invited for dinner at the home of a local person or to a festival or event that will become an unforgettable travel memory.
If you’re nervous about putting yourself out there, a good way to ease into it is by booking a private tour. A Paris private tour, for example, involves being shown around by a local who can give you their firsthand experience living in the city. They’ll also be able to give you their undivided attention, allowing for a more valuable experience than what you’d get in a big tour group.
Try the Food
In my opinion, you can’t visit a travel destination without at least sampling some of the local food. You might love it or hate it, but the cuisine is a major part of a nation’s identity and a huge aspect of experiencing another culture.
Be brave enough to sample the local eats, even if it means eating Guinea pig in Peru or kangaroo in Australia. Who knows, you just might like it! This goes for less exotic places as well; when exploring a new city, eating the local food — even if it’s in your cultural wheelhouse — is a great way to get to know the specific culture of a neighborhood.
By straying away from chain restaurants and opting for locally run businesses, you’ll also help support sustainable tourism in the area.
Walk Through a Residential Neighborhood
It’s one thing to walk through the tourist area of town, but it’s another thing completely to walk through a residential neighborhood where the average person lives. Make sure to do this when you are exploring a new place, because it will give you a much better sense of what life is like in that country.
I’ll never forget the residential neighborhoods that were perched on the steep mountainsides surrounding the city of Medellin, Colombia. The mountain was so steep that the tin roof of one family’s house was level with the backyard of their neighbor.
Scraggly stray dogs chased footballs kicked by children playing football in parks. The buildings were painted in wide looping scrawls of graffiti.
A couple on a motorbike clung to each other as they weaved through switchbacks up the slope. A grandmother reached to hang a pale pink sheet on a washing line.
A gaggle of middle aged men hung around on a corner store stoop. These are the snapshots of everyday life in Medellin.
Get up Early
I believe it’s worth getting up early on at least a few mornings of your trip, because being an early riser brings with it a lot of travel benefits. I wrote a longer post about why travelers should get up early, but essentially the main benefits are that you will avoid the crowds and be able to visit attractions in hot countries before the heat of the day.
Also, you will get to taste the local breakfast and you will avoid being out too late at night, which can be dangerous.
Plus you’ll have a chance to observe people waking up— the locals setting up their fruit and vegetable stalls in the local market, the joggers going for their morning run, the businessmen on their way to work.
You’ll learn about this interesting aspect of the culture — how do people start the day?
Take the time to settle for a while in a local cafe or in the park and just quietly observe people around you. Every culture has its own rhythm and watching a city street in London is incredibly different from watching the interactions in an open-air marketplace in rural Bolivia.
Sit back and pay attention to what is going on around you. How fast are people walking? Is everyone in a hurry (like in New York) or do they saunter slowly, smiling at everyone (like in Sri Lanka)?
What do people wear? How do they greet each other? How loudly do they speak?
In Istanbul you will see groups of old men sitting on tiny stools in the marketplace, sipping minuscule cups of tea. On Khao San Road in Bangkok you can watch the endless hilarious struggles and negotiations between pushy tuk tuk drivers and cheap backpackers in neon singlets.
In Rome you can watch elegant businessmen and women confidently clip-clopping down the cobblestones in designer clothing and polished shoes. No matter where you are, you’re sure to see something interesting.
Record Your First Impressions
Last but not least, whenever you visit a new destination make sure to take time to record your first impressions. You can only see something for the first time once and when you get used to it you will perceive it in a different way.
Later on, it will be hard to remember what the destination looked like through fresh eyes.
For example, I’m glad I wrote down my first impressions of Bangkok. I’ve been back six times since and I’m used to the sights and sounds now, but when I first encountered them they were strange and fascinating (especially little details like the stray cats).
Since I wrote down my thoughts, I can now look back and see the destination again as I saw it for the first time.