How to Explore Any City Like A Local
Travel is such a rush for me. To step off the plane, out of the train, open up my car door to explore the sights and sounds of an entirely new place is exhilarating. The great thing about travelling is that you will never see everything the world has to hold so you never have to stop exploring. I have realized, however, that there are different ways to explore a new place. You can stick to the tried-and-true tourist spots but then there are the places that only those in the know go. I LOVE going where the locals go; that's how you get the real flavor of the place. But how do you know if you don't "know"? Here's how I've figured out how to explore any city like a local.
1. Start searching for cool places at your destination early. I don't mean early in the day; I mean before you even step off the plane. I am a planner who believes the earlier the better and that's been really helpful when travelling. It's very easy to go on the city or tourist website of wherever you're visiting and see a few things to do there. These "highlights" are going to be the most obvious things that make the city a destination and you should definitely do some of those things. But you might be hard-pressed to find the tab that links to the best of the local bar scene. If you want to find a "behind the scenes" tour then you'll have to spend a couple hours finding interesting, out of the way attractions. It will also be helpful to know what you're talking about when you need directions or want to sound like you know what you're talking about (and not confuse the local who's trying to help you).
2. Use social media. Sometimes I wonder how we did anything before social media. If you use it the right way, you could plan your entire vacation via social media. On our trip to Austin last summer, so many of the things we did were from recommendations on twitter or things I saw on Facebook. Many restaurants, public parks (almost all National Parks in the U.S.), museums, tourist attractions, and shops have a twitter account. Twitter can be used to figure out a shop or venue's schedule if its weird or unusual or to figure out something cool happening at a late night spot. On Facebook, I've been able to see what old friends in faraway places are up to and what places they like in their hometown. Social media is powerful tool for the world traveler.
3. Find bloggers that live where you're headed. This is probably my best tip: do a google search for bloggers and blog posts about the area you're visiting. I find this to be the most authentic way to discover more about a city. You'll get great, realistic photos of hotel rooms, restaurants, and hot spots. Most bloggers travel off the beaten path (creates better content, duh) so they'll direct you to great local shops, up and coming areas, and restaurants that serve up the best food in the city. Since I started reading blogs more than eight years ago, I have used blogs as a travel resource more times than I can count. Now with an ever expanding travel niche, blogs have got you covered.
4. Invest in a guidebook. With all my high tech options above, you might think I'm above a simple guidebook. But I will always love a guidebook. Sure, they highlight all the important tourist-y sites but they'll also help guide you around an unfamiliar city with maps and recommendations from veteran travel writers. They are also a god-send when that trendy restaurant you researched online is closed and you have no back-up plan. There is nothing worse than wandering through unknown streets on an empty stomach. I also have my best luck finding decent hotels in my price range in guidebooks.
5. Be open to new experiences. The easiest way to immerse yourself in a new city and a new culture is to just be open to it. Don't rush from place to place; stop and admire the culture around you. If you're sitting at a bar having a drink, talk to your bartender about places they love in their city. Feeling lost? Stop for a moment and breathe. Travel is not just about the destination; it's about the journey.