For me, few things are more exciting and intimidating than setting foot in a totally new city. I love unlocking a city’s secrets and the feeling you get when you start to understand its routines, how it operates, and what it values. Here are my tips for exploring a new city that will expedite your journey toward find a city’s heartbeat.
Get a business card from your hotel
- You might even want to take it a step further and take a picture of the business card and hotel. If you’re venturing from place to place, it’s easy to forget where you’re staying, and the last thing you want is to be miles away from your hostel or hotel with no idea what the name is or where it is.
Pay attention to your 5 senses
- Get observational and actively pay attention to your senses. Each city has a unique smell, sound, taste, texture, and look. I always journal these aspects of a city because they immediately bring me back to the place. I’ll never forget the sound of metal spatula hitting metal wok at a outdoor stir fry stand in China or the creamy, aromatic cappuccino smell in Rome.
Vary the ways you see the city: walk, ride, drive, etc…
- Exploring a city through various modes of transportation, will allow a city to reveal its different layers. You’ll notice different things on a motorbike than you will on foot so take the opportunity to explore in a multitude of ways.
Prepare for weather variables
- As a traveler, you’re going to have limited time, and you don’t want your trip to be stopped in its tracks due to rain or heat. Get use to carrying around an umbrella, sunglasses, fan, sunscreen, and water bottle to ensure you can keep exploring despite weather variables.
Start early and end late
- By taking advantage of all the hours of the day, you’ll get to see amazing and unexpected city routines. For example, if you’re exploring Thailand, getting up early enough will allow you to take in the processionals of barefoot monks walking through the city collecting food and praying with local people.
Bring a tour book but don’t keep your nose in it the whole time
- Having a guidebook is invaluable. It will provide you with real information and great recommendations about the city and sites you’re taking in that will help you understand the place you’re exploring. However, don’t let yourself get caught up in the guidebook. Make some of your own selections about places to eat, streets to walk down, and hostels to stay in so that you’re experience is unique. Allowing yourself to travel unguided will help you grow and likely lead to some of the most inspiring and unique experiences of your trip.
Ask both locals and travelers for suggestions
- Locals and travelers alike have amazing knowledge so tap into both. Locals will be able to guide you to hidden gems and point of aspects of a city you might not notice. Travelers can give you first hand tourist information. They are your most up-to-date resource on accommodation, sites, and restaurants and may have done exactly what you’re trying to do just the day before!
Take pictures of people, objects, scenery, and architecture
- Make sure to vary the type of photographs you’re taking. I always struggle with this so I actively review my pics to ensure I’m getting enough variety that I can remember all the nuances of a place. Take photographs of locals’ faces, beautiful food, signs, unique buildings, and of course, yourself! Even if you don’t love to have your photograph taken, get over it because sometime in the future, you’ll be devastated by the fact that you don’t have pics of yourself in these amazing places.
- Just like in school, you think you’ll remember, but you won’t. Get a little notebook and write down all the tips and tricks that locals, guides, and fellow travelers impart: this information is uber important. You’ll be amazing how often you reference your little notebook, and it’s also a great travel keepsake.
- It can be a bit of an adjustment to realize you are not the first to visit the city, see the site, or eat the food. In fact, you are far from the first, which is totally fine. The fact that others have done it before means it’s worth doing. If a cafe has a huge line, get in line. If a fellow traveler recommends a guide, use him or her. If a hostel has great reviews, book a night. This may not work 100% of the time, but it is a good base plan that can take care of quite a lot of logistics leaving you more time to seep in the experience.