Visiting a new destination can be intimidating. It’s foreign. It’s unfamiliar. Depending on the size, one can also feel an immense amount of pressure while simultaneously navigating a new city and attempting to check items off a bucket list. Having experienced new cities in almost 40 countries around the world, we have some tips for you that will help you figure out the best ways to experience a new city!
Walking is not only the best way to see a new city but also the best way to stay in shape while traveling. Frommer’s list of the world’s 10 most walkable cities includes 7 cities that I (Michael) have visited and 6 cities that Alex has visited! Included is our second home, Florence, Paris, Sydney, and many other cities in which we have walks miles and miles and miles. A typical day for us in Florence yields about 10 – 12 miles walking! When you are in a taxi or underground in a subway, there is so much that you miss. Walking allows you to experience true culture. You’ll walk past locals, street art, street vendors, national monuments, art, famous architecture, and beautiful edifices. If we are going somewhere less than 3 miles while traveling we will, invariably, walk. Perhaps the best part about walking is that you’ll burn off all the food in which you indulge!
This might seem to contradict our first point, but after you’ve worn your shoes out and walked the entire city from North to South, East to West, take public transportation so you can travel with the locals. If you’re in a place like London that has a transport card (they call it the Oyster card) then get one of these and load money onto it/set up automatic payments to your credit card so that you don’t have to purchase single tickets every time you travel.
Become a shadow of the locals. Follow them to their central markets. Follow them to their grocery stores. Follow them to their restaurants and bars. Follow them to their gyms, places of worship, etc. Force yourself to meet locals and make new friends. Ask them for recommendations and maybe even go out for a drink or go to dinner with them. One of our favorite ways to get tips from locals and to make local friends is to find a great caffe, talk to the baristas, and ask where they shop, eat, and what they like to do for fun.
Do you do touristy things in your home town? No! Us neither. Typically you have a daily routine and for us, that includes working out, going to work, eating, going for a walk on the beach, etc. We have spent 6 months in Perth and the only semi-touristy thing we have done is go to a national park.
Even at home in LA, we didn’t really do touristy things. There are so many non-touristy things to do in LA, so why follow a crowd up the Hollywood sign hike?
Our time on Capri is a perfect example of this. We avoided every single tourist attraction and, instead, rented a Vespa asked a local to show us the best beach areas and drove our Vespa/hiked to a private beach on the backside of the island. We ended up making a new local friend who invited us to his house on the coast for aperitivo!
We love walking around new cities and sharing them with no one except the garbage men, delivery workers, and street sweepers. If you see these guys out doing their morning cleaning/work routines, good work! You woke up early enough and beat the rest of the tourists. Walking around cities right after sunrise is one of the best ways to experience the city as it is stripped down to its core.
Even if you’re not in a city, wake up early and explore! While visiting Ubud, we woke up at 02:00 to do the sunrise hike up Mt. Batur! It was EPIC!
Hiking to the Sun Gate Machu Picchu was not on our itinerary. We just wanted to visit Machu Picchu. Then, we realized that there was an awesome hike to the mountain overlooking Machu Picchu and we spontaneously climbed to the best view of the day. This spontaneous experience was one of the best experiences we have ever had traveling. Itineraries mean expectations and a gap between expectation and reality can lead to disappointment. The great Anthony Bourdain once said,
Nothing unexpected and wonderful is going to happen if you have an itinerary in Paris filled with the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower.
Go without the itinerary and be spontaneous! Whenever we have itinerary items in a city, it almost seems as if we are just checking items off our bucket list but when we spontaneously explore a new destination, we invariably create our best travel memories. If you absolutely insist on having an itinerary, try to set aside 1 day on your trip for pure spontaneity where you walk around the entire city, meet locals, and immerse yourself in the local culture. We recommend you make this the day you arrive!