Here’s the thing – when you travel, you have opportunities to see and experience some of the most famous landmarks, artwork, historical sites, panoramic views, and restaurants in the world. You also have an opportunity to learn about another city, another culture, or another person. Sometimes people don’t think to include this in their travel plans. Yes, when you go to London, you should probably see things like Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and Buckingham Palace. Just make sure you also see the underground wine grotto that’s one of the oldest in the country, try the restaurants in SoHo that are only full of locals, or visit farmers markets like Borough that have been going on for 1000 years with the same vendors. It’s these places that really teach you about a place and the people that live in it. When you have experiences like that, you can connect with a place rather than just observe it.
When my husband and I travel, we recognize that we want to do the “touristy” things and that those places are important to see for a reason, but the times we tell people about the most when we return are from our own wanderings. We’ll pick a neighborhood and explore for a day. We’ll meet people, talk, and get recommendations of where to go next. By the end, we feel like we’ve discovered the life of the city we’re in, and it’s this feeling that sparks our wanderlust and drives that urge to travel even further.
So how can you do this? Here’s what I’ve found helps the most:
- Organize your touristy events. You’re going to do them, so decide if you want to spread them out or do them all in a few days of your trip. When we went to London, we had done most of the classic tourist items on our list by the fourth day, and used the rest of the time to explore certain neighborhoods further or even revisit places we wanted to explore more. You can also do one or two things in a day but then explore around that area for the other part of the day
- Schedule a walking tour. Do this as close to the beginning of your vacation as possible. It’s an easy and fun way to get to know your location in terms of actually getting around physically and historical context of a place. It’s also great in bigger cities that have smaller neighborhoods within, because you can really dig in somewhere the locals always go.
- Do some research. Not “top 10 things to do in ________” – I mean harder to find than that. Search some hashtags on social media related to what you’d like to try like #montrealcafe or #londoneats and see if someone is visiting a place that looks good to you! You can also just search a location that people are talking about and find things that way.
- Leave room for stumbling upon something awesome. The best part is finding something you never knew existed that you will then tell everyone else to go to. Leave some room in your itinerary for this randomness to occur, and don’t be afraid to get a little lost! Thank goodness for smartphones with GPS, right?
Do you plan for aimless wandering when you travel? What have been some of your best experiences?
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