From doing your research regarding cultural expectations and the popularity of famous tourist sights to the importance of being ‘map wise’, here are six things you can do to help prepare for exploring a new city.
It seems like a no-brainer, but maps are a traveller’s best friend, and it’s easy to overlook one’s reliance on them, right up until you’re stuck in Brussels at two in the morning with no clue as to where you are, only to find that your Google Maps app no longer works. (Yes, this has happened).
When it comes to exploring a new city, be map wise. Before you arrive, it can pay to look up and print off a map of your arrival spot and the route to your accommodation.
It’s worth knowing that the Google Maps app, available for download on any smartphone, allows offline maps, meaning you can look up destinations using WiFi before you leave your hostel/hotel/house, and the map will work upon arrival, along with the locator function (provided your WiFi signal search is on and privacy settings appropriately adjusted). This is definitely the easiest way to get around a new city, but it’s worth having the backup of a paper map for those almost inevitable occasions when your phone dies, the map inexplicably freezes, or you accidentally swipe up, clearing your data. Data is expensive when roaming, and sometimes not available on various providers and plans.
Once in a new city, for those on a budget, remember that hostels, hotels and tourist offices tend to give out free maps of the central city, some of which are quite detailed, while some cities, such as Vancouver, provide street maps on free standing boards. And last but not least, when in dire need, bus stops have basic maps available for those desperately lost and walking in the opposite direction from the Sacré-Cœur.
Travellers looking to explore European cities on a budget can also check out 8 European Cities That Are Still Cheap For Travel.
Another no-brainer that can be overlooked when faced with the lure of cheap flights or coaches is the wisdom of arriving at your new city during the day. While coach trips that get in at three in the morning can offer great deals, there’s nothing so panic inducing as arriving at an unknown destination surrounded by dark streets with a phone with a SIM that only works in a country a thousand miles away. Arriving during the day or early evening can do away with some of these panicky moments and it means you have options if, for whatever reason, your plans go awry. This also means there are generally more people around from whom you can ask directions.
Being sensible in general when travelling is (obviously) a great idea. For instance, booking accommodation before arriving instead of chancing your arm that a hostel will have room upon arrival. In the summer, hostels and campsites in Europe tend to fill up quickly, while accommodations universally over Christmas and New Year’s tend to be fairly difficult to secure at the last minute. Women travelling alone can also check out Tips for Solo Female Travel.
For those travelling on a budget, or simply wanting to make sure their diet isn’t too rich, it’s best to work out where the nearest supermarket or local delicatessen is upon arrival in a new city. This can save travellers money when it comes to food and be used for basic emergency packing needs, like toothpaste, shampoo and more.
However, it’s also important to try the local cuisine. Travelling wouldn’t be as wonderful as it is without the amazing food on offer in every country, and you haven’t experienced a country until you’ve tasted it. Travellers should also push themselves to try dishes they haven’t tasted before, or taste local delicacies – at best, you’ll discover a new favourite dish and be picking up the pieces of your mind after it’s blown by the tastes, and at worst, you’ll have a great travel story about that time you tried a grasshopper in Bangkok.
Local customs are different around the world, and apart from being a respectful visitor to a country, it’s best to read up on these before arrival so you can avoid gaffes and being turned away from sights you want to see. For instance, in Italy and Spain, churches can refuse entry to those with bare legs and shoulders, and men, this can apply to you too. While St Peter’s Basilica has garments for erring tourists to borrow, other churches are not so prepared and visitors can make their way to the location only to be turned away at the door. In some countries, including Indonesia, showing too much skin is frowned upon. Readers can check out more tips on respecting local customs of dress in What Not To Wear.
Also worth the research is the popularity of tourist sights and the various rules regarding them. Turning up to see the Last Supper in Milan without booking in advance can see you turned away; tickets seem to be difficult to get a hold of, particularly last minute. Making sure you’re on time or early for entrance to the Parisian Catacombs will ensure the line doesn’t stretch around the block by the time you arrive.
Even if you don’t speak the language, it’s a great idea to give chatting to people a go – locals, other people at your hostel or hotel, and tourist operators for a start. Locals will be able to give you the lowdown on where to eat and what to do, fill you in on the real side of the city you’re visiting and possibly even invite you a local shindig or three. If you need more convincing, check out 6 Reasons Chatting With Locals Is A Must-Do. Chatting to other people at your hostel or hotel will often nab you other travellers to explore with; particularly at backpacking hostels, where many people are making their way around the country alone.
You don’t have to be a party animal; just be open to saying ‘yes’ (when you feel safe to do so), whether it be your roommates inviting you out to dinner or a hostel staff member suggesting karaoke. Saying yes to things can get you out of your accommodation, and comfort zone, and into exploring a foreign city.
When planning your arrival in a new city, it pays to be realistic with your scheduling. Although you may want to see everything and its dog in the two days you’ve decided you’ll allocate to the area, sometimes it’s just not physically possible. It can pay to avoid booking yourself into places where you only get a day or afternoon of exploration, particularly if you’ve been travelling hard for a period prior; chances are, you’ll fall asleep at your place of accommodation or be so exhausted you don’t enjoy any sight seeing to which you drag yourself. There’s no point paying for flights or coach fares if you arrive in a city only to sleep and then move on the very next day.
But perhaps the key thing of all is – have fun! You’re on holiday and travelling to try new things and broaden your horizons, so get out there and have the time of your life!