Getting lost in a new city is not usually on a traveler’s to-do list. But it is highly recommended that you cull your skills in the art of getting lost if you wish to throw off the tiresome stereotypes that come with being a tourist.
It might be harder than you think to truly move off the beaten path and have no idea where you are. When you feel a little disoriented, your survival instincts will (hopefully) beg you to reach for your map or stop a friendly looking local or police officer and ask for directions. But don’t listen! The essential idea is to be a bold and curious traveler and follow your instinct, your inner adventurer. After all, you’ve already made the decision to take a break from the routine of your everyday life back home, so why not take advantage, step away from the tourist route, and explore every nook and cranny of your new destination? Aside from taking home souvenirs and photos, your trip will be educational, inspiring and memory-rich, and you might even make some friends along the way.
Of course, in the name of common sense, you should probably always carry a city map with you, contact information for the place where you are staying, and some coins and cash in the local currency (not everyone accepts credit cards).
So here are some suggestions on how to create your own mini adventure wherever you go:
- Follow your nose. When you pick up on a delicious scent wafting out of a nearby bakery or cafe, go on in and locate (and eat) the source. Not only might you discover you newest favorite food here, you could also encounter a local crowd who can help advise you and guide you to a richer experience of their city.
- Get moving. Take one of those hop on-hop off buses or trams that will allow you to move into the city more quickly and will save your energy for the adventures that are about to begin. Similarly, jump on a random bus, metro or tram and take it for a few stops until you see a place that looks interesting and jump off. In any case, make sure that you spend more time on foot than on public transport. Hitting the streets allows you to mix in with the population and slowly take in all the sights, smells and sounds that you’ll miss if you’re stuck in a moving vehicle.
- Eat your heart out. You’re highly tempted by the description of the strange and exotic dish featuring pickled coconut or stuffed squid, but you also relish the familiarity and comfort of a nice slice of pizza. Unless you’re in Italy, go for the weird and wild flavors of the local cuisine, or you might regret the missed opportunity.
- Be a bold photographer. Yes, if you’re taking pictures of every single building, bakery display or historical tram, you are simply a regular tourist. But, start aiming your lens at the locals and you might get a different reaction. People will love posing for you and want to see how the photo came out. Or they might stare directly at you with a glimmer of curiosity, making for an excellent photo or excellent conversation. Or they could even get a bit irritated and shout something at you that makes sense in any language. No matter what happens, you’re bound to capture some fascinating photos and engage in unforgettable interactions with local citizens.
- Meet some locals. If you’re keen to really connect with locals, try websites like www.couchsurfing.org or www.hospitalityclub.org. You can sign up for a free profile and contact friendly locals for a place to sleep or just meet for a coffee and a walk around their city.
- Do as the locals do. If you see that everyone hangs their laundry out to dry on the balcony, why not join in with your undies and travel towel from your hotel room balcony? If it’s lunch time and you’re still puzzling over where to go for the real deal in local cuisine, one general tip is to follow the construction workers. They know just where to go for a cheap and filling meal. Be a smart traveler and learn by observing the locals—you’ll end up saving yourself from embarrassing tourist mistakes.
- Linger when you’re lost. When you feel sincerely lost in the middle of the city, stop for a minute and really look around you. At the risk of sounding a bit hippie, cherish this exciting moment of unfamiliarity—how often do you get to feel this way, how often can you say that you have no idea about your surroundings or what’s around the corner? After all, maybe this is what traveling is all about, and as in life, you’ve got to appreciate what you’ve got while you’ve got it.