As soon as your plane lands in a new place, you should immediately start asking questions to everyone you come across, engaging them in honest discussion about their hometown. The taxi driver, the hotel clerk, the waitress — these people are invaluable sources of knowledge waiting to be tapped. Simple, open-ended questions, as simple as “What do you think I should do tomorrow?” will allow you to see the place through their eyes, and you’ll walk away from each conversation with a handful of ideas. Eventually, someone will say something that really piques your interest, you’ll notice a crossover in recommendations, or, best yet, you’ll get invited to something.
HIRE A GUIDE
Hiring a guide is a great way to get intel and overviews of places, especially cities, where a little narration can bring an otherwise unknown neighborhood to life. They can be a great source of knowledge in general, often providing a candid view of their home and a wealth of recommendations and insights on what to see and do. Group tours are OK if you feel like mingling with other travelers, but private tours give you the guide’s full attention.
DITCH THE BIG CAMERA
A big camera takes nice photos, and many people who travel have a strong interest in photography — it is quite literally the lens through which they see a destination. But this also creates a barrier, and it can be a distraction. Try switching to a pocket camera. It gives you less to worry about (no expensive camera to baby-sit), helps you blend in (you don’t stick out as a tourist), and gets you out of the habit of observing and recording and into the mindset of participating and interacting.
Pull the camera from your pocket, snap the photo you want, and then conceal it again. You’ll notice that locals treat you differently, and you’ll be surprised at your newfound mobility.
PLAN ONLY ONE THING PER DAY
It’s tempting to plan out every inch of your trip in order to experience as much as you can. This works very well for some people and if that’s something you need to relax, by all means go for it. Sometimes though, planning less can actually bear more fruit, because you’re open to the spontaneous pull of a place and you don’t have anywhere else to be. You leave yourself open to be tempted into that shop or bar or restaurant because of something you saw, you leave yourself open to recommendations you get along the way, for unexpected things to happen. Try planning only one activity a day and let your exploration guide the rest.
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