When it comes to vacations, I like to plan — probably more than the average person. The way I look at it, I’m spending hard earned money and vacation days, so I better get the most out of the trip and experience everything a city can offer.
Regardless of how much you plan — or don’t — these are my secrets to finding fun activities, unique restaurants and off-the-beaten path attractions in a new locale.
Ask a local
It can be daunting to ask a local for the inside scoop, but it doesn’t have to be! Pull up a seat to the bar mid-day (when it’s not busy) and strike up a conversation with the bartender. Other options? Your Airbnb host or train/bus/taxi/airplane seatmates.
Trip Advisor forums
Trip Advisor has a lot of resources to find activities and restaurants in a destination. What I find most helpful, though, are the forums. You can pose questions, ask for ideas, view other traveler’s itineraries and get information from people who have visited or live where you’re going. The Trip Advisor forums were invaluable when I planned my Guatemala vacation, since information was otherwise hard to come by online.
Not all who wander are lost
Put on some comfortable shoes and get walking. Seeing a city by foot or bike is one of the best ways to explore (and to justify drinks and dessert every day!). Some of the best local joints don’t have an online presence — you must literally stumble into them! Bring your phone so you can pull up a map or hail an Uber when you’re ready to go back to your Airbnb.
Whether a blogger lives in your destination or was a tourist themselves, blogs are a great way to learn about lesser known activities and restaurants. I once found from a blogger her original 15-stop walking tour in Lisbon that I would’ve never otherwise experienced! Easiest way to find a blog? Google your destination and the word “blog” or “blogger.”
Searching for a restaurant? Filter based on distance, ratings, type of food, expense — the options are endless. Can’t find a restaurant’s menu? Want to know what a dish looks like? If parking is plentiful? Search the reviews or photos. It’s worth noting, I find Yelp more useful in the U.S. vs. abroad.
Question: How do you decide what to do or where to eat in a new city? I’d love to hear your tips!