How to get to know a place you’re traveling to

By Fareboom Staff, Mon, Apr 4, 2016

It started happening when I moved to New York.  Friends and friends of friends coming to the city would ask me what to do and see when they got there.  When I moved to Paris, it was the same.  It makes sense to ask a local for advice about a place you’re visiting, but what I realized was that most of the people I was talking to were using only my suggestions.  That meant they were probably missing out – after all, we may not have the same interests or tastes. Or there could have been something cool to do or see that I simply forgot to mention.

It’s not always easy to set time aside for trip planning.  Sometimes, no matter how excited you are to get away, figuring out what you want to do when you get there can even feel like a chore.  But it’s worth it if you really want to experience your destination to the fullest, on your terms.  And it doesn’t have to be boring, either.  In order to have a richer, better experience and not miss out the next time you travel, here are some other ways to get to know the place you’re headed to:



- Check out a quick online description. This could be from the tourism board, Wikipedia or Wikitravel (which I find to be a particularly great site since it combines facts with the opinions and recommendations of the local or “expert” who’s writing the article), a few paragraphs in a brochure….  Basically, wherever you can get a quick bit of info about everything from the location’s layout and culture, to things to do, main sites to see, things to eat, and so on.  Reading it should only take a few minutes at most, but it will give you a better idea of your destination, and probably some inspiration for what to do when you get there.



- Don’t forget about guide books.  In our world of fancy apps and info tidbits, it may seem useless to use an old-fashioned print guidebook.  But if you haven’t used one recently, they’re not the dry source of information you may think. There are tons of different guides out there that cater to all kinds of travelers, budgets, and trips.  You can easily leaf through to sections that interest you, making for quick reads that are more targeted to you and your particular travel situation. Guide books can be expensive, but your local library probably has a nice collection to choose from, so you can get all of this information for free.


- Read a brief history or watch a brief documentary. This can help you get the lay of the land, figure out what you want to see, or even just get you even more excited for your trip.  You can often find free documentaries and travel videos of all kinds on YouTube.


- Look at a map.  You may be planning to use GPS or Google Maps when you’re on site, but looking at a run-of-the-mill map (online or in print) before you go can be extremely helpful. Knowing the layout of a place in advance can help you with things like figuring out where you want to stay in order to be closest to things you want to see, and generally how a location is laid out.  For places with public transport, subway maps can give you at least give you a basic sense of where the stations stop, how to identify the lines, and how to navigate them. Finding a map of your destination is as easy as doing an online search.  You can also get one from most tourism boards, as well as via websites like Wikipedia. 



- Travel forums.  Sometimes you might have a really specific question.  Like, how great is that restaurant you were thinking about making a reservation for, or is seeing Michelangelo’s “David” worth the ticket price?  Travel forums are an amazing solution.  They’ll give you honest, helpful information that’s often extremely up-to-date.


- Let your interests take the lead.  Whether it’s a book about one of your hobbies, an online list of something you’re passionate about (like the best croissants in Paris), or a site devoted to Tokyo street fashion, delve into something that perfectly combines your interests and the place you’re visiting.  You’ll get a better sense of where you’re going, and probably some great ideas for things to do.



- Books, movies, music, and TV shows.  These may not give you factual information, but they can really get you in the spirit for your trip, and make you curious to see certain things -- sometimes even more obscure and offbeat ones.   For example, my mother is a huge fan of the musical “The Phantom of the Opera”. When she first came to visit me in Paris, not only did she want to see the impressive exterior of the Palais Garnier opera house, where the story takes place; we also took the tour of the inside.


Alysa Salzberg is a writer and trip planner.  She lives in Paris with an eccentric Frenchman, a baguette-stealing baby, and a dog-like cat. Besides them, she loves travel, books, and cookies. You can read about her adventures here, or feel free to stop by and check out her website.

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