Getting the most out of your trip doesn’t have to drain your energy reserves or your financial resources. These simple tips will help you travel deeper!
I get it. You’ve saved your vacation days for this trip, and you are going to get the most out of your paid time off. You are going to see every single thing there is to see. Your itinerary may even be planned to the minute.
Take it from someone who once tried to see all of Paris in two days: You will get more out of your trip if you slow down and limit the number of places that you plan to see.
I’m not saying you should ditch the itinerary (part of the fun of travel for me is in the planning!) I’m just saying that you should pick a place that you really want to see, and you should STAY there and truly get to know the culture, the neighborhood, the local shops and cafés, and the way of life in your destination.
You will return from your trip rejuvenated rather than exhausted, and you won’t need a vacation from your vacation!
Please, don’t worry! You will still have plenty of exploring to do!
Once you’ve selected your slow travel destination, here’s how to get the most out of your travel experience:
Part of understanding the culture of a destination is to understand the way that people truly live. I used to stay in hotels within walking distance of the top attractions, and, in doing so, I missed out on learning about the true nature of a place. Locals usually don’t live where the tourists live!
One of my favorite ways to get to know a neighborhood is to use Trusted Housesitters. Now, you have to sign up for an annual sitter plan, but then you can stay in someone’s home for free as long as you care for that home and the homeowner’s pets and/or plants.
When I stayed in Berlin for a week, I searched for “artist neighborhoods of Berlin,” then I filtered my search for flats to rent in the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood.
OK, now that you’ve settled into your neighborhood, join the community! Here’s how:
One of the first things that I like to do after I’ve unpacked my bag, is to find my local pub. I sit at the bar, chat up the bartender and the locals, and ask about the neighborhood. Are there any local events that I should attend? Are there neighborhood blogs that I should read? I find out at the local pub!
(Note: I understand that we don’t all love to chat people up at a bar. Click here for my free cheat sheet to making new friends while traveling – even if you’re shy. It gives you lots of other ideas for meeting people.)
Once I find a place I like, I tend to make it my own. I’m not saying I spend all of my time at the pub, but I do stop in for a drink after a day of touring to say hello. When it’s time to leave a destination, I usually need to stop by the bar to say my goodbyes. (Pro tip: If you don’t drink, order a non-alcoholic ginger beer in a pint glass. Or make a coffee shop or book store “your place”.)
I also tend to find a favorite coffee shop in the neighborhood where I drink my morning brew, read the local papers, browse the community board on the wall, and read the neighborhood blog on my phone.
Once you find a neighborhood event by talking to the bartender, coffee shop barista, or reading the local blog or community board, attend an event! Go to the book signing or poetry slam or local band jam, even if it’s not your thing. Remember: life-changing moments exist outside of your comfort zone!
Use the farmers market or neighborhood grocer when you aren’t eating out.
You can learn how to shop in your new destination by following this next tip for how to travel deeper:
After I establish my local neighborhood establishment, there are two things that I like to do right away to get the most out of my travel experience.
The first is booking a food tour. This means going on a guided walk with someone who knows and loves the local food. Even better if that guided walk happens to be in your neighborhood!
I’ve had great luck using Airbnb Experiences, which allowed me to learn all about Malay Street Food in Kuala Lumpur and the hidden hideouts and restaurants of Hanoi. Another great way to learn about local food with a local is through BonAppetour.
The second thing I like to do to get the most out of a trip is:
One of the best ways to orientate yourself to a new place is to get up high. Look for the best views in your location. Is there a great hike that gives you panoramic views like the climb I took up Gellért Hill in Budapest? Or an observatory walk like the one amongst the Supertree Grove in Singapore?
Or a unique rooftop bar like the Helicopter pad turned lounge that I found in Kuala Lumpur?
Or a temple in the sky like this one in Chiang Dao in northern Thailand?
OK, now that you know your neighborhood, you know how to eat the local food, and you have an idea of the landscape of the place, it’s time to learn the history of your destination.
Search for self-guided historical walks or free walking tours. One of the best walking tours I ever experienced was in Switzerland, and I found it by searching for free historical walks.
If you’re willing to pay, it is worth it to learn from a true expert. The tours at Context Travel are organized by interest (history, art, cuisine, etc.) and developed by experts in that field of interest.
I often seek out the dark history of a place in order to travel deeper. For instance, I have an entire “Never Forget” series of WWII sites I’ve visited in this “Travel and History” collection of stories.
One of my favorite blogs is the Cultura Obscura, and they have an entire section on dark tourism.
Look, I know it sounds like a downer, but there are always stories of hope that arise from the darkness.
One of my most impactful memories of Vietnam is visiting the Hỏa Lò Prison, known to American soldiers imprisoned there as the “Hanoi Hilton.” It was seriously hard to examine the history between the United States, which is my home country, and Vietnam, but I walked away with a belief that human relationships can bend but never truly break.
A hard reckoning with my country’s past allowed me to travel deeper in Vietnam.
Seeking out the quirky, weird, and wonderful is another way to travel deeper – not to mention the amazing stories and unique pictures you will have to share about your trip!
One of my favorite resources for finding hidden histories and obscurities is Atlas Obscura. You can also dive into a countries subreddit page and search for “unusual places to visit,” which is how I found the odd sculptures in this self-guided walking tour of Prague.
Or, if you want to explore a well-known attraction in an obscure way, and you happen to be in a major United States city, check out Museum Hack. Offered in NYC, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, Museum Hack offers “renegade tours” of museums. I wrote about my Museum Hack experience at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City here.
Another way to get off the beaten path and travel deeper?
As you’re wandering around the neighborhood, check out what hidden treasures locals have left for you to find. Seriously, the Geocaching App is one of the best things I have on my phone. Geocaching is billed as a worldwide treasure hunt, and it certainly makes every walk an adventure.
Here I am discovering geocaching for the first time in Utah:
I don’t love whiskey, but, when in the Scottish Highlands…
I booked a Highland Malt Whisky Experience in Inverness through Airbnb Experiences, and it changed everything about my trip to the Scottish Highlands – in the very best of ways. My tour guide was so passionate about the Highlands and the way that whisky (no “e” in whisky in Scotland) and music shaped the culture that I am now passionate about Scottish whisky, Highland culture, and even traditional Scottish music.
Another great resource to check out for tours and experiences guided by locals is GetYourGuide.
You’re staying in a neighborhood that you vibe with and you’re doing a lot of walking and wandering. Now it’s time to let someone do the driving.
I like to stay in one place and explore the outskirts with a guide and, sometimes, a group tour. This helps me both to learn more about my destination and to make new friends.
(Note: If you are using Trusted Housesitters, you will have to coordinate your day-trip or overnight tour on the front or backend of your stay because you shouldn’t leave the animals in your care for an entire day.)
While I was staying in Chiang Mai in Thailand, I took an overnight trip to an ethical elephant sanctuary and had an unforgettable experience caring for elephants and meeting friends who I am in contact with to this very day.
In Bordeaux, I took a day trip to the vineyards of Saint-Émilion, and I can still taste the wine. I even wrote about the history of the underground wine cellars in Saint-Émilion in the draft of the novel I am writing!
In Inverness, I toured the Scottish Highlands on an Outlander-inspired tour (see below about how books about your destination lead to a deeper travel experience!), and that’s how I met the friends who showed me how to go geocaching in Utah. That tour also taught me about the history and legends of the Scottish Highlands in a way that still gives me goosebumps.
I used the European wine travel experts SmoothRed for my Bordeaux trip, the local Inverness experts Happy Tours for my Highlands trip, and I booked directly with the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand for my ethical elephant sanctuary trip.
Often times a book will inspire your travel to a destination the way that Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series inspired my trip to the Scottish Highlands, or how reading Paolo Coelho’s The Pilgrimage inspired me to walk a 500-mile pilgrimage across Spain on the Camino de Santiago.
But just as a book can inspire your trip, it can enhance your trip and allow for a deeper travel experience. I found this when I read “The Nightingale” (book review here) while in the Loire Valley of France.
The book is about two sisters during WWII and, while it was a book called The Winter Train that inspired my trip to the Loire Valley, it was The Nightingale that helped inspire my love affair with the Loire Valley and the town of Saint-Martin-le-Beau.
If you didn’t read a book about your destination before you left, it’s not too late! Hit up a local bookstore and pick up a book to read while you’re watching the sunset. Or…the sunrise. This leads me to…
That leads me to one of my favorite pieces of advice on how to travel deeper. Ensure that you see the sunrise at least once while on your trip. Yes, party animals, it counts if you stay out dancing until the sunrises.
But I think it’s best to plan your sunrise experience. I’ll never forget watching the sunrise over the mountains at the Cave Lodge in northern Thailand or trekking up Mount Batur with a flashlight in Indonesia.
The last thing I like to do to ensure a deeper travel experience is to give back to the destination. I volunteer with a local cleanup effort. If I can’t find a cleanup opportunity through neighborhood blogs or the destination subreddit page, I take a walk and do a litter cleanup all on my own.
By this point, if you’ve followed these tips, you will have met so many new friends that you will have someone to invite along with you!
Finally, I truly believe that every travel lover should take at least one solo trip in a lifetime. When you do take that trip, use the above tips to help you travel deeper and make new friends along the way. (Click here for your printable guide to making friends while traveling.)
For solo travel resources, visit here. For more on how to seek more from travel and from life, visit here. If you found my site because you are grieving, check out this section. Learning to love after loss? Visit here. Thank you!