Everybody has a different opinion on what the the best way is to experience a destination. There certainly are a number of options. Of course, ultimately you should choose whichever method works best for you and your goals for the trip you are planning.
Some Key Factors to Consider
- Maximizing your time so that you can do everything you want to do while you are there
- Your physical abilities
- Personal preferences
- Safety. It is very important if you plan to explore a destination independently, to find out how safe the area is for travelers on their own.
As for me….I am a true explorer and really like to walk!
Wandering through a city is my favorite way to explore and it can be a lot of fun. Having a hotel in the city center makes for a great base for adventures on foot. I have had some fantastic experiences melding in with the locals and just letting my feet lead the way. It’s nice having the ability to set your own pace and stop wherever and whenever you want. We seek out local foods, statues, museums, cool shops, historical sites, funky architecture, great views and always find time for an afternoon Spritz!
When in Rome, Italy, we spent a lovely afternoon exploring the local sites with another couple. Although we made a few wrong turns and discovered our language skills were a bit weak, we still found the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain (under construction) and so much more during our ramble. That evening, we simply chose a Trattoria nearby and ventured in for some delicious authentic Italian food and wine. It turned out to be a fabulous and memorable day.
At the beginning of a multi-country trip we took in 2018, our flight had been delayed over 24 hours. This only left us 4 hours to explore on our own in London before leaving the next morning for Belgium. It wasn’t ideal, but we ventured out on a 4 mile walk to take in as many sites as possible. All and all we did pretty well and even managed to find a wonderful Pub near the hotel where we had an interesting dinner with some locals. Sometimes the unplanned experiences are the best.
While wandering in Portland, Oregon on a trip with my daughter, we discovered the best French Patisserie. As a matter of fact, we enjoyed it so much, that we ended up visiting there twice during our stay. If we hadn’t just headed out to take in the city on foot, we probably never would have found this delightful gem!
Tip: If you prefer a bit more structure, you can use a preplanned Walking Tour Route. You can find maps for independent walking routes in travel centers or at the hotel concierge desk. They are also often listed in guidebooks or can be found with a quick google search.
Guided Walking Tours
Guided Walking Tours are another great way to get a feel for a city. These tours are generally very affordable and last 1-2 hours. We discovered them on our first Group Tour to Europe. The guides know the history, local quirks and have the best insights on the area. I always learn a lot from them and often pick up tips for where to eat or other things to see or do later on my own. It’s also helpful to note places that you see along the way if you plan to come back to them after the tour. A good Tour Guide can really add to your trip experience.
How to find a Walking Tour Guide
Tip: Don’t forget to tip your Tour Guide!
Apps & Websites
If you will have access to the internet and using technology won’t be an issue, there are several Apps and Websites you can use to download Self Guided Walking Tours.
The Rick Steves Europe App is one good example. This app has a lot of great travel tools, free local guidebook information and Self Walking Tours complete with audio. You can even download your routes in advance so that you can play them without needing internet later.
Other Helpful Websites or Apps
Tip: I bought an inexpensive headphone splitter for my phone so that we are able to plug in and listen to the commentary together from one device.
Many cities have City Cards for purchase which grant you entrance to numerous popular attractions. Sometimes they even offer free or discounted activities and transportation deals. These cards are usually reasonably priced with options for either a single day or multiple day access. If you are planning to visit a city, you can simply go on line to find out if they offer a City Card. Once you have found out what the card includes and how much it costs, you will be able to decide if it works for your trip.
Some Examples of Really Good City Cards
Tip: Having one of these cards can also help to speed you through the entrance process at busy attractions, like Museums.
Hop On Hop Off Bus
If you have a lot of ground to cover, you might want to consider a Hop On Hop Off bus ticket to move you between points of interest. They can be a great value and often come with extra perks and usually includes a city tour narration on the bus while you are traveling between sites. I like how easy it is to pick and choose which stops you want to take advantage of and that you rarely have to wait long for a bus to the next location.
When we visited San Antonio Texas, we were only there for a day. Our hotel was within walking distance to the Riverwalk entrance where we purchased Hop On Hop Off Bus tickets. This allowed us to move at our own pace and still check out everything we wanted to see in just one day. It also eliminated the need to deal with navigation through the city or finding parking if we had driven. The tickets were $29 and also included admission for a relaxing and informative boat cruise through the Riverwalk area.
City or Small Group Tours
You can book a City or Small Group Tour in advance or right from the Concierge desk wherever you are staying.
Although we are definitely planning to do some hiking on our short Girls Getaway trip to Sedona, we are also looking at adding a Pink Jeep Tour. This kind of tour would transport us to some rugged and remote areas that we wouldn’t be able to visit on our own within our liited timeline. We can either book our tour ahead of time through sites like Viator and Trip Advisor, or wait until we arrive and go right to their office in Sedona.
To keep costs down in Waikiki, we opted not to rent a car. Most places were easily within walking distance to our hotel. When we wanted to visit Pearl Harbor which was further away, we utilized the service at our hotel’s Concierge desk to book a really affordable day trip. As an added bonus, it also included a City Tour. We really enjoyed our lively Driver/Tour Guide and seeing some key sites that we otherwise would have missed out on.
Tip: Pearl Harbor only allows 1200 people per day to enter their site. Scheduling a tour also included guaranteed admission for our visit.
Every trip you plan will be a little different, so keep an open mind to trying out new methods. I hope we all will be able to use these tecniques to explore the world again soon!
Dream, Plan, Save, Adventure!