I love arriving in a new place whether it’s a bustling city, a beachside resort or a mountain top town and feeling my senses tingling. I love that first sense you get of a new place, the first smells, sights and sounds that hit you, the warmth or the freshness of the air. It’s these moments that make a place real, that make it special to you, and that stay with you long after you have moved on to pastures new. I still remember the first time I set foot in Bangkok - the hot air pressed against my skin, the noise of the streets and the vendors, the smells of spices and street food mingled in the air. Ella in Sri Lanka was different, with fresh mountain air, fluffy clouds dotted along the skies and a sense of peace I had yet to find elsewhere in the country. Each place leaves a lasting impression, and those first few hours, or even first few days can really make or break how you feel about a place.
I was inspired to write this post because I’ve spent the last two days in Kandy, Sri Lanka, and it is the first place in a long time that I have felt an instant dislike to. After being high up in the mountains with fresh air and peace, Kandy has been an assault on the senses with too much traffic, too much noise and too much pollution. I’ve felt smothered here and can’t wait to leave today, to get back out into nature - back to exploring the jungle. However, I know that some of the reason I really don’t like Kandy is actually because I arrived here in a bad mood, exhausted and grumpy from travel, with a bad tummy and to a bad accommodation. The first few hours I spent here were feeling ill and wandering the streets trying to find somewhere to eat and giving up in the end. It just shows how much those first few hours or days can really shadow your impression of a place and that’s why I normally try to take control of the situation and to give myself the best opportunity to fall in love with every place I visit.
Well it’s all about making sure you throw yourself in at the deep end - whether you’re traveling by yourself or with friends or a partner, you have to get out exploring the first chance you get. By not sitting around feeling a bit lost, getting out and seeing the sights, meeting new people and really experiencing the city.
My favourite way, and one I use in every new place, is to spend the first day just walking. Especially in a new city, I love to just spend the day exploring on foot either with or without a map, this way I can get lost and find all the really cool stuff hidden away. Plus I end up learning my way around pretty quick from getting lost. I also find I talk to more random strangers and meet some great people along the way as well as getting to see the sights. I had a great day walking the length and breadth of Budapest - it was a great city for exploring on foot and I managed to see all the sights and make some new friends in a few hours.
Love running? Why not do like I sometimes do and explore a city in your running gear? I did this in Perth and had a fun day keeping fit and running around the city. Be creative with your sightseeing - I’ve spent a day exploring places on a bike or even on a segway - it’s a different way to see the city. I have a friend who really loves skateboarding and she always travels with her board, so she loves to explore every new city by skateboarding around and usually makes some friends along the way. Fancy trying it out? You can pick up skateboarding decks here.
Sometimes, especially if you are traveling solo or are pressed for time, it can be great to meet up with a traveling friend or even a new friend to be shown around a new place. When I visited Amsterdam and Berlin, I met up with old friends there from when I was living both in the UK and Australia - both friends took me under their wing and were excited to show me around their city. I had a place to stay and a tour guide, plus a great chance to catch up with friends and to see a new place. Don’t have a friend where you are going - why not try one of the many groups on Facebook to find someone who might want to host you? I’m part of a Girls Love Travel Facebook group which has almost forty thousand women from all over the world who live or are travelling all across the globe - they are always on hand for advice when travelling to a new place, keen to meet up for a drink, to show you round or even host you!
A good way to see the sights and explore a new city, if you don’t know where to begin why not join the professional tour guides? When travelling around Europe, I started using Sandemans NEW Europe Tours - they offer FREE walking tours around 18 European cities with fantastic guides who have endless knowledge and enthusiasm for their city. The tours are free but the guides work for tips and you are welcome to give as little or as much as you want - the tours were always so good that I happily 10-20 euros after my tours in Berlin and Amsterdam.
If you’re backpacking or staying in a hostel - why not take a look at the activities board and see what your hostel might be offering? Not only is it a great way to meet people and get to see the city, but it is often a lot cheaper or even free! When I was in Sydney, Australia, my hostel was fantastic for this and organised events daily including walking tours and wine and cheese nights, further down in Tasmania my hostel organised visits to the nearby mountain and museums for much cheaper than the usual price.
Not staying in hostels? Be smart about your accommodation and make it part of the experience! Renting out a house or apartment for your trip is a different way to experience the destination. Rental companies are making that option easier and safer, from AirBNB to CasaGo, you're sure to find somewhere that is perfect for you, and will give you a taste of the local culture.
How else do you like to explore a new city? Where will you be exploring next?