You have everything planned and booked for your vacation, but now you need to decide exactly WHAT you’re going to do when you get there! The thought can be somewhat overwhelming so I made a quick list of how to fill your time to the best of your liking.
In general here are some helpful things to consider:
1) Purchase a Lonely Planet Guide Book
2) Ask around before you arrive – Facebook is great for this
3) Leave some room in your itinerary to do things that a local suggests
4) Check on Trip Advisor
5) View top hits on Google
6) Look for reputable AirBnb “Experinces” in major cities
7) Use Groupon
If you like museums: These are always pretty easy to find and generally the first things that pop up on a search when you type in “ Things to do in …..”
Look at reviews to see the best ones in the area; sometimes there are really unique things to see even for people who aren’t big into museums. I’m not huge on museums but we do look for children’s and interactive museums because they generally are really fun!
If you like landscapes and pretty views: Try to look up the highest point in the city and see if there is a way you can easily access it. This always makes for breathtaking views and awesome photos. You can also just look where you are on Google maps and anywhere you see the camera symbol, it’s a good bet that you will want to visit there. Sometimes you have to think outside the box and ride the elevator to the top floor of a mall. El Corte Ingles Malls usually have a (gourmet) food court at the top with windows, so we hit those up for free skyline views.
If you’re a foodie: The world is a playground for these types of people, each place opens up a new experience and new opportunity because the food culture can change so much from one place to another. Some places known for great food are: Peru, Italy, France, China, Greece, Vietnam, Mexico, Thailand, India and Spain. If you walk around neighborhoods and see the Trip Advisor logo on the door those places are usually great. Of course the best bet is probably to ask the locals! You can also check out food experiences, pricey but memorable. Another great thing are food tours, which allow you to sample many typical items in a short time for a flat price. Markets are another favorite of mine, because they’re often cheap, always delicious, and fresh! Some of these foodie experiences can even be booked on Airbnb now if you are in a major city!
If you like architecture: Look for old churches, old neighborhoods, and anything that says “plaza….” Buildings of importance are almost always surrounding the plazas. Another key word to look for is “antiguo” (think of the work antique) and you will usually find some original architecture in those areas. Europe, being old as it is, has many different styles of intricate architecture you are sure to appreciate. If you are looking for something newer many of the booming cities in Asia and the Middle East (and even the US) have new, stunning architecture. Of course some of the 7 Wonders of the World are the greatest architectural feats known to man so you will want to check out places like the Coliseum, the Pyramids and Machu Picchu. You can find a list of the 20 best cities for architecture lovers here.
If you like art: Art galleries and art museums are always fun to visit and easy to find on the map. A better thing to do is ask around, locals can usually point you in the direction of a local gallery or shop that is maybe more unique than the large tourist attraction that everyone comes to see. Another thing to ask around for is street art. Murals and graffiti often make their way onto buildings no matter what city you are in. Finding the best spots may take some wandering around, but that’s just part of the fun!
If you have children: This is one of those things that may take more research, preplanning and looking at reviews because you want to make sure the place has plenty of kid friendly activities along with things that are enjoyable for you. In general things to look into: children or interactive museums, parks, Hard Rock Cafes or unique dining experiences- places you can watch the chef cook are awesome. Light shows or dancing fountains are popular in many locations. Souvenir shops can be turned into an activity if you give your kids a budget and let them pick what they want. Beaches and local fairs are usually a hit, water parks or amusement parks are fun, and street performers always awe! Just be sure to take some change with you if you go searching for this type of fun. If you can get the kids (and yourself) up early in the morning to avoid crowds and heat it can be a more enjoyable experience. This is great because you won’t be so worried about them getting lost, many places have free visiting hours early in the AM, plus kids may not wear out as quickly as they would in mid-day heat. This also allows for a picnic in the shade or lunch indoors and nap afterwards, during the hottest part of the day. Then you have time to relax in the evening and get ready for the next morning without having to stay up too late. This is actually the schedule Vincent and I like to follow too, although we can hardly ever get to bed early. As one last reminder, always look for kid's discounts or free activities online. Facebook, Trip Advisor, and Lonely Planet will be really helpful for this type of traveler.
If you like tours: Sometimes you don’t want to do all the research and the planning, sometimes it’s too difficult to figure out everything especially if all the websites are in a different language, sometimes you only have one day to squeeze everything in, sometimes you feel safer going with a group- whatever your reason is, tours can be a great way to see all the highlights and learn about them along the way. Many cities offer free walking tours- just remember a tip is expected at the end. I’ve also seen a ton of big double decker buses that offer a tour of the city from the comfort of your seat. The company is called ”City Sightseeing” and they are in just about every major city I have visited. If these options are too structured for you but you still want to be knowledgeable about the things you are visiting, look into audio guides. Most major attractions offer them for cheap or even free! More than likely you will be inundated with tour company offers and people on the street handing you brochures so it IS best to do a quick internet search before hand just to be sure you are going with a reputable company and getting the best bang for your buck.
If you like the outdoors: If you just want to be outside one of the best things you can do is walk and explore the city on your own. You never know what you will stumble upon. We do this more often than anything else because we enjoy getting a bit lost and finding new things. Sometimes the best days are when we have nothing planned but to wake up and walk out the door. Just be sure to ask someone about any sketchy neighborhoods to avoid before leaving, and try to keep a mental note of your whereabouts so you don’t accidently find yourself in an unsafe area. Parks are also a great area to chill out and enjoy the outdoors. They’re easily found on the Internet or Google maps. You can also look into outdoor activites based on where you are. Things like: hiking, skiing, snorkeling, paddle boarding, boating, and fishing come to mind.
If you like shopping: I will always advocate to support local artisans instead of things made in huge factories by exploited workers. The best places to find hand made goods is in local markets, at artisan fairs, on boardwalks, or in the more touristy areas where you will find the boutiques and people setting up booths on the street. This is something you usually have to ask around for, but most markets if they aren’t every day, function on Saturdays, Sundays, and sometimes Wednesdays.
If you’re a budget traveler: If you are under 30 or a student there is a discount card that will save you a ton of money on museums and other activities. We found this especially helpful in Europe, not as much in Latin America but we did get half off our trip to Machu Picchu, and they always have lots of restaurant discounts if you like to eat out. It is called an ISIC card and it is the ONLY student discount card accepted all over the world. More than likely, your actual student ID will get you nowhere; it MUST be this type of card. They also have cards for people who aren’t students but under a certain age (30). You can find out how to apply for it and how it works here. It does initially cost, but we have easily saved hundreds of dollars because of it.
If you are not eligible for the card there are other ways to make your money stretch. I have never used it personally, but I hear that Groupon sometimes has some great offers. Also, many museums and tourist attractions have free visiting times or free days you can go. It may not be widely advertised so you may have to do some digging, or be willing to get up early, but it’s worth it. In Barcelona we woke up at 5am to get to Park Guell in the morning time when it was free. We got to see the sun rise over the city with almost no one there and it was so peaceful.
Lastly, one more tip before I go:
One thing that really has helped us is when we find a place we want to make sure we visit, we type it into Google maps on my phone and save it under "want to go". I "favorite" the things I want to do most, and "star" anything important like where we are staying or the bus station we need to go to. It’s a very nice visual and super easy to see what you should hit in the same day based on what is close to each other.
No matter what type of traveler you are there are usually plenty of options for everyone to enjoy! I hope you have new ideas of fun things that will suit your fancy when you go on your next trip. If you have any other ideas or are a different type of traveler looking for advice let me know in the comments.