It’s easy to fall into mainstream “checklist travel” mode in the limited span of a weekend trip. Don’t get us wrong, we’re all for the London Eye, Rockefeller Center at Christmas time, and the Eiffel Tower whenever. But there’s something to be said for getting to know a city beyond its tourist attractions—for peeking beneath the shiny surface and finding out what really makes a place tick. Here are some strategies for traveling like a local and discovering a new town’s secrets in a hurry.
Hit the Ground Running (Literally)
Deplane, collect bags, and go directly to your hotel. Do not sit on the bed. Instead, lace up your trainers and go for a jog. Not only will you get a lay of the land, you’ll kick jet lag (or at least snap out of that airplane air-induced stupor). Not a runner? Many cities have bike share programs. Try New York’s new CitiBike, Velib in Paris, and HOMEPORT in Prague.
Use your Concierge
The hotel concierge isn’t there just to add gravitas. Chances are this guy knows a lot about the city—and he’s probably well connected, too. Which means your chances of getting into the newest hot spot will improve exponentially by chatting him up. It doesn’t hurt to tip well either. Adrian Moore, the concierge at the Mandarin Oriental Paris recommends “anywhere from $5 to $50 for simple to difficult services—and the sky’s the limit for private chefs, body guards, and the like.”
Crowdsource your Trip
Use social media to connect with people who live wherever you’re going. Follow the local restaurant critic on Twitter, use Facebook’s Graph Search to find out which of your friends have been to your upcoming destination, or just post your status on your Facebook wall and let the suggestions pour in.
Sleep Like a Local
Sites like Couch Surfing and AirBnB let you interact with the city—and the people who live there—in a way that you don’t when you stay at a hotel. And to be clear: Neither of these options necessarily involve sleeping on a couch. With Couch Surfing, you can request a bed or even a private room, while AirBnB gives you the flexibility to book the entire home. If you absolutely love hotels (we get it), try doing something completely ordinary: Make an appointment to get a shave or a haircut, go to a farmers’ market or the supermarket, or grab a drink at a non-trendy neighborhood bar. And talk to everyone.
Choose the Right Guide
Researched and written by savvy locals, LUXE City Guides are choosy and compact. They do away with extras like maps (your phone can help you with those) and illustrations in favor of a more streamlined approach. City essentials, like how much a taxi from the airport will cost you or whether or not to tip your waiter, are summed up in a 200-word-or-less section called “Blah Blah,” while picks for what to do, see, and eat are broken down into witty categories like “Agent’s Paying.”
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