Although I plan my accommodation in advance more often now I’m less organised than I used to be when it comes to sightseeing. I used to read up everything before I went and compile lists of must-sees, but I’ve learned that it’s better not to travel with any specific expectations and I sometimes don’t even read guide books, other than for practical information and I just see what happens when I get there. The reward is often strange fauna, extraordinary landscapes, diverse customs, colourful festivals, amazing places to relax in.
“The traveller sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.”
However, if your time is limited and your destination contains popular sights you might need to book in advance. For a good overview of what's available there are several apps like Culture Trip where you just enter your destination and all sorts of useful information pops up.
If you have limited time it makes sense to book your day trips beforehand. There are plenty of large companies like Viator you can use. I’ve found some hotels really helpful with fixing up arrangements in advance.
Many cities offer free walking tours (tip the guide afterwards) and these and coach tours or hop on/hop off buses are great ways to meet people.
Get a Guide
There's nothing better than being shown round by a local who can orientate you, introduce you to people, knows what’s happening when and can show you things you might have missed on your own. Even better if they make things fun. For me it’s more important to be shown where sights are and to get an insider’s perspective. Other knowledge I can read on the internet. Guides will often introduce you to their own families. You might get taken to a family meal.
There are plenty of companies like GetYourGuide, where you can track one down. Use a reputable company and/or read the reviews. I have a list of guides I have used. Many still message me on WhatsApp and Instagram! Get in touch and I will see if I can help.
Don't forget to check ID and licence. And always tell someone else where you are going.
Going it Alone
It’s perfectly possible to explore many cities on your own. And it's certainly cheaper. Plot your route on Google, which is really helpful in telling you how long your walk will take, so you can plan a sensible day's sightseeing. Or download a self-guided tour from the Internet. There are numerous apps available for this, such as GPS My City, which will allow you to choose all the sights you want to see. (Though you have to pay for the premium version if you want a route on a map, rather than a list of suggestions.
There area many destination specific apps s, many free, like Japan's excellent Hyperdia, which guides you in how to use all the timetables and transport there.
Want to contribute more, develop yourself further and really experience the culture? Then ask how and where you can help out. Or find a formal volunteering programme. I spent a month in Ghana working in schools and teacher training. Much more rewarding than donating to Oxfam.
In the Evenings
It's obviously important to be careful about what you do after dark. See Travelling Solo Safely. I don’t go out on my own at night without checking whether the local area is considered safe. But there are many activities that are not overly risky:
- Visit a night market (watch your purse)
- Go to the cinema
- Take in a Son et Lumiere (sound and light show) - many monuments arrange these - or a concert
- Take a city at night tour
- Or gaze at the night sky - marvel at how different (and probably) clear the sky is, away from home. The app Starwalk will, amazingly, tell you what all the stars above you are called.
If I’m tired, or staying in a dodgy area, I have a take away in the room and spend the evenings sorting my photographs and writing my blog.