Travel Planning. Expert Advice.


July 31, 2013

Discuss: How Do You Get to Know a Destination?

The area around Yangshuo, China, is perfect for a bike ride.

It seems that more and more travelers are looking beyond the glimmering tourist attractions of their destinations and are trying to uncover the heart of where they’re visiting. So, for this week’s discussion question, I want to know, how do you get to know a destination?

For me, I like to do a couple of things.

First, I think a great way to discover a destination is to get as lost as possible. This works especially great if you’re in a large city with a good public transit system because you’ll be able to easily get back to your starting point when you are done wandering.

Getting lost is a great way to get to know a city because it’ll let you get away from the tourist hordes and wander through the real city, where people actually live and work. It also gives you a chance to find unknown sites. I’ve discovered several beautiful statues, temples, and churches while lost; I even discovered one of the most amazing beaches I’ve ever seen tucked behind some houses on a South Korean island. I would have never found these beautiful and peaceful places if I hadn’t gotten lost.

Of course, if you get yourself lost in the countryside it can be a bit difficult to find your way home, but at least it makes a good story.

Another way to get to know your travel destination is to explore the local markets and grocery stores. This is another thing that I always make a point of doing when I visit a new country. I always find the different types of products they sell to be fascinating, and enjoy seeing what American food pops up in their stores (you can get a Coca-Cola or a Snickers bar just about anywhere in the world).

What about you? What do you think is the best way to get to know a destination? Let me know in the comments section below.


  1. You pinned it – grocery stores! I can spend hours in supermarkets – browsing foods available, how it’s offered, how much it costs, how the heck I might use it, and how to go about buying it. A cultural experience indeed!

  2. You’ve already mentioned several of my favorite ways to feel the heartbeat of the city. For food culture, I often try as many foods as possible at the local street markets and spend a couple hours at the supermarkets narrowing in on the most common foods that people eat. Couchsurfing is a wonderful inside look to a country’s culture too. Cooking with your host or family is perhaps one of the greatest joys.

    Also, if a city has an extensive subway or train system, picking a random stop to explore is always fun. Getting lost is key. It helps get the lay of the land quicker, and visiting the suburbs of the major cities, I find, is helpful too. The more rural areas are often overshadowed by their metropolitan counterparts.

  3. I always visit supermarkets as well, however it’s a bit of a different story in Bangkok. With such a large number of foreigners visiting (and presumably living) in the Thai capital, supermarkets go above and beyond, particularly the ones dotting Sukhumvit. Fancy some müesli while your significant other enjoys hoppers and longans in syrup? Visit Foodland or Emporium and you’ll be good to go.

    In my seminal days of traveling, I’d always have a map with me. These days, I just like a nice stroll, plenty of eating, and likely a random conversation or two. If I’m in Tokyo, I’ll rent a bike, but anywhere else (so far) it’s walk, walk and walk. It’s in my NY blood.

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