Everyone has their happy place to go to. For some, it’s a vacation spent high up in a tree house with a breathtaking view overlooking untainted Sumatran forests. For others, it’s all about lazing in a sun chair by a blue-watered beach in southern Thailand sipping straight from a coconut under the shade of a stripey umbrella. Ironically for someone like me who loves her quiet me-time as much as the next person, for me, it’s busy cities. Big, bustling places with skyscrapers, stunning restaurants, open personalities and noisy activities taking place in every corner.
However, for someone who loves shopping, eating exquisite meals in stunning settings and relaxing as much I do, we mistakenly think that simply by travelling to a certain place for extended periods of time, that we’ve come to know the place as well as any other person. But what does it mean to really call a place your second home? Here are a list of things you can do on your next vacation to truly get to know a city better:
1. Know how to get around from place to place on your own without any help
So you’re out of your comfort zone. You left your car back home, you’re sane enough to know that hitchhiking in an unknown city is probably not the safest choice (assuming you’re not desperate enough yet at this point) and your destination isn’t within walking distance (at least for someone of your fitness calibre). Explore your options for getting around the city if you’re on your own: catch a cab, ride a bicycle, get on a motorcycle taxi, hop on the subway, hail a rickshaw or buy a pass to get on a bullet train. Trust me when I say, nothing gets you more acquainted with your surroundings like riding a boat en route to a shopping mall in Bangkok.
2. Walk around your neighbourhood
Often in our excitement to leave the hotel at the break of dawn to embark on the next tourist hotspot (most likely according to an app on our phones), we forget that it’s not always about the museums, the markets or the amusement parks. Sometimes just walking around the neighbourhood of your hotel, or strolling down the street where your Airbnb is and just getting lost, can turn out to be the greatest adventure of your trip. Watch the neighbourhood children play ball in their front yard. Pop into a small store and talk with the owner. Get a pedicure from a charming salon at the corner of your street. Bring your camera out if you want to, but most of all, focus on opening your mind and widening the boundaries of your experience.
3. Spot the local eateries
As someone who appreciates beautiful places, and includes it as one of her goals to settle down permanently in a hotel by the time she’s forty, it feels almost hypocritical to advise you to skip the swanky restaurants and low-key pretentious hipster cafes. But on a day when you’re not cafe hopping to your heart’s content, and assuming you followed my previous bullet point of advice, when walking around your neighbourhood, make sure to try out the local delicacies as you see them. Buy some ice-cream from a man pushing a cart. Eat some skewered street food while standing at the side of the street. Sit down on plastic furniture at the side of the street and enjoy a hearty bowl of steaming noodles on a cold night. You may or may not get food poisoning (consider this a disclaimer from me) but at least you’ll have a good story to tell.
4. Take your time in them
Sometimes it’s a part of human nature to be greedy. Even on vacations, from time to time we find ourselves rushing from place to place, trying to fit in as many activities as humanly possible. We pack our schedules from morning to night, before tumbling into our temporary beds and blacking out until we do it all again the next day. Sometimes a vacation doesn’t even really feel like a vacation, and we end up wishing for another one just to recover from the last. Learn to take your time in places. Take your sweet time absorbing the atmosphere of a cafe for one to two hours with a good book. Move at your own pace as you take in every detail in a silent museum, sealing it as a mental relic for decades to come.