City Guide Do-It-Yourself

By Sara Wiseman

Throughout the summer hoards of people clog the streets of Europe as tourist groups wait to hear about this or that monument in a five second spiel. They may or may not have saved for years for the moment the guide explains through an ear piece in whatever language: “This is the Duomo,” or “This is the legendary Eiffel Tower.”


Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: The sheep. Don’t be this person. The person who experiences the cliff-notes of a city or even an entire country. It would suck to have walked through the streets of legend and not feel as if you had actually been there.

This is not a test, this is an experience and travelers should be approaching their new cities with an efficient plan of action tailored to their interests. Don’t approach a city by studying the cover and table of contents, create your own personal city guide to maximize your experience!

Here are some tips for a “City Guide Do-It-Yourself”:

  • Set the pace

Arriving in a new city can be overwhelming. Especially one filled to the brim with legend, monuments, nightlife and culture. While it’s important to not waste time with mundane things in desired destinations, travelers should also be sure that they are truly enjoying themselves. Every once in a while it’s necessary to pick one’s head up, take a few minutes and really observe and appreciate the gorgeous view. Don’t let your stay be boiled down to rushed trips from point A to point B. Enjoy the journey.


  • Avoid tourist traps

Any popular tourist destination is littered with tourist traps looking to swindle tourists. It can be difficult to decipher legitimate businesses in bustling crowds but travelers should be avoiding places eager to give a quick and dirty service for a quicker and probably more costly buck (or euro). Don’t prostitute yourself out for an unsatisfying experience.

Do your research before arriving. Look for local patrons. Look for long lines. Look for culture.

  • Research

This brings me to my next point: Do your research. Of course there will be no test at the end of your adventure and you will receive no totaled score. However, a traveler should do the research about a desired destination. I encourage this not only so you can enhance your experience by weeding out the traps, but so you can observe the city, its people, its monuments and its culture in understanding and appreciation rather than confusion or frustration.

  • Learn about the transportation

Trust me, any period of stay in any foreign city is going to be made easier and likely less expensive if you take a second to map out key routes on public transportation. Rather than wasting time unsuccessfully bartering with cab drivers at 3 a.m., use your knowledge to continue your trip of ultra-efficiency! Knowing the transit routes from a hostel to key piazzas and monuments can save you a ton of time.

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  • Find your personality

This is your experience after all. Do not limit yourself to seeing a city through the eyes of a tour guide or according to a movie script. Learning a city can be a lot more fun if you look for your familiar interests in common places.

If concert-going is your thing, make sure to set aside time for some live music. Ask around local cafes and shops about good venues and experience a different kind of music. It’s gonna be pretty awesome when you join the mosh pit of a French punk band or drink a beer and watch another culture appreciate familiar music through via cover band.


If running is your thing (although I’ll never understand it) map out beautiful parks to take your morning jog. You will never forget lacing up your shoes, and padding your way down cobblestone strips or watching the sun rise over a breath-taking city overlook.

  • Use your resources

All of these bullet points are key and some of you may be thinking that they’re easier said than done. Travelers are not alone! There are resources available for formulating your own city guide. This wonderful new beast called the internet can provide a world of knowledge at the click of a button!

For flights, hotels and best-of lists sites like TripAdvisor can be helpful. These sites give put their reputation on the line to endorse local businesses and can often be trusted to find a great deal. Sites like Lonely Planet can also give some great money saving tips and help travelers avoid businesses that turn into black holes for spending money.

Another important resource for travelers can be bloggers. Take the time to find a travel blogger in your destination on sites like WordPress. Odds are, if they sound like cool people and if they sound like they’re having a great time, they’re worth listening to.

Know quality resources and know that you’re better than a city’s cliff notes. With enough research and preparation, you can own your newest city destination!

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