If you travel to a new country, where do you look for places to see?
I might go to museums later, but for the first days I walk through the streets, the shops, especially the open air markets, talking to people, asking questions (What is that? How do you use it? How do you cook it? Did you make that? Wow, it's beautiful! What spice is this? What do you call it here? Where is this fish from? Can you show me its - Wow, the teeth! Where is your village? How far? Do you have children? How many? WHAT happened to your husband? You did that? Jeepers! Can that broken thing be fixed? How do you fix it? and on and on and on).
If I decide to go somewhere specific that requires a ride, I never take a taxi in the queue in the hotel driveway; I walk out into the street, which is always packed with hopeful drivers, pick one - usually an older guy - and ask him to show me HIS favorite places on the way to the destination.
That is the best part by far of new places: the people and how they live, what they are personally proud of about their country and this town, and the drivers, especially, tell wonderful stories. Far more interesting, entertaining, educational and memorable than buses to museums and ‘sites.'
I try to do some research before embarking to learn what I can about the country. So I'll read up on the country's history, see what's been in the news recently, and I'll try to learn to say a few phrases in the language (thank you, hello, goodbye, you're welcome as a minimum). If I know someone who lives there or is from there (or who has traveled there) I'll ask for suggestions (in fact, I have a trip to Australia coming up and I posted on Quora for suggestions in Sydney). If time permits, I'll also check travel guides - Lonely Planet is my favorite, but there are others as well. And then I make a list of the places that I MUST see, those I really want to see, and those that sound interesting. Oh - asking hotel staff is another good way to get information you might not be able to find out from guides, and often they can help you to set up tours, guides, etc. In fact, the hotel concierge in Budapest gave me directions to a wonderful restaurant that I'd never have found otherwise - fantastic food, an utterly charming space - it was perfect! Having said this - use some judgement. If you don't feel you can trust the hotel staff you might not want to solicit (or accept) their advice.
The other thing is that I try to get the most of my time - I'd rather see 5 or 6 "really want to see" places in a day than to spend the whole day going to a single "must-see." But - exceptions to every rule! If the one "must-see" is something exceptional then it's worth giving up a bunch of lesser sights. For example - if I only had two days in Delhi I'd be hard-pressed to do anything other than travel to see the Taj Mahal.
I always assume that any trip to a new country is the only one I'll be able to make, so I always try to make the most of it. Sometimes, sadly, I'm traveling on business or for a scientific conference and just don't have much flexibility. But even then I'll see and do what I can.
A little bit of advice from friends and family who been before me (if applicable), some advice with people I'm staying with (I typically use Airbnb or a hostel) and sometimes I'll just wander (a personal favourite of mine). As a personal example:
What I always do is check the more popular travelling agency websites. They offer usually complete trips where you are on day 1, day 2 etc until the end of the holiday. Then I check online if those places look nice to me and if I'd like to go there.
I also always buy a travel guide - www.insightguides.com I like their books with good info on the country, provinces, habits, culture etc.
Then I check the earlier googled places in the travel guide and read about it.
It takes some time though. My girlfriend and I are planning our honeymoon to Argentina and we've put some hours in it already to make sure we have a great trip!
I choose a country to visit when I have specific places in mind. The process goes like this :
- I choose one place from my to visit list, for example Volcano hike in Hawaii or skydiving in Spain.
- Once I am down to country and city, I google the places to see there.
- Then I go to research mode, trying to look for hidden gems or lesser known places
- Once I figure out what and where, I go to how and when
I use sites like fodor, solo traverler world and Lonely planet to get more ideas.
I usualy document myself for a trip by reading blogs and searching for unique things to do in that location on Google. I look for people who have been to the same destination and have written about it because I am interested in doing as many local things as possible and interact with the locals. When I do longer trips I also buy a guidebook for the location, which I study on the way there (on the plane or on the bus).