I have often wondered about the best ways to experience a new place that I am visiting. Over the years, I have worked out how I like it best. I don’t know if this works for everyone — it probably doesn’t. But here’s how I ideally like to go about it.
What I typically do after I reach a new place is dump my luggage at the guest house or friend’s place where I am staying and go out for a walk.
I really cannot understand why people would want to experience a new place from a bus, especially if it’s an air-conditioned bus. How can you really understand a place while staying in the bubble of the sightseeing bus?
Get your feet on the road, have the foreign sun touch your skin, breathe in the new air, smile at other pedestrians and make sure you walk slow. Stop at random places and take all the newness in.
Get your feet on the road, have the foreign sun touch your skin, breathe in the new air and take all the newness in
If you don’t understand something, ask! From my experience, most local people are happy to help out a visitor.
When you are tired of walking, take a bus in Colombo, a tram in Kolkata and a train in Tokyo.
Get on the public transport and have a feel of the life of the local people. And when you’re on a train, keep your ears alert for interesting conversation. It, of course, is not good manners to eavesdrop, but when you’re say, on a local train around Kolkata, there will be passengers striking up conversations on politics, cricket and the like with random co-passengers joining in. That kind of discussion is public and certainly not eavesdropping. Feel free to join in and may be you will make some friends by the time you reach your destination.
Unless you are looking for some free cool air to rest, avoid malls. If there is something you need to buy, visit a mom-and-pop store. Tell the owner you’re new in the area and ask him or her for tips on things to do.
At the shop, on the train, on the ferry and almost everywhere else, try to strike up conversations with the local people. Most of them will be happy to tell a visitor about their hometown and many will offer to keep in touch and help you out in any way possible. They will tell you the best places to eat, the coolest places to hang out and the secret jewels of the place that no tourist visits.
Strike up conversations with the local people. They will tell you the best places to eat, the coolest places to hang out and the secret jewels of the place that no tourist visits
Finally, stay a while.
You will not be able to do all the things I said in a single day. And if you attempt to do it, the very purpose of travel is lost.
For some people, visiting eight places in ten days is travel. I call that checking a list. You hardly experience anything that way. Take it slow! You do not want to think about your hotel reservation in destination B from the moment you arrive in destination A.
Understand that at times, sitting by a river and doing nothing is a wonderful way to experience a new place.