As I mentally prepare myself for the impending summer, travel ideas are being passed back and forth between friend and family member. Some places are new, some places are old favorites, and all of them are going to be amazing experiences. One difficult thing, though... finding things to do in places is tough business. If you're from somewhere, you know the neighborhoods, you know what's overrated, what's not. As a visitor, all you have to go by is the ghostly whisper of some traveler in a forum, or an outdated guide book.
I don't know about you, but I hate traveling somewhere and being... underwhelmed.
Photo via Beach Hunter (minus the letters)
Sometimes going somewhere unexpected, like taking that detour through the woodier part or eating in that small restaurant at the top of the hill can be some of the best experiences ever. I'm not talking about those mistakes. I'm talking about visiting somewhere during the worst weather of the season or taking a romantic vacation and arriving sleep deprived to your hotel above the city's most popular bar. Or perhaps going to a big city, visiting all the popular museums and gardens, and yet you still feel culturally unfulfilled. Of course you can make the best out of a bad situation, but these are things you may like to avoid.
You can't just travel to the popular parts of a city, because similar to real life, the popular things can be full of themselves, overrated, and have really dry hair. Not always, but a lot of the times. Think of how many up and coming museums have dedicated hours and hours of thought and time to an exhibition! There are other things out there seeing, things I want to see, that aren't in tour books. Not just museums but gardens, bed and breakfasts, cities, etc.
Key West isn't where I would normally choose in Florida (Orlando has all the theme parks, Miami has the beaches, Seaside is just... where people go), but my family accidentally traveled there last year during hurricane season. We weren't in an actual hurricane, but the front end of one. My little sister and I swam in the pool while it was raining so hard. Imagine opening your eyes under a pool of water, looking up, and seeing a thousand shifting drops of water, and hearing a muffled sound of forceful rain, but feeling yourself immersed in a warm pool of water. Unforgettable.
Finally walking into that castle and finding original paintings on the wall.
So, perhaps this post is suggesting, or at least begging an audience of, spontaneity on a trip. But if that makes you nervous, there are at least some other resources for you.
1. The Eat.Shop guides (Now called the HUNT guides) are full of indie things to do in different part of the world. Meaning: they find interesting, "off-the-beaten-path" restaurants, cafes, stores, that sell really cool, unique things! Awesome on the julia-meter. Their website is here (please add more European cities/ I'm here to do the dirty work if you need it!), while the old eat.shop guidebooks are still available on amazon here. They include Austin, Twin Cities, LA, Paris, London, etc.
2. Atlas Obscura is full of curious and unique things to do whilst traveling. All you have to do is type in the name of the city or area you'll be visiting and it pulls up unique places for you to visit! For example, near Dallas, TX it has a few things listed, such as
2/3 ain't bad. These are usually quirky, but sometimes they have natural wonders that you don't always hear about. Definitely worth checking out.
3. Traveling alone and scared? These girls over at the Solo Traveler Blog basically have everything covered, including Couch Surfing. They have advice on pub crawls, meeting new people, and more, so if fear is what's keeping you and your single self from traveling, look no further.
4. Browse your independent bookstore for options. No seriously, Barnes & Nobles (or any other major bookstore) is lacking in the good book section department. Or maybe the good book department, I haven't decided. Go local, if there are any left, and shop around. Visit a travel store and browse their book section. You should probably avoid Rick Steve's or any kind of generic book that's like, "tour Italy" unless you're a serious newbie. They tend to be full of repetitive fluff. No offense, Rick!
5. Amazon has a pretty good list of the absolute best travel books, though they are more overarching and not specific to a location. Still great though! What makes one good to me? Combining the history and culture of an area with the modern, mixing the tried and true good things with newer or underrepresented unique spots (i.e. cafe's, corner shops, etc.) If where you are going is less frequently traveled, stick to Trip Advisor forums for places to go, Urbanspoon for food, and maybe National Geographic for nature. Otherwise, just browse the internet a ton. Have fun, and good luck!