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Learning from the Locals

When it comes to exploring a new city, what’s your source for planning what to do? I see people on my flights with their Fodor’s book, busy marking the pages for what they want to add to their itinerary. Others scour websites for weeks and months in advance making their list of all the hottest places to see and go.

If you’d like to experience a part of the city that isn’t on the Top 10 list of places to go, to experience the heartbeat of the city or town, learn from the locals.

How do you learn from the locals when you don’t live there? Here are a few ideas:

Before Your Trip

Most cities and towns have a visitor’s bureau. Go online and request their information several weeks before you travel. After selecting a few of the hotspots, look for neighborhoods, restaurants, venues and other goings-on that seem interesting. Fall festivals are coming up in many locales and these can really be fun!

Twitter: Search and follow people who live in the city you’ll be visiting and ask them for recommendations of great non-touristy spots that they like to go to. If you can’t find a few people to ask, then post a tweet and ask others to post your message to their followers. For example:

“Looking for unique, fun & interesting places to go in #Orlando that aren’t in a guidebook’s Top 10 list. Please RT”.

The hash tag (#) in front of Orlando tags this word for others who may be looking for anything Orlando-related. The Please RT asks your followers to re-tweet your message to their followers. I’m always amazed at how many great answers I get and new friends I meet in Twitterville. And if you haven’t yet jumped aboard the Twitter train, this is one very good reason to do so. The world has become a very small place indeed with the easy access to so many people around the planet.

When You Arrive

Start with your flight. Ask your flight attendant if he or she is based in the city where you’re heading and if so, ask them for ideas from their local perspective.

Hotel desk personnel and concierges, along with cab drivers, are also good sources of info. I don’t ask the typical tourist question of “What should I see or what should I do?” but rather ask “What do you and your family or friends do when exploring your city outside of the top tourist attractions?” The answers will be very different just by asking the question a different way.

Head to the Visitor’s Center office once you arrive in town. Not only are the staff in these centers very knowledgeable about where to go, but they know the best days and times, off-the-beaten-track things to do, and insider secrets on great inexpensive restaurants, traffic issues to avoid, free days at local museums, and more.

Local newspaper’s travel section (you can usually find this online) or a city’s local magazine. Our Orlando magazine is chock-full of amazing restaurants and has a long list of upcoming events. I like their “Best of … ” lists because it’s locals who submit and vote on the venues. I could spend a month on vacation just in my own city of Orlando and never get near Disney World as there are so many other things to do. Pick up either of these at a newsstand or bookstore. Email me if you’re ever coming to Orlando and I’ll share some of our city’s great offerings with you!

Websites

There are tons of websites where you can get local opinions and input, even photos, of things to do, where to stay and places to eat. Some popular sites are Tripadvisor.com, cruisecritic.com (this site is great to find out what to do while in port), citysearch.com and virtualtourist.com. There are so many more, but these will get you started. Add in iPhone apps, and there are a ton more ways to find local happenings.

While I love guide books and order travel books from AAA before a big trip, I also love learning from the locals on ways to really experience the best that a city or town can offer. These off-the-top-10-tourist-track places are where I experience the most special feelings about the place I’m visiting and some of my best memories.


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