Some people are excellent planners alas I am not one of them. Even though I enjoy slow travel (read: lazy), I’m usually too fully immersed in one destination to even begin to research another. How I’m getting from the airport to where I’m staying is the only thing I know for sure when I get on a plane. Over the years I've adopted a few go-to travel habits for seeing a new city.
Get on the water
This is cheaply and easily done in some cities, Istanbul and New York for instance, harder in others. Whether it’s a ferry ride, a boat tour, a friend’s old dinghy, I love the water and I always try to get a glimpse of the city from the other side.
Get recommendations from friends
Get recommendations from people whose tastes you share, and you’re unlikely to be led astray in a new city. Have a coffee with a friend who knows it well, crowdsource on your social networks, start a Google doc and invite your friends to contribute to it (I’ve done this a few times and it becomes a resource everybody can use).
Visit a local market
Local markets are an especially good place to buy gifts particularly artist's markets and food markets. I always prefer to buy a perishables such as handmade chocolate, preserves and oils instead of plastic souvenirs that more often than not are mass produced in China. I’d rather buy local and support the community and I find markets the best place to do that.
I’m in Berlin with friends right now and we just discovered the best mustards at the open air Turkish market. (Hi apple chili mustard, you complete me.)
Explore by neighbourhood
In Paris, I loved Montmartre and the Marais (Sorry in advance to all the Parisians this will offend). In Tokyo, I loved Aoyama and Akihabara. You won’t ever unearth all of a destination’s gems in one short visit but focus on a fantastic neighbourhood or two and you’re off to a good start.
Get a guidebook
This may seem dated to some but I wouldn’t dismiss guidebooks just yet. I usually give this advice to people who are looking at maximising a few days in a new destination without the luxury of time to google.
I like guidebooks and I’ll often buy them for places I have no connections in. They can help one navigate a city using public transport or teach one about the local customs, about public transport, about tipping.
They are also often detailed so many will offer suggestions for other nearby places to visit. I found Omkareshwar, a tiny temple town in India thanks to a friend’s Lonely Planet when I was irritable in Indore and it ended up being an extremely memorable excursion.
Photo: Manhattan from the Staten Island ferry.