It’s totally okay to arrive at a destination with no itinerary. Actually, it’s probably better that way! Although some of us plan months in advance and have a strict to-do-list to tick off, others prefer to be more spontaneous! Sometimes, having no expectations leaves more room fun and more authentic discoveries. So, what do you do when you’re in a place you’ve never been before? How can you find the best things to do in a new city? We got you…
Whether you’re looking for off-the-beaten-path adventures or to hit up the classic tourist destinations, we’ve put together the ultimate guide for how to find awesome things to do while visiting a new city. Gone are the days when we had nothing but maps and guidebooks to rely on for travel tips, your phone is your friend, and you have endless information at your fingertips! Here’s how you can harness that information… You’re welcome!
Google Maps is your friend
I must confess, I’m Google maps user rather than an Apple maps user. The predictability works really well for travelling.
When you first arrive in a new city, study a Google map of the area to get an idea of what’s around you. If you’re trying to find a place to eat, tap on the three horizontal lines in the search bar and hit “Explore”. This will take you to frequently reviewed places in that area that other users recommend, such as “best lunch” or “cheap eats”. Read what other travellers and locals have to say and save the location on the map so that you remember to check it out later!
If you know of something more specific that you want to do, for example ‘yoga’ or ‘art classes,’ then type this into the search bar and Google (being the savvy genius that it is) will map out a few studios near you that are open. Thank you magical Google bot!
Insider tips from hostel friends
The beautiful thing about hostels is that you’ll be amongst travellers like you, who are also looking for things to do and places to explore. Chat with travellers in the common area or in your dorm room. It’s a surefire way to find new friends and gather insider tips from people who’ve been in your shoes. So strike up a convo at the hostel bar, rent a moped or a bike and go out and meet the world! That’s how I found a Beetle Fighting Competition in Thailand… yes, really! Next thing you know, you’ll be sharing all of your tips with the new person you meet at your next hostel!
Become an Instagram Queen
📍 Cliff Jumping, Mount Martha, Australia 📷: @marinasmilestones
I don’t know about you, but I follow A TON of travel accounts on Instagram. Other than giving me all the ~wanderlust~ feels, it also inspires me to travel to new places or provides me with ideas for my ever-growing bucket list.
BBC Travel, National Geographic and, Lonely Planet usually post great ideas for where to go next, but following travel influencers, such as @heartmybackpack or @thisbatteredsuitcase, is super helpful for finding things to do at said place. Thanks to Instagram stories, travel bloggers can get real and show you what they’re doing in a new city. I would have never known about the Lanka Challenge if I didn’t follow @thelifeofjord. Now I can’t wait to do a tuk-tuk race throughout Sri Lanka!
Another tech-savvy way to use Instagram is to type the name of a specific city into the search bar. I know that’s broad, but it’s a great tool to find out if there’s an event going on or find popular places to check out. The city’s Discovery Story is usually helpful too (you can find that right underneath the search bar!)
If you’re looking for a specific activity, but don’t know where to start, search hashtags such as #SurfingInBali or #HawaiiWaterfalls to help you find specific gems. If a photo comes up that looks really rad, click on the geo-tag to locate where that person was shredding waves. Hella gnar dude!
📍Lunch Spot, Chiang Mai, Thailand 📷: @marinasmilestones
If you’re a man reading this and thinking “Pinterest is for girls” — it’s not. Because guys, if you have Pinterest, you’re doing it right! The travel-friendly website is helpful in finding things to do because you can be super broad in the search bar and it will narrow down what you’re looking for using specific filters.
For example, if you search “Chiang Mai, Thailand” in Pinterest’s search bar, the first few things to pop up are “12 Amazing Things To Do In Chiang Mai”, “4 Perfect Days In Chiang Mai” and “10 Coffee Shops Not To Miss In Chiang Mai”. After clicking on a pin that catches your fancy, it will pull up a separate tab to the link where the article lives. It’s usually written by a travel blogger who’s been there, done that.
I find that this is the best way to discover off-the-beaten-path experiences and gather knowledge about the city (like how to get around, pricing, what to pack). If it weren’t for Pinterest, I would have never found Huay Tung Tao Lake, which is a hidden gem of a lunch spot right outside of Chiang Mai FYI!
P.S. Pinterest is also great for pre-trip planning (packing, places to stay, transportation, etc.). Check out our Pinterest here for wanderlust inspo!
Read Local Publications
📍 Fairy Pools, Noosa, Australia 📷: @marinasmilestones
I’m a HUGE fan of following and reading local publications of the cities I travel to. You can usually find them if you type something specific into Google search like “things to do in Melbourne, Australia”.
Local publications and tourist boards will pop up in the search and they’re an AWESOME insider guide to the city! Combine these with Hostelworld’s blog (hi!) and you’ll free things to do, cheap places to eat, and even more specifically, where to find the best margarita in San Diego. Score!
📍 Falls Music Festival, Australia 📷: @marinasmilestones
Just when I thought that I wasn’t a big user of Facebook, I found a little hack that makes travelling way better. If you know that you’re going somewhere for a few weeks or more – say backpacking Southeast Asia – join a few travel groups on Facebook. For instance, I joined a Facebook group called Backpacking Southeast Asia Alone. It proved to be a gold mine for gathering tips from other travellers about where to go and what to do. You can do the same thing for any major city or region, such as Backpackers Sydney or Backpacking Europe.
Scan the posts to see what people are talking about or just write a comment to ask for suggestions like, “Hey what’s up, I’m travelling to Bali for the first time and was wondering if anyone has suggestions for cool experiences to do or see?” People love to share their tips, so you will get replies. You might even find a travel mate!
Another way to find things to do (thanks to Facebook) is to check out the “Explore” tab in the app. Click on “Events” and Facebook will filter all of the events happening in the area over the next few days. You might find a cool party, a local music festival or a maybe a cool food truck gathering. This is how I found out about a sand sculpting competition going on in South Florida!
Arriving in a new place with no itinerary may seem scary on the outside, but it’s a great way to discover things on your own whilst gaining local and using social media as a tool (rather than as a distraction). Don’t forget to share your discoveries with the world! It’s the best way for us travellers to connect. So geotag it and hashtag it because I could be searching #KitesurfingInMiami and find your awesome Instagram!
About the author:
Marina Nazario is a food and travel writer from America, currently living in the land Down Under. She’s passionate about meeting people, immersing herself in different cultures, and eating her way around the world. You can follow her misadventures on Twitter and her blog Marina’s Milestones.