5 Ways To Get The Most Out Of A Destination

Filed Under: Travel

I’ve written before about how my “urge” to get on a plane has lessened lately. My sweet dog and his abandonment issues have a lot to do with it, as it’s heartbreaking to leave him, but I’ve also found my interests have changed somewhat.

I still love flying.

But where previously I’d have been happy flying six segments to get to Singapore, going to a hawker stall, and then turning right back around, now I find myself wanting to spend more time in the places I go to. I love nature, and while I once wouldn’t have been able to justify the extra time it takes to get to more remote destinations, now there’s nothing I enjoy more than spending a few days with Ford, hiking and exploring a new place.

My friend Matt Kepnes of Nomadic Matt has gone through a similar transition, though for different reasons. He’s spent the past ten years traveling more or less full-time, and has recently published a book about his experiences.

As opposed to the quick trips I’ve generally done, when you’re in a place for weeks or months on end, you obviously have more opportunities to get to know a place. So Matt has put together a list of tips for getting the most out of a destination, even if you only have a short time to visit.

Travelers are always looking for new ways to get the most out of their travels. While the points and miles game can get you to your destination, what do you do when you get there? How do you get the most out of your time there and see beyond the hotel?

I’ve been traveling the world regularly since 2006, covering more than 100 countries, hundreds of thousands of miles in the air (though not as much as Ben), and meeting countless people along the way.

Though I’m a budget traveler and stay in more hostels than hotels, once you get to a destination, we travelers all face the same question: what should we do?

It doesn’t matter the comfort you came in, the thread count of your sheets, or your budget.

You need something to do while you’re in a city.

Nomadic Matt’s tips for finding local experiences

In my years as a nomad, I’ve figured out some good ways to get the most out of your destination, experience the local culture, and get away from the tourists! These methods will work no matter your budget, age, or travel preference.

They will help you peel back the layer of the onion and get a sense for the rhythm of life where you want to go.

There’s more to Prague than the Old Town Square

1. Embrace the “Sharing Economy”

Hotels, cruises, resorts – they are opulent and fun. But one of the points I make in my new book is that they can wall you off from locals. They don’t really give you a sense of the destination.

I love what is called sharing economy websites. These platforms allow you to bypass the traditional travel gatekeepers and go directly to locals for activities, meals, and accommodation. They are my primary way of getting to know people when I’m traveling. You get a lot more unique tours, experiences, and food offering through them. I got to hang with a French family who gave me a ride in Swizterland, shown a jazz bar in Lyon, a rock concert in Munich, have Sunday dinner with a family in Copenhagen, and learn about history in London. Some of my favorite sharing economy apps and platforms are:

  • Airbnb – This is a great website shared and private accommodation direct from local home owners but they also have a good experiences feature where you can do fun activities with locals.
  • EatWith – This website lets you have unique dining experiences with local cooks. It’s like a dinner party with strangers. You get a decent meal and a chance to interact with locals.
  • Vayable – I like this website because customized tours with local experts. You get people who are just passionate about one thing about the city showing you around and unearthing a lot of hidden spots you normally wouldn’t find.
  • Couchsurfing – This is website for free shared accommodation with locals but what I really use it for is the events and hangouts feature. Most big cities in the world have active communities and you’ll find events happening every night of the week for people of all ages.

2. Visit Local Tourism Offices

Every major city will have a tourism office. Not only is this a good place to learn about local discounts and tourism passes, but it’s a great way to see what’s happening while you’re there. Their job is to literally tell you what to do. I think they are a really under utilized resource! These offices are staffed with locals in the know about what is going on in the city so ask them “what do they do for fun” and let them show you around. Tell them you want what they do not what tourists do. Plus, they offer lots of exclusive discounts and that can help you save a lot of money!

3. Take a Cooking Class

I think you really learn a lot about a country via the food they eat. I don’t mean what’s in a restaurant but what’s in the supermarket and local farmer’s market. You get a sense of what they like to eat and how they like to eat. Some of my favorite memories revolve around food. I think taking a cooking class us a great way to add some depth (and deliciousness) to your travels. Learn how to make pasta in Italy or how to make pho in Vietnam. Explore the markets, learn how to pick fresh produce, and chat with the farmers and vendors who bring the cities to life. You learn about people by how they eat.

The morning market in Hoi An, Vietnam

4. Use Meetup.com and Facebook groups

Love to play chess? Swing dancing? Trail running? Slacklining? Use meetup.com or Facebook groups for local groups that share your interests. I mean if you like doing this stuff, why not do it in another city? Not only will you get to do something you love, but you’ll get to chat with locals about it.

I love doing this because it’s just a great way to have fun and meet new people. I think this also a great way to overcome the “what do I talk about?” fear that holds many people back. By going to one of these groups, you already have a shared interest to talk about!

5. Take a Walking Tour

Walking tours are an awesome way to get to know a city, learn something interesting, and make some friends. I take countless walking tours when I travel – from free tours to food tours to history tours and everything in between. Not only do you get a chance to learn something (the more the obscure tour, the better), you get a local person to ask a ton of questions to in a small group setting. It’s a win-win combination! Some suggested companies that are a little bit more global than others:

Be sure to check the local tourism office or Google for local walking tour companies.

Matt on a hiking tour in Patagonia

Bottom line

At the end of the day, the best way to add depth and detail to your travels is to interact with locals in as many different ways as possible. Travel is all about gaining perspective, and the best way to do that is by talking with people who might have a different view of the world than you do.

In all my years of travel, my favorite moments came from when I was doing the things every day people do and interacting with people who lived in a destination. That’s travel. Sitting in your hotel ordering room service? That’s a vacation.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone needs a break.

But if you want to travel and get to know a place, you have to get to where the people are. These are five ways to make that happen!

Matthew Kepnes runs the award winning budget travel site, Nomadic Matt. He’s been traveling the world regularly since 2006 and has been writing about ways people can travel better, smarter, and longer since 2008! He’s also the author of the New York Times bestseller How to Travel the World on $50 a Day and his writings and advice have been featured in The New York Times, CNN, The Guardian, Budget Travel, BBC, Time, and Newsweek.

His new travel memoir, Ten Years a Nomad, is story of wanderlust, friendship, and gets to the heart of why people travel long term. It’s full of stories and advice from the road and is available now!

  1. I’m visiting Chicago for the first time next week and I’ll be sure to use some of these resources (especially Eat With).

  2. Here’s one for Tokyo:


    My wife and I had our guide take us to a local fugu (pufferfish) restaurant and to buy tickets to see a band in town and show us where the small venue was for later. It was in a basement of an office building that we probably would have otherwise given up on finding. It was our first time in Japan so we really appreciated the help. Good times.

  3. Ben – is this the same Matt who did the recommendations for what airlines serve the best Champagne, and joined you on the trip entitled “A Different Kind Of Trip Report” in 2015?

  4. It’s funny, because OMAAT is my absolute go-to for flight information. But I could not agree more with Matt, here. I love traveling comfortably, but when I get there, I couldn’t care less where I stay (to a limit). I love staying in an Aman or a nice hotel liek likeanyone else, but I honestly have a better time and more memorable trip when I stay in a hotel. The main reason for this is the people you meet. You don’t meet many people in a hotel, but you are almost forced to meet people when you stay in a hotel, and because of this I have friends all over the world I can stay with when I visit. I actually just stayed with a friend in Peru that I met in a hostel in Cambodia a couple of years ago.
    To wrap this up, Matt’s tips+ Ben’s reviews/tips will give you the perfect trip. Keep it coming!

  5. What’s missing from this list?

    Learn some of the language of he place you are going. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but hello, goodbye, please and thank you. Just the common courtesies. It’s so easy to do nowadays and so many people just turn up and expect everyone to speak English. Learning the basics is a about showing some respect and respect is a two way street.

  6. I hire a local driver for my first day in a new location, hired by a reputable hotel concierge for being good. Best way to have all questions answered plus a sate conversation with a local & get to know special local favorites. Youtube $100 Taxi for good examples.

  7. @Ed I agree 100%! Learn the local language, at least the greetings for goodness sake. What if everyone arriving in your hometown expected you to speak French, German and Italian??? They don’t, so tourists from the UK, USA, Canada and Australia to name a few shouldn’t expect others to either.

  8. @Skooby

    IF they expect me to speak French or Italian, they’re SOL.

    As for why I “expect” people in other countries to speak English… well, “Expect” is too strong of a word perhaps, but English is spoken as a second language in large cities across the world. It’s extremely rare that I’m somewhere where *nobody* speaks English.

  9. new electronic translators are becoming more reliable….text translators on your cell phone, even apps that let you look at sign with camera and get translation….our recent cruise had a stop in Victoria Canada (no language problems) we bypassed the tour bus/cab/horse cart and hired a pedicab and it was best tour of our trip. Local guy took us through neighborhoods, to parks, to historical places, to the harbor, as well as tim hortons and a few other requests…he gave us a personal tour of his city for 3 hours at a bargain price…the only thing better than a taxi cab tour I have ever found.

  10. Some useful tips.

    This sentence isn’t grammatical: “I like this website because customized tours with local experts.” Is there a word missing?

  11. I can only dream….being on a Nigerian passport makes traveling a nightmare even though I live in a developed country and can afford it. Nice tips nonetheless, I often use Airbnb and take the walking tours. Couchsurfing basically never worked for me…hosts always gave excuses. I’ll trey eatwith

  12. I always think the best way is to forget the guidebooks and the plans and just walk, go into a restaurant/pub/park/museum you think looks interesting.

    Not always practical but has worked for me more often than not. You can download google maps and maps.me then as a back-up if you don’t stumble across much.

    Also, going to see local sports teams is usually a good way to mix with the locals. Some stadia in Europe will be full of tourists – Nou Camp, Bernabeu etc but most won’t, particularly when you go to less successful teams.

  13. @ShamrockSteady

    In Chicago, definitely try to take one of the walking tours with the Chicago Architecture Foundation. You’ll learn so much about the city’s history and architecture, and you’ll never look at skyscrapers in the same way afterwards. They’re the real deal, more than the “architecture” tours and boat rides offered by various tour companies.

  14. Great tips and am a very big fan of Matt’s & get lots from this site too. Thanks!
    What’s also well worth considering are Servas and 5W (women welcome women world wide) Both are low fee global travel/friendship/hospitality groups, the first much older and bigger. With both, you can stay basic 2 nights (but can vary) IN LOCAL’S home, no charge, usual guest courtesies of course. Also, both have day hosts, who will meet , show you around, if not offering overnight bed. Meant for genuine linking up, friendship, NOT freeloading. 5w members can, by arrangement, include their male traveling companions/family.
    + Walking tours with food focus offer even more connection/immersion possibilities I find.

  15. I always think the best way is to forget the guidebooks and the plans and just walk, go into a restaurant/pub/park/museum you think looks interesting.

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