There’s nothing more exciting than setting out in a new city: the local rhythm, foreign menus, new friends and a network of trains and buses. The first walks and subway rides, however, inevitably bring on a feeling of being lost and hopeless.
To help you develop that rewarding sense of direction that makes you feel at home anywhere, we’ve compiled a list of some handy tricks we’ve learned in the past couple of years in Barcelona, Buenos Aires and New York City.
1. Go for a run
We spend entire days strolling around a city whenever possible, but also love to couple the need to expel some serious energy with learning the city.
We choose general routes before heading out and then work to catch the names of the streets and landmarks we pass. Running a distance in one direction and heading back often works well, too, as a quiz. Try to anticipate the names of the streets and plazas on your return.
2. Leave the map at home
The surest way to stick out as a “lost puppy” tourist and get robbed is to whip out a map in public. Instead, study the area before leaving home, and visualize the map as you walk. This will not only help avoid pick-pocketing, but also help the streets, neighborhoods and pieces of the city come together little by little. If it helps, get a big map to put up on the wall of your hotel room or apartment until you get your bearings. Sharpie in the borders of each neighborhood and mark some of your favorite places and landmarks to help you visualize the city as a whole.
3. Carry a smartphone or notebook
Your phone has become a beautiful thing. Between Google Maps, NYC subway iPhone apps and Foursquare, you have a free city guide in your pocket. Check out TKGO’s Foursquare tips for favorite restaurants and activities in your area!
Using a Notes app allows you to write down addresses of museums, boutiques, hot dog carts, climbing walls… whatever you walk past and don’t have time to stop in and check out. Later, instead of describing “that little Italian place in the neighborhood whose name I can’t remember,” you have a direct address to go to. Not only that, but save these places in a Google Map each night and you’ll have a record of which neighborhoods you’ve passed through on your walks each day and which territory you’ve left uncharted.
Instead of hauling around a guidebook, keep addresses of your destinations in your Notes or Stickies program, along with open hours, to avoid looking like a tourist. If you don’t have a smartphone, a small Moleskine or spiral notebook works just the same!
5. Take public transit
The final, and perhaps most important, rule of learning a city is to take public transit whenever you feel it’s safe.
In Buenos Aires, pick up a Guía T at any kiosko to help you navigate the bus system. (Even locals use them commonly, so pulling one out at a bus stop doesn’t pinpoint you as a tourist.) In New York, pick up a credit card-sized subway guide to Manhattan in any magazine kiosk or tourist shop.
When all else fails: ask! Even locals sometimes don’t know where they’re going, or what the train/bus schedule is. You might even make a friend, or find out about a nearby hot spot.
–Tara and Karina for TKGO