The words summer and vacation have been etched together in your mind since the final bell rang in school and you were free for three months. But you’re an adult now. And fall—with its temperate weather and often colorful scenes—poses a perfect time to take a trip.
Travel pros often call autumn the “shoulder season.” Prices drop and destinations once clogged with tourists tend to empty and quiet down. But planning a vacation is just step one. Seeing a city the right way is the most important task at hand. Here’s how it’s done.
Talk to the Locals
You could let Yelp decide your next meal (potentially risky?) or dictate your morning hike. Your best bet, though, is asking the bartender at the pub downtown or a barista where to take in the views and grab a bite to eat. Chances are you’ll be chatting it up with local denizens already, so why not take your conversation further by letting them help you figure out the lay of the land?
Their advice works for two reasons: First, locals can easily discern between the talked-about restaurants, outings, and activities that are worth visiting and those that are all hype. Second, humans are social by nature. Talking to strangers—rather than ignoring them and looking down at your phone—can improve your mood, making your explorations that much more enjoyable.
Skip the coveted dinner reservation in Venice and head out with this goal instead: Get a little lost. Spontaneity is an often overlooked, ignored facet of enjoyable travel. And research proves it. One study found that cramming your day full of planned activities (even the best ones) can suck the enjoyment out of those things.
Under-scheduling, on the other hand, can help you enjoy the moment (and aren’t we all working on that?). Who knows? Maybe the cafe on a side street turns out to be the stand-out meal of the entire trip.
Get Off the Main Strip, But Spend Some Time Being a Tourist
St. Mark’s Square, Rodeo Drive, Lombard Street—popular streets, squares, and plazas pull travelers in from all over the world, but they’re not the place to go for the city’s best eateries or shops. It doesn’t take much to find those special spots, though. Do your best to lose the crowds even by a few blocks and you’re likely to come across quieter, quainter, more authentic spots to spend your time.
With that said, the right tourist attractions are attractive for good reason—they can showcase the best a city has to offer. So in New Orleans, listen to jazz; in Chicago, eat deep dish; in Boston, take the Duck Tour (seriously). Not sure which outings to pick and which to skip? See point number one (because no one wants to get stuck strolling Times Square).
Go for a Run
What better way to explore a city than by foot? Speed things up and run instead of walk and you’ll not only see more, but you’ll also work up a sweat—a proven form of jet-lag relief when paired with a little natural sunlight.
Even without a time difference, a good (eh, even a half-assed) workout floods your brain with feel-good chemicals, setting the stage for a successful day. Even better? Exercise usually has a way of sending a hangover packing, too.
Ask Social Media
Today’s photo-sharing apps can make even a dinky pond look epic, but instead of spending your time filtering photos, change up who you follow,. Filling your feed with important locals, tourism boards, and even hashtags (activities or locations: #surfing, #DeerValley) can help you ID outings you never would have thought of and connect you with like-minded travelers or locals.
Seek Out Awe
It’s a powerful emotion evoked when we are overcome with a sense of wonder. Science says so. Awe can relieve stress, make you happier, and it can even make you a better person. Plus, the places it’s found tend to be on the highlight reel of any good trip—the top of a mountain, for one.