With only 24 hours to explore a city, I have no time to waste. Those 24 hours include getting through the airport and to the hotel, having a decent rest before flying back, and then getting ready for the flight and going back to the airport. That leaves me with far less than 24 hours to explore a city, so I’ve had to learn how to make the most of my time.
- Do your research. The last thing I want to be doing is spending an hour in my hotel room figuring out what I want to see or do, or figuring out how to get anywhere. Generally the concierges at the hotels are incredibly helpful, but the Internet is a wealth of information and I can often find suggestions online that the concierge may never suggest.
- Don’t be afraid to be a tourist. Memories are the best kinds of souvenirs, and the best way to remember a moment is with a picture or video. Don’t worry about snapping a selfie, or asking someone to take your photo. See the sights, and ask for directions if you think you are lost! Tourists and locals alike are usually more than willing to help point you in the right direction.
- Do as the locals do. As much as I love to see the major landmarks in cities, I love to get off the beaten path and find less touristy areas that are more occupied by locals than tourists. Or, find a restaurant/café in a tourist-filled area that is popular with the locals. It has to be something good, I always figure! Go sit in a park and read a book, write in a journal, or people watch. One thing I do on a lot of layovers is a bit of grocery shopping (I can often find better things for better prices and there’s no restrictions on food when I fly home). Even better is if I can find a local farmers market. One of my favourite things to do back home (my original home – before I moved halfway around the world!) was a farmers market in my neighbourhood every Sunday. I love browsing through the different stalls and finding things that aren’t in grocery stores, and I always find a bit of comfort in doing something in a brand new city that I would have done at home as well.
- Be a wanderer. Put down that map, forget about destinations, and get a little lost. Or a lot lost. When I get to a crossroads, I look around, and go down whatever street appeals to me the most. I think when there’s a destination in mind, people can get so distracted by getting to that destination that they forget to stop and look around them. A lot can be missed when you are staring at maps and street signs. To me, there’s something a little magical in getting lost in a city, and I always feel like I get to “know” a city best by simply wandering and enjoying every little moment. But a word of advice, make sure you know the name of where you want to return to in case you get so lost you can’t find your way back.
- Talk to a stranger. It’s not always easy to do in some cities due to language barriers, but when given the opportunity, it’s eye opening to talk to a complete stranger who you will likely never see again. Maybe you’ll learn a few words (or sentences, depending on your language proficiency) of the language, or be given some unique suggestions on things to see or do. I had a layover recently in New York and I had some wonderful conversations with people I met in the city. Taxi drivers are some of my favourite people to talk to, and many of them are usually more than happy to have a conversation rather than drive in silence.
- Learn to do things alone. I love exploring with someone else, and another set of eyes may see something that I missed, but with what little time I have, I’ve learned that I would rather spend that time doing what I want alone, instead of sacrificing what I want to do so I can be with other people. One of the joys of exploring by yourself is that you can do whatever you want. You could splurge on an expensive meal, or grab street food and eat in a park. You won’t feel bad if you decide to quickly dive into a store to look at a pair of shoes. You don’t have to convince someone that sitting in a park for 45 minutes people watching is fun. You can walk however slowly or quickly you want, in whichever direction you want, for however long you want. That’s a lot of “whatever you want” that I just said, and that right there is the beauty of exploring a city by yourself.
These things can be applied to a trip no matter how many hours, days, weeks or months are available to you. For me, they are how I leave a city after 24 hours feeling satisfied that I have made the most of my time. It’s never enough time, and I will always wish I had more time. The good news is, I can always go back.