Visiting a new city can present many options for exploration. You can go on guided walking tours, join a tour, hire a private guide but all the options can sometimes be either impersonal or expensive. If you want something tailored to your wants and needs then the best thing to do is do it yourself. Okay, there are exceptions to this but overall you’ll be able to get what you want the most if you create it for yourself. This is how to create the perfect self-guided tour.
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How to Create a Self-Guided Tour
Creating a self-guided tour that’s best for you can be overwhelming but with these steps and tips, you’ll have a custom self-guided itinerary in no time.
Make a List
So you’re heading to a new city and you may have a few things you want to do. Write them all down! Start creating a list of all the places you’d like to go to.
How to Find Locations For Your Self-Guided Itinerary
Need some inspiration for cool things to do and see?
Check out Travel Blogs
Travel Bloggers create destination guides all the time! If you follow travel bloggers head to their blog (or start off with checking out my travel blog) and use the search bar and type in your destination. If you’ve followed them on social media and know they went to that destination you might find a helpful blog. Many travel bloggers write about a destination based on first-hand knowledge so they’ll include their own opinions and reviews.
Another way to find those blogs is to Google search “Things to Do” along with the name of your destination or the name of the destination with “guide”. You’ll find tons of things this way and maybe even some hidden gems. You may have to also use the word “blogger” in your search as the first few links will likely be larger online publications and tourism boards.
Check out Travel Publications (Online or Print Magazines)
As I just mentioned you find larger online publications with a simple Google search but not all publications are equal. For example, if you’re looking for more luxury travel you may want to opt to read Conde Nast Traveler or Travel + Leisure. National Geographic gives knowledge and awareness about locations and tells stories through photos. Their focus is more educational and environmental. Matador Network is an independent publication with a mission to empower a diverse generation of modern adventurers. AFAR’s philosophy is to “travel deeper” and have enthralling experiences. If you’re into hidden gems check out Atlas Obscura. And Culture Trip is for the “culturally curious.”
Use Social Media For Inspiration
Social media is a powerful tool so use it to your advantage. Follow profiles that inspire you and search for posts about the location you’re going to. For example, use hashtags on Instagram to scope out locations. You can search for posts and also look at profiles that feature those locations (ie. tourism boards). Use hashtags on Twitter to find insider tips. And search for inspiration and blog posts on Pinterest. For example, if you’re heading to Spain you can “Spain travel” or get more specific “Malaga Spain Travel” or “Malaga Outdoors” if you’re looking for outdoor activities.
Follow a Tour’s Itinerary
You can always take inspiration from organized tours, they usually list their stops. If you are following the guided tour’s exact itinerary, then you can start a couple of hours before or after their scheduled time so you don’t get there at the same time. If you want to stay away from the crowds it’s smart to avoid when group tours will be at those locations. Another option is to do the itinerary backward.
You can also Google search “Send guided tour” and the name of the city you’re visiting and there may be blog posts from travel bloggers or tourism boards. These are usually already mapped out and easy to follow. They might also have information about the locations, such as historic facts or tips that you might not have known otherwise.
Map Out Your Locations
The next thing you’ll want to do is map out all those locations. I use Google Maps and save any and all locations I find interesting. So as you’re browsing through social media, reading a magazine, watching a series, or see something online just mark it on Google Maps. The app is useful to have and you can categorize your saved locations.
As you’re having these locations you might even see something else on the map that catches your eye. Green spots on Google Maps are usually parks or forest areas. This could be city parks or even national parks. Blue will be bodies of water (ie. lake, river, ocean, etc). You can even see hiking trails. Zoom in and out to get a better view.
Decide on a Route
Now that all your locations are on a map you can decide on a route. You’ll want to look at which locations are closest to each other and visit those spots before trekking across town. Depending on the city you can explore just by foot, by public transportation, by bicycle, or you may have to opt for a car rental for locations that are more remote, visiting big cities that are more spread out, or if you’re visiting a place that doesn’t have reliable public transportation.
Self-Guided Walking Tour
When visiting smaller cities it’s sometimes doable to explore on foot. This is not only free but also the most eco-conscious way to tour the city. As mentioned above when deciding on your route you’ll want to make stops that are closest together before moving on to spots that are further away. Avoid backtracking by routing strategically. If you have a few days to explore the city group things that are closer together and explore those on the same day. So you take on one neighborhood or district at a time before moving on to the next.
Self-Guided Tour by Public Transportation
In some cities, you might need to take public transportation. You’ll want to see if there are other locations in that area that you can walk to so you’re keeping the number of trains, buses, or subways to a minimum. This is similar to how you would do things if you were just walking. Look at locations around stops and stations. You might be able to visit a couple of locations then take a bus or subway from another stop that is on a different line that will get you to your next locations without having to switch lines in between.
If you are going to be taking public transportation several times in one day see if there is a day pass. This might be a cheaper option and will also have the hassle of buying multiple fares.
Self-Guided Bicycle Tour
For cities that have locations that are a little more spread out but public transportation is not reliable opt for renting a bicycle. You’ll want to price compare the rental prices either online or in the main part of town. If you’re staying at a hotel or hostel ask if they know where to rent a bike. Rentals may be for full-day, half-day, or by the hour. Go about creating your route similar to how you would on a self-guided walking tour.
In many cities, you are able to take your bicycle with you on public transportation. So if you’re looking to do a combination of both that day just make sure you can. Avoid riding at peak times when possible as there will be limited space for you and your bicycle.
TIP: In some cities, there are “city bikes” that are available in 30 to 15-minute increments. This is perfect if you want to explore by foot and/or public transportation but don’t want to commit to having a bike all day. Note that you may need an app to operate them.
For large cities that don’t have reliable public transportation, you might want to rent a car. Taking a taxi or Uber is an option but can add up quickly. As long as you have a valid driver’s license and your over 25 years of age it’s pretty easy. Some countries do require you to have an international driver’s license. If you’re in the U.S. and have a valid driver’s license issued in the U.S. then you can easily get an international driver’s license at AAA.
There are many perks to renting a car. You can stop and go as many times as you like. You’ll still want to route out your day to avoid backtracking. Having a car also gives you more options for day trips outside the city and visiting more remote areas.
If you do a lot of exploring by car then check out Roadtrippers Plus. It allows you to find off-the-beaten-path gems that are along the way of your route.
TIP: If you’re visiting somewhere like Southeast Asia another option is to rent a motorbike. But only drive one if you have experience.
When to Opt for an Organized Tour
Avoiding guided excursions and opting for exploring on your own comes with many other perks but sometimes joining an organized tour just makes more sense. For example, if you’re going to a more remote location and renting a car would be much more expensive. Or if you’re traveling on your own and prefer to do some activities with other people or if you’re looking to meet other travelers. There are pros and cons to every situation and there are things to do and see that make more sense to do with a group or a guide. However, you choose to tour the city should make sense to you.
I hope this helps you when creating your own self-guided tour!
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