Ditch the guidebook and other mottos
Through all my travels I've learned that every city has its own unique style just waiting to be discovered. The following are my guidelines for discovering the true essence of a new place - not what I call the ‘coffee-table book view’ which you can get from a picture book, sitting at home on your couch, but rather the real essence of a city as it’s savored by the locals:
• Ditch the guidebook!
Oh what you'll discover when you get out and about amongst the people who live there instead of always frequenting the tourist sites with your fellow tourists.
• Talk to the locals!
You'll discover the best kept secrets and hidden gems that will make your trip unique!
• Ask friends in the know for their recommendations!
Take advantage of friends that have already explored your destination.
•Live where you are!
Traveling is simply living in new city for a few days. Don't compromise your lifestyle just because you're on the road. Can't live without your am coffee? Investigate your local cafes. Like your a.m. run? Cruise through the nearby park (you'll also get in good people watching in the process). I once planned a whole day based on hitting all the best espresso bars in Rome.
•Look at shoes!
If you're looking for the best shopping, ask a local woman with great shoes on. I say it all the time, but good shoes say a lot - especially in Europe where the sneaker is a dead give away for the American tourist.
•Explore the local cuisine!
It enriches your sense of a new place more than I can say! Do not be that guy next to me in Thailand who always asked for pastrami on rye - please!