Getting To Know A City In 2 Days: The Essentials

Normally, I’m not much of a plan-every-minute kinda person, especially when it comes to travel.  In a perfect world, I would somehow find myself in a new city and be allowed to meander and wander as I wish.  But let us face the harsh truth of reality together, as a study abroad student who usually only has a weekend to explore a new city, you’re going to want to take advantage of your time.  You know, YOLO and all that good stuff without the FOMO.  So, listen up my young padawans while I share my tried and true and student-traveler approved ways to successfully blaze through a city in a weekend.

First Steps

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Find your temporary sleeping situation.  I suggest booking a hostel because 1) It’s mostly affordable, 2) You’re likely not going to experience anything overly crazy or life-threatening (P.S. don’t watch any of the Hostel movies, they WILL give you nightmares) and 3) You get to meet and hang with people your age from all over the world – yay new friends!  You can’t really go wrong with  Read the recent reviews and aim for a place that isn’t too far from major parts of the city.  Keep in mind that you’re really only going to be sleeping there -don’t pay more for amenities you’re not really going to need or use!

Once you’ve found your dream hostel, research the city a bit.  What is it that you want to see?  Is there anything that you are absolutely DYING to do?  Make those things a priority, and try to get a general idea of where those things/activities are located.  Google Maps will be your friend for this. If it helps, write down a general overview and plan for once you get to the city.  Try grouping things to do in terms of how close they are to each other, that way you save from unnecessary traveling back and forth.  Getting an idea of opening and closing times for museums and the sort is also a really helpful thing when it comes to generally planning what things to do first.  Ultimately, don’t stress yourself out with planning! Some of my favorite trips have also been my least planned ones.

Maps (Not the Maroon 5 Song, I Promise)

Make like Dora, The Explorer and get your hands on a city map.  From my experience, generally every city that gets any amount of tourists is going to have free maps in almost all areas of arrival.  So if you’re hopping off of a plane, bus, train, or donkey (I mean who knows right) look for the signs that say “Free Maps” or something of the sort.  Lesson #1: Not all maps are created equal.  Maybe it’s just a me thing, but I like to get my hands on every FREE (I mean, I am a college student guys) map available – hit up your hostel and any information desks or booths around the city.  Some maps might only have the major sights, some might have more detailed street depictions, some are easier to read, etc. etc. Find the one that works best for you.

Some people swear by using apps in which you can download an interactive city map before you even arrive, like (LIST A COUPLE).  Others just use Google Maps.  If you’re not a big physical map kind of person, these are really great options.  Just keep in mind that they are battery drainers, so consider bringing along a portable charger!

Once you’ve selected your go-to and have marked out your must-sees, review your previously made general overview of a plan and send up a prayer to the travel gods because you are finally ready to be unleashed.

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Walk. Everywhere.

Why yes. Your feet are going to want to fall off and you might be exhausted at the end of it, but it’s gonna be worth it, I can assure you of that.  Always make sure to pack comfortable walking shoes.  This doesn’t mean you have to rock the tourist sneaks (you know exactly the ones I’m talking about).  But you are looking for shoes that can go through miles of walking, and yes, I do mean miles.

Traveling, to me, is all about exploring a completely new place.  The sights, and the sounds, and the smells…there is no better way to experience all of that then by walking through whatever city you are currently in.  So, yeah, take the subway, hop in a taxi, or take a little cruise on a boat, but make a point to walk as much as possible.

Native City-Dwellers = New Best Friends

Whether you’re on your little adventure by yourself or with some companions, make it a point to talk to people who live in this brand new city you are exploring. Just don’t forget some of the Stranger Danger rules of course (please use your judgment).  People who work in your hostel are amazing sources of information and can point you to the best and sometimes most secret parts of a city! So are waiters – especially if you get a really friendly one! Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation.

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Aracely hails from the wild lands of Hope, Arkansas where she grew up living on a farm and gaining a love for travel. She is currently a Senior at Harvard University studying Psychology and wondering what she's going to do after graduation. When she's not traipsing around taking pictures or day dreaming about the next time she'll get to travel, you can find her dancing or serenading people with her ukulele.


  1. Great and very interesting introduction how to explore new places!
    Walk. Everywhere. is actually an essential tip, I totally agree. Often it is really the best way just to explore by walking around without concrete goals, brings often best and interesting experiences 🙂

  2. I do agree that you have to plan ahead if you want to make most of your day or two visit to a new city. Sure, it’s easy just to stroll around the city and see where it takes you, and that is usually the best experience of the place you can get. But than again – not if you don’t have enough time. So, nice tips! 😉

  3. I haven’t been a student in years but this is still how I travel – Hostel, Maps, Walking & Locals, they are really the right ingredients for an awesome trip, wherever you are in the world!

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