Print, digital resources for savvy travelers

  • By Rick Steves
  • Friday, July 12, 2013 8:04am
  • Life

Whether tackling big cities or quaint villages in Europe, you don’t want to feel like a stranger in a strange land, even though that’s exactly what you are.

Getting oriented is especially important in big cities, which, for many travelers, are the most intimidating part of a European trip.

First, have a good guidebook — whether print or digital — for wherever you’re traveling. There are guidebooks for everyone: shoppers, vegetarians, seniors, campers … even opera buffs. Invest in a guidebook that fits your style.

Smart travelers use a savvy mix of guidebooks and the Internet. Check the official tourist office website before you go (avoid unofficial tourist websites trying to sell you something).

Look for digital postcards from the place you’ll be visiting or search YouTube for clips about local sights and experiences. Web-based reviews of sights, hotels and restaurants are popular and powerful. But, while helpful, they can be misleading, so be careful.

While guidebooks come with basic maps of big cities, these are generally small and intended only to give you an overview. A detailed, foldout map can save you endless time and frustration; I make a point of picking one up immediately upon arrival.

If you think print is passe, there are smartphone apps that let you download maps, and once that’s done, the maps are accessible without an Internet connection.

Though many smartphones have GPS built in, it could be expensive, since it takes an Internet connection to pinpoint your location, leading to exorbitant data-roaming charges.

Study your map to understand the city’s layout. Relate the location of landmarks — your hotel, major sights, the river, main streets, the train station — to each other.

Use any viewpoint, such as a church spire, tower, or hilltop, to understand the lay of the land and see where you’re going next.

No matter how well I know a town, when I arrive my first stop is usually the tourist information office. You’ll find them on the main square, in the city hall, at the train station, or sometimes at airports or cruise ports.

But be aware that, while handy, their purpose is to help you spend money in their town. They can be more interested in selling tickets and services than just giving information.

In many cities, you’ll see hop-on, hop-off tourist buses connecting the major sights. Riding one when you arrive gives you a feel for the city’s layout. Or try a public bus ride: Paris’ bus No. 69 gives you a connect-the-dots tour of central Paris from the Eiffel Tower to Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

If you find yourself in a town with no guidebook coverage or tourist office, glance through a postcard rack to get a quick overview of the town’s most famous sights. Even the most mundane town will feature whatever’s worth seeing on its postcards.

Many disoriented tourists are too afraid or timid to ask questions. If you are too proud to ask, your trip will be dignified … but dull. Firsthand advice is available from hotel information desks, B-and-B hosts, hostel employees and other travelers.

Glean information from the couple seated next to you at breakfast, chat with the waiter who serves you lunch or ask a shop owner for tips.

While smart travelers get oriented quickly, there’s also something to be said about getting lost. Venice can be mobbed with tourists. But savvy travelers leave the center and explore, walking to the far reaches of the island, even if they’re not sure where they’re going.

Efficient travelers stay oriented — with our limited vacations, we need to use our time wisely — but don’t be afraid to step through a back door to your personal slice of unexpected Europe.

Email, or write P.O. Box 2009, Edmonds, WA 98020.

© 2013 Rick Steves/Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Talk to us

More in Life

Women came from all over the Pacific Northwest to “glamp” and raise money to send girls to Girl Scout Camp from Sept. 16-18. The next opportunity to glamp at Camp River Ranch will be Sept. 8-10, 2023. (Jennifer Bardsley)
Women’s glamping retreat raises money to send local girls to camp

I’ve been the camper, the counselor, the Girl Scout leader and the mom. Now, I was the glamper.

People stroll along Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, one of Europe’s most interesting historic walks, as Edinburgh Castle looms in the distance. (Rick Steves' Europe)
Edinburgh, the cultural heart of Scotland, packs a cultural punch

Once a medieval powerhouse, it is today one of Europe’s most lively and festive cities.

Dan Neumeyer peers out the window of his Hummingbird Yurt. (David Welton)
Otherworldly structures constructed on Whidbey Island

The small buildings — yurts, with a Western twist — were built by Earth dweller Dan Neumeyer.

Planting containers in the shoulder season

September and October can be tricky times of the year when it… Continue reading owner Tom Harrison at his brick and mortar storefront on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Near-death experience planted seeds for downtown Everett toy store

Former attorney Tom Harrison survived 9/11. It caused him to ask what’s important in life. Today, he runs MyMyToyStore.

Presented by the Edmonds Driftwood Players, Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” — a murder-mystery that is the world’s longest-running play — will run through Oct. 2 at Wade James Theatre in Edmonds. (Photo courtesy Dale Sutton)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

MUSIC Mill Creek Summer Concert Series: The music concludes with Big Dog… Continue reading

From left to right: Troy Chapman, Kristi O’Donnell and Keith Bowers are three of five members of the Hot Club of Troy. The band is the opening act at DjangoFest Northwest. (David Welton)
Django music festival returns to Whidbey Island this week

DjangoFest is taking place from Sept. 21-25 at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley.

Mazda CX-30 Crossover (Mazda)
2021 Mazda CX-30 Premium Plus

The crossover seats five adults and delivers the freedom to match active lifestyles.

2022 Kia Sportage Hybride SX Prestige

The 2022 Kia Sportage is marketed as the “ultimate urban SUV.”

Most Read