exploring is. To any individual, it’s obvious what exploration is. I have an image in my mind of what exploring looks like, and so do you, and so do kids, and so on. But the thing is, every person pictures a different image. When I picture an intrepid explorer, I see myself hiking across a mountain ridge. Conversely, you might see yourself walking in the forest, and a child might envision themselves conquering the world atop a dinosaur. The term “explore” is a whole lot less defined than we might think.
Therefore, the first thing to do when exploring a new city is to figure out what your group’s definition of exploring is. Some people explore like Lewis and Clark, diving deep into the unknown with nothing but a backpack to protect them for months on end. Other people say those people are nuts; for them, exploring is nothing more than taking a couple of food-n-beer bus tours around town. Those two activities couldn’t be much more different, but they do both fit under the banner of exploration. Gather your whole squad together and talk about what exploring means to you. It can be tough to get everyone to agree, so compromises are often in order. You’ll know you’ve found a good balance of group interests when no one complains about the types of shoes required for scheduled activities.
Next, it’s time to set some goals. Where are we going, and when do we have to be there? If Bob wants to hit every food truck in Portland, and Sarah wants to see every bookstore in Portland, and Bob and Sarah can’t bear to be separated, they’re going to have to come up with a pre-arranged travel plan. If your crew is the kind that likes to see as much as possible, it’s best to plot out an overabundance of places to visit. I did this when staying in the Portland Pearl District, and it was well worth it. My friend Emily wanted to visit Powell’s City of Books, and since she’s a big bibliophile, I knew she’d stay there a few hours. Far too long for my video game-rotted mind. I can only read for about 30 minutes at a time, so after visiting only two or three neighborhoods in the City of Books, I took my leave. There’s virtually no end to the number of indie boutiques and hip bars in the Pearl District. Since I had previously picked out the venues I wanted to check out, it was easy for me to walk to every shop on my list while Emily finished perusing the goods at Powell’s.
Now, not everywhere you go is going to be as closely packed with cool attractions as the Portland Pearl District. I was lucky enough to be able to walk anywhere I wanted to go on that occasion, but we can’t always be so fortunate. That brings us to our third task: figuring out the method(s) of transportation you’re going to use to explore your destination of choice. This is easily the least exciting aspect of planning a vacation, which makes it an easy step to skip. Don’t do it! You’ll find yourself at the Portland Zoo, 15 minutes after they close, pounding on the gates and begging the guard to let you in to see the fluffy penguins, all because you couldn’t be bothered to plan ahead. Personal experience may vary, but you get the gist of it. From bicycles to helicopters, plan out which vehicles you’ll need,when you’ll need them, and how you’ll get them.
We’ve been focusing a lot on research and thinking out your moves ahead of time. The final thing you have to do is to remember to allow for some spontaneity. Don’t be afraid to follow your heart or your nose. If you smell the best aroma you’ve ever come across, chase it! If you see a cute stranger lurking in a dark alley, actually don’t chase after them, though. Safety first. But after safety has been established, take some risks and get a little wild with it. Exploration is great with a little side of adventure to go with it.
If you are in the business of seeking out adventures, you can’t go wrong with a little advice from other people who have been to the city you’re exploring. For example, my trip to Portland was helped along by this article on weird and wonderful Portland places. Or, if you’re more into conversations than research, just ask the locals about the best things to see and do. More often than not, they’ll know of a hidden gem or two that align with your interests.
So, let’s review. First, you and your crew have to agree on what exploration means to you. Second, you set goals for the places and events you want to see in your city. Third, establish a plan for how you’re going to achieve those goals. Finally, don’t be afraid to throw all that planning out the window once you get to the city. Chat with locals, feel out what works for you, and remember the most important rule of all – have fun!