If you’re planning a vacation one of your biggest questions is likely, “what are we going to do while we’re there?” To answer this question people typically search online or on YouTube and come up with a list of the most popular things to do in a given city or town.
The problem is that everyone else is finding the same things to do. This could mean more crowds and the possibility of it being a little bit overrated. Now, if that’s fine with you and you want to see the most popular places, great, go for it! But if you want to experience something a little more secret, behind the scenes, or even something that gives you a deeper dive into the culture, then you need to conduct your research differently from what everybody else is doing.
As a professional travel advisor, I’ve learned how to find activities no one else is talking about. And that is what I’m here to share with you today.
So if you want to find the hidden gems and unique things to do for your next vacation, let’s go ahead and dive in.
If you follow travel blogs, travel websites, or the like, you likely see lists of things to do that are similar at best and identical at worst. This is because many of these sources share their lists based on popularity. Even if something is truly original and unique, it may have been done so long ago that few remember it now.
Therefore, when you search online for “unique things to do in x city,” you get a list that is full of things that have been done to death. To avoid this, you need to remove yourself from this echo chamber and start exploring new territories.
Social Media Sites such as Instagram and YouTube
I know it is ironic that I’m advising someone to do research different than everyone else and then I say go on social media sites like Instagram and YouTube, but hear me out. These platforms may help you find exactly what you’re looking for.
Instagram is an excellent place to research activities because it is where they live. If you’re looking for something specific but don’t know where to find it, search Instagram hashtags related to your area or activity of choice.
For example, if I’m interested in spelunking (cave exploration), visiting Cheddar Gorge caves in the UK, I would search #cheddar_gorge and/or #exploretheunderground on Instagram. Eventually, people will start posting their images with the location tagged, and voila! You’ve got yourself some leads for unique things to do.
YouTube works the same way as Instagram – only people post videos instead of photos. If you’re trying to learn how to do a certain activity or explore a new place, chances are there is a YouTube video out there showing you how.
However, there are plenty of videos regurgitating the same info over and over, so it’s best to structure your search to find specific things.
- Search for specific items of interest in your destination. If you enjoy theater, specifically search for “theater in x city”. Or if you want to go rock climbing, search for that specifically. By narrowing down your search to the types of activities that interest you most, you can focus on things to do customized to you.
- Search for “things to do in x that no one else is talking about” or “hidden gems” or similar language. Try to avoid searching for “top things to do in x”, as this will likely just bring the same popular things over and over.
People who live in the place you’re traveling to
This one seems very straightforward but I have never seen it done before. Think about it: people who live in a place or travel frequently probably know all of the best activities and places to go that other travelers might not think about. They are a treasure trove of information!
You can ask your hotel concierge (who can share great info about safety, currency, transportation, and more, but can also be incentivized by tourism dollars rather than helping you find unique things to do). Also, ask someone from the actual location. So if you’re going to Italy, search for a blogger, YouTuber, language teacher, student, or someone else from that area. One way is to search online or on YouTube but you can also search in language programs such as iTalki or another language sharing software. Or maybe try to befriend an ex-pat on Facebook or Instagram. This will give you insider access to the best activities and places to eat/drink in your area.
One of my favorite places to find things to do from a local perspective is Airbnb Experiences. These are tours and activities offered by locals in the area. They are typically small groups and fairly inexpensive. I love adding at least one experience at the beginning of my trip as I usually get a ton of great ideas and recommendations that I can then incorporate during the rest of my trip. Hosts of these events are also great people to ask for other recommendations before you leave on your trip. Just connect through the AirBnB software and ask, they are usually very responsive and helpful.
New apps and software
As I mentioned above, some apps can also assist you with finding unique things to do such as AirBnB for their experiences and iTalki to connect with natives of a certain location.
Another great option is the somewhat new app EatWith.
EatWith is a new platform where you can find the most delicious food experiences hosted by locals around the world. Once you have chosen your destination, find the social eating experience that is right for you. Need some inspiration? How about a cheese and wine tasting dinner in a beautiful Parisian home, learning to make homemade pasta with a local in Rome, a supper club in a magical garden in London, or enjoying a feast of tapas on a Barcelona rooftop?
Though EatWith is not in every destination yet, it is in some of the top cities in the world and is worth looking into for your next vacation.
While it is tempting to turn to sites like Google and YouTube for help finding things to do on vacation, this blog post shows you how those platforms can be limiting. It’s better to search Instagram or YouTube through hashtags related to your destination or activity of choice than by general keywords such as “top things”. This will give you a more personalized list that other travelers might not know about.
Finally, some local insiders live nearby and have insider knowledge worth seeking out! Talk with hotel concierges (who often know the best places to go, especially off-the-beaten-path destinations) or you can find locals on social media who might be willing to share hidden gems. Happy travels!