I recently planned a sightseeing tour for a friend who was visiting Athens. We had less than a day in our hands, that’s why we tried to make the most of it.
How we did it? Well, I decided to think like a geographer. And it worked: my friend was able to enjoy some of the most important sights and to appreciate the unique flavour of the city, something that is not obvious at first sight. In other words, even if we had such a little time available, the choice of sights was to the point, insofar as my friend got a true sense of place regarding Athens.
Are you planning a trip or a short holiday? These three tips will help you make the most of it:
#1 PLAN AHEAD
I totally recommend planning ahead. For instance, if you are travelling in the summer, note on the map the places you would like to visit taking into account that it would be better to visit the western places in the morning and the eastern places in the afternoon. This way you avoid unnecessary exposure to the sun.
While some travellers prefer to be spontaneous and discover the place on the spot, without any planning whatsoever, I personally believe that when you have a good idea of the place beforehand you can enjoy the place more. When you are more in control of your trip you feel more relaxed and less tired, and what’s more: when you avoid fretting over details such as finding the correct bus, you can appreciate your surroundings and focus on your immediate experience.
#2 USE PRINTED-OUT MAPS
While it’s becoming more common to use maps on our smartphones, printing them out has its own advantages. For once, you save battery. Then, it’s safer when you ask passers-by for directions – if they want to run away with your printed map, let them! Besides, with a printed-out map you can navigate and talk on the phone simultaneously. Finally, it’s easier to take notes directly on the map, mark places for future reference etc.
Don’t worry about the lack of a GPS – you are a geographer now! Look for the place of the sun, and according to whether it’s morning or afternoon you will be able to locate the East and the West respectively.
#3 LOOK FOR THE SENSE OF THE PLACE
Geographers are not tourists; they do not wish to accumulate encyclopedic knowledge about places. Rather, they are looking for the sense of the place, the connections and the relationships that create and constitute that place. That’s why me and my friend, when we visited a location, we tried to reflect upon it and upon the feelings it gave us, while me, as a local, brought up some background stories of these locations. This was not done in a tourist-guide fashion, but in a way that made the place alive and meaningful to my friend who was not an Athens native.
Geography is not just locations, coordinates and historical sights; besides, too much information can be rather. But, when everything else about a place is forgotten, its sense will remain. Wherever you travel, try to discover the sense of the place.
Thanks for reading and enjoy your trip!