|The first thing I like to do when I arrive in a new place, after securing a place to safely lay my head, is to head out and walk. No map, no destination, no expectations—just walk. On the functional side of things, it really connects with and orients me to the area. But it also serves to help me truly be in a place, rather than experience it through the lens of whatever guidebook, website, or friend's recommendations I have gotten. Just walking allows me to follow whatever minor whims occur at the moment and see where they take me. There's always time at the end to visit any highlights just walking might have missed.
Take Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, my current whereabouts, for example. Today, my first day here, I must have walked at least 8 miles, and I saw a lot. Of the "you should see this" list, I happened upon the presidential palace, Independence Park*, the malecon*, and the Columbus Lighthouse*. But I also happened on all sorts of other cool stuff, like this crazy Ricola statue* and this amazing fort/castle, places I probably would not have found if I was on a mission to any place in particular. I had lunch at a place that's never been mentioned in a guide book* and got lost resulting in the opportunity to practice my Spanish in asking for directions home. And I earned the 3 ice creams I stumbled upon.
Yep, this hit-the-ground-walking routine really works for me. My feet my be tired and my socks more pungent than normal, but I wouldn't have it any other way.