Travel maps to make it easy
One reason that people use tours is because they are concerned about getting lost and prefer to avoid the hassle of finding their way around. Travel maps are designed to make it easy to find your way around. The trick is to not wait until you get there to study the map!
Buy printed travel maps and mark them before you leave home.
You can wait until you get to a new city and ask the concierge for a map. The nice thing is that it is free. The downside is that to be well organised you really need to sit down for an hour studying the map and working out your plan of attack. Sure you can ask the concierge lots of questions and get him to scribble on a map while you try to remember what he says. However, I usually find that the concierge is helping far too many people for me to feel comfortable taking up too much of his time.
My solution is to go online and buy travel maps of the cities we plan to visit long before we leave home. For ten dollars, I can relax at our own kitchen table putting stickers on a map and in the process get a good feel for the city layout.
My preferred choice of maps are: Insight Flexi Maps and Rick Steve’s Maps. These maps offer well-chosen scales and the right level of detail of the right areas. They are robust and easily handle being pulled in and out of a pocket many times for consultation on the ground. When I purchase and study the maps at home, I don’t have to look at the maps anywhere near as often when we get there.
Electronic Travel Maps
You can buy electronic travel maps for your smartphone or tablet. I have tried them and still occasionally use them. The free versions usually don’t have enough detail for my liking so I pay the few bucks for the better quality version. But for planning a route I still like a big printed map that I don’t have to scroll and zoom. When on the street, I still find it faster to whip a map out of my pocket than to dial up the digital equivalent.
Check them out and make up your own mind.
Look ahead with Google Street view
A lot of popular attractions will be very recognisable from photographs. But for others, why not use Google Street View? Knowing what the building entrance looks like can make finding it very easy.
Take a virtual walk around your hotel
Use Google street view to explore around your hotel. It is useful to know if you have a plenty of restaurants and cafes nearby or if you are in a commercial district. Is there a local pub nearby or a chemist? It’s fun to find out via Google Street View.
Have a data plan for your smartphone
We ALWAYS have a data plan for our smartphones no matter where in the world we are. Your normal telco data roaming charges will send you broke but they often have special plans that are quite reasonable if you arrange them ahead of time. Failing that, you can pick up a local SIM card in the country you are visiting.
Why do you want a data plan? So that you can use live navigation on Google Maps or Apple Maps. Sometimes it is really comforting to be able to type in the address you are looking for and be shown where you are now and how to get to where you want to go. The more foreign the language on the street signs, the more often I find myself using this method.