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Weekend Getaway Guide

10 Things Every Traveler Should Do

Whether you’re trekking to an exotic locale or revisiting an old haunt, get more pleasure from your vacation with these pointers.

By Pico Iyer
Red leather suitcases stacked Lucas Allen

Visiting a new town is like having a conversation. Places ask questions of you just as searchingly as you question them. And, as in any conversation, it helps to listen with an open mind, so you can be led somewhere unexpected. The more you leave assumptions at home, I’ve found, the better you can hear whatever it is that a destination is trying to say to you.
While in Venice a few months ago, I asked myself (and it) whether its art stood in the way of other things, like modernity and convenience. And with each turn I took, Venice asked me why I didn’t just accept its art for what it was. Returning to Tibet a few years ago, I wondered whether its magic was in the land or in my head. I haven’t quite worked it out, but asking the question made me more focused while there and led to deeper questions that I’m still asking back at home.
With that in mind, here are the things that I always do in a new place to set the conversation in motion.
 1. Savor every moment of your first few hours. First impressions really are worth a thousand others. I often scribble a hundred pages of notes when I visit somewhere new. But then, when I get home, it’s always the first page or two―the taxi ride in from the airport, my first foray out onto the streets―that captures something vivid and essential before my ideas and prejudices begin to harden. So stay away from e-mail, CNN, and anything that reminds you of home and just soak the place in.
 2. Embrace the prospect of being a tourist. Some snooty types will tell you that they’re “travelers,” not tourists. But if being a tourist means wanting to see all the attractions that make a town unique, then what’s so bad about that? Take the three-hour city tour on your first day in Atlanta so you know where things are and what you wish to return to. When traveling abroad, visit the shops recommended by tour guides, if only to see what’s available from people who speak English. Don’t be shy about asking a local stranger how to find the national museum; she may just offer you a guided tour along the way.

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