How To Explore a City in Only 48 Hours, According to Someone Who Visited 52 Places In One Year

published Feb 4, 2020
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Credit: Erin Little

Sometimes, we have the luxury of traveling to a new destination and taking the time to explore. And sometimes, we’re given a couple of days (or even less) to soak it all in before moving on. Lucky for us, travel reporter Sebastian Modak went to 52 places in a year, and we get to learn from his experiences.

Last month, Modak spoke at the New York Times Travel Show about being the 52 Places Traveler in 2019. For the second year in a row, the NYT gave one person a list of over 50 destinations around the globe, with the wild (and wonderful) catch: they only had one year to travel and document it all. Along the way, Modak figured out the secret to seeing a place when you’re there for 48 hours—and he told the audience all about it.

His first tip: make the time to go for a nice, long walk when you get there, with no route or end destination set in stone (although make sure you know the way back). This will allow you to stumble upon a few gems—restaurants, cocktail bars, antique shops—that you might not have discovered otherwise. Make a note, then revisit it later on.

“I made sure my first day I went for a walk that lasted three hours, usually without a destination in mind,” said Modak. “Just to get a feel for the place, get a vibe, pick out a couple of places that I wanted to go back to, so kind of a scouting mission.”

Modak also said that it’s good to try leaving your phone or camera behind for one afternoon, if possible, to really soak in your surroundings. “I had to be on so much—documenting, photographing, doing social media—I’ve caught myself a few times being like, I just walked through that market and I don’t remember a single thing I saw because I was so busy making sure I was getting the right shots.”

While Modak’s unique job required him to constantly document his travels, it’s safe to say that we’ve all experienced this overstimulation of technology. Modak says it’s good to challenge yourself to leave that device in your hotel room or rental “I would just go for a walk, maybe go to a bar and have a beer, talk to some people…and I think that’s something that’s nice to do, too.”