Paris. Barcelona. Rome. Berlin. London
When you move to a city beloved by the travel world, one of the unspoken rules of expat living is that you friends and your family will have a renewed interest in visiting you (and your amazing city). And, at some point, you are bound to here these magic words:
Adjusting the schedule of your daily life to become an unofficial tour guide can wreak havoc on your energy, patience and peace. Here’s a few tips to help you keep your sanity and help your guests have the best experience possible in your city:
1. Know your guests
Every person is different. Some of us are walker gawkers…we can spend hours strolling through a new city as we cast wonder-filled glances at anything remotely interesting. Others are first-burst travelers; we like to rise early, hit the streets when we have energy, then return home by afternoon to savor the sites as we relax the night away.
Your guests are no different. As you make plans for you visitors, form your schedule around their energy level. High-energy travelers want to squeeze every last bit of culture out of a new place. Ten sites in one day? No problem! On the other hand, low-energy travelers don’t mind visiting two or three places and calling it a day.
If you know your visitors like to explore until the sun comes up, be resourceful in your planning. You may not need to visit a ton of sites, but you may need to narrow down neighborhoods or zones that will allow curious souls the freedom to discover on their own.
If you know your guests like to keep things calm and manageable, focus your planning on small chunks of neighborhoods or more popular tourist attractions at which oglers can take their time.
Our city, Barcelona, is the perfect example of this. Inquisitive, energetic souls can spend hours wandering the streets of the Old City or Gracia; while more focused, relaxed travelers can spend the same amount of time at La Sagrada Familia or the MNAC.
Also, don’t be afraid to check in with your guests at the end of each day.Give them an overview of the next day’s itinerary. Ask them about their energy level, if there’s anything they saw that they’d like to return to later in their stay and if they feel up to the following day’s schedule.
2. Know your schedule
“Now what?” It’s a dreaded question for hosts to hear…visiting family or pals sitting around your flat nervously waiting for your direction. You are, after all, the city expert (or at least that’s what they’re expecting).
So, to avoid that point at which your guests and antsy and all you can do is offer them a blank stare and an overwhelmed whimper, create a schedule. Your itinerary can make or break your guests’ experiences in your amazing city.
One of the easiest ways to plan an itinerary is to break your city up into genre-specific chunks. Sometimes those genres will be location-based, while other times they’ll be theme based.
During my family’s recent visit, our schedule featured location-heavy plans. Their first full day included a walking trip through the Gothic Quarter, Las Ramblas, La Boqueria market and Plaza Catalunya. Two days of their visit focused on genres: Friday was Barcelona history day, in the form of a walking tour through the Old City; while Saturday focused on Gaudi, in the form of another walking tour.
We also included mini trips through Barceloneta – home to one of the best bakeries and one of the best tapas bars in the city – and Gracia, a trendy neighborhood with a wealth of cool bars.
Pub/restaurant crawls are a great way to see the city. Pick a neighborhood (in our case it was Gracia). As you walk, pick one person to choose the next stop. You’ll visit new places, and your guests will enjoy the ability to pick a place on their own.
A variation of this is the subway crawl. Pick a subway line. Bring dice with you (or five cards numbered 1-5). When you enter the metro station, choose someone to roll the die or choose a card. The number that turns up is the number of stops you go to find a bar. For example, I roll a six. At the sixth stop we get out, head to the streets and stop at the first interesting place.
Some locations will be a bust, others will be brilliant; that’s the joy of the crawl.
3. Know Your Limits
You know the look…jet-lagged travelers near the end of their trip, eyeballs stained red from lack of sleep, blisters like volcanoes erupting from their heels and an overall exhausted malaise fought off only by a steady stream of coffee and weird European energy drinks.
The dirty secret of hosting family and friends is that your guests won’t be the only ones who become zombified.
Playing the part of guide, hotelier and housekeeper is as exhausting as taking a red-eye from San Diego to London. If you aren’t cooking, you’re cleaning. If you aren’t cleaning, you’re coaxing your group through the metro, streets and sidewalks of your city.
Schedule time for your own personal rest! By the end of your guests’ visit, everyone will be tired. Keep this in mind as you create your schedule. If you’re going to cook, plan on making meals early in the visit. When my parents visited, we made dinner the first four nights and ate out the last three. This nifty trick gives you a break from the kitchen on the days you’ll be most tired.
If you’re guests are foodies, ask them if they’re interested cooking. Neighborhood markets offer a dazzling display of fruits, vegetables and meats that may not be so readily available back home. Leading a trip to a market where food-loving visitors can select exotic or not-so-exotic fare for the evening’s dinner can be a memorable experience for them.
Include a free day at the end of your itinerary. Let your guests return to their favorite neighborhood or sites. You can relax in the tranquility of a quiet house while they explore on their own.
4. Know your city
Create in your internet browser a bookmarks folder with websites of your city’s famous and not-so-famous sites.Know the opening and closing schedules. Nothing is more frustrating than hyping a particular location, only to arrive there in time to see the doors close and lights go out.
Know the iconic restaurants/bars in each neighborhood, as well as bits of history and humor. If you ever find yourself in a location you didn’t plan on visiting, a little side knowledge becomes handy when you’re making a decision about what to see or where to eat.
Compile a list of free activities in your city. If you’re guests blow all their money during the first half of their trip, your frugal man’s itinerary will be a lifesaver.
Many major tourist attractions offer season passes or family passes than include free tickets. These packages can be a great way to save your guests a little extra cash. For example, La Sagrada Familia offers an annual family pass which includes two adults, two children under 18 and two free passes for about 35€. Two individual passes for Sagrada cost about 30€. Split with your guests friends the cost of the annual membership; you pay 17.50€, they pay 17.50€. You get a year-round pass for you and your spouse, and your friends/family get two tickets (normally 30€ total) for about 17€.
Also, use your schedule to calculate how many metro trips your guests will need to take. During my family’s recent visit, I calculated they’d need 46 metro/bus/tram trips to get to the destinations I scheduled. Knowing they’d take some side trips not included on the schedule, I recommended that they purchase a 60€ 70-journey metro card. Budget-conscious visitors will appreciate this, as bulk tickets cost less per trip and alleviate the worry of having to buy a ticket every time they enter a station.
A little bit of planning on your part will offer your guests a sense of structure and direction, will give you moments of rest and relaxation and will make the experience more enjoyable for all. Happy planning!