It can be daunting at first. Saying you're visiting a megalopolis like Mexico City, or Moscow, or Tokyo. Where do you even start?
How do you survive in a city with a population the size of Australia's? How do you know where to stay, or what to do, or how to get around? How do you fit everything in?
It doesn't have to be that scary, however. There are a few tricks of the trade that will have you living like a local in the megalopolis of your choice in no time.
There's no point attempting to see an entire city in just a short stay. The best idea is to choose a neighbourhood you think you'll like, where there's plenty to see, and get to know it like a local. Stay in an apartment from a website like Airbnb; become a regular at a café; soak up life on the streets and see all of the sights in your own little part of town. You can take excursions to other areas of the city, but for the most part it's best to find yourself a smaller circle to move in and reduce the time you'll waste getting from place to place.
Use a guidebook
Not for everything. It's not the Bible. But if you want to orientate yourself in a new town, to find the must-see attractions and figure out the best neighbourhood to stay in, then the basic information a guidebook can provide will be invaluable. Use it for research before you go, and ditch it once you begin wandering the streets.
Plan your stay…
In a huge city, time is of the essence. You don't want to waste too much of your holiday deciding where to go next and how you should get there. If you're travelling to a big city, do your research beforehand and figure out the places you want to visit, and what order you're going to visit them in. This will cut down excess time battling public transport, and minimise the risk of missing out on the good stuff.
…But don't over-plan
The great thing about the true megalopolises of the world is that they're unpredictable – things just happen. Festivals pop up; cool bars appear; shops catch your eye; strangers invite you to do things. You don't want to have your visit so strictly planned that you can't embrace any or all of these things.
Embrace public transport
The metro system or the bus network or even the rickshaws might seem a little daunting at first, but if you want to get around the city in the most efficient (and cheapest) way, public transport is your friend. You might wind up in the wrong place every now and again, but that's all part of the experience.
Avoid rush hour
You don't have a job, so there's no need to battle the crowds in the early morning and late afternoon. If you plan your stay right you can do most of your commuting in the middle of the day or late at night, when there are fewer people to deal with. During the rush hours you can be safely inside a museum, or at a restaurant, or just relaxing in a park.
The idea of being lost in a big city might seem frightening, but really, this is the only way to discover what's really out there. Ditch the guidebook, fold up the map, and just wander. You'll be amazed at what you'll discover. (NB: In certain cities, it's best not to do this at night.)
Go it alone
Maybe you're uncomfortable with going to bars or restaurants or even concerts on your own back home. But this is the big city – a big foreign city. It's time to embrace the anonymity and get out there on your own. Eat at a table for one. Drink at a bar by yourself. Go to a club and dance like nobody's watching – because the truth is, they probably aren't.
Get those elbows out
Here it is: a huge crowd of people in Mumbai, or Sao Paulo, or Hanoi. They're all trying to do what you're trying to do. They're ordering food, or getting on a train, or lining up at a bar. It's intimidating, but the only thing to do is watch the way they behave, and do the same thing. Is everyone pushing in line? Do the same. Is everyone yelling their orders out? Do the same. You'll feel like a local in no time.
Get out of town
Ask around – where do the locals go when the city is driving them crazy? It's probably only a short train ride to get to somewhere completely different in the surrounding countryside, somewhere you can relax for a day away from the hustle and bustle of city life and see another side to your adopted home.