First of all, nothing is hidden anymore. If you dig deeper into something, you’ll find it! There are so many ways to find beautiful places (touristy or not) while traveling. There’s no magic or crazy science behind it, so let me show you how to do it!
If you see a beautiful photo on social media, ask (politely, please!) where was that shot, in case the person hasn’t shared the location. Note that not everyone likes to share locations. Location scouting plays a huge part in a photographer's life, where we spend countless hours every day looking for new spots to shoot - so don’t take it personally if they ignore you. If they do, look their stories, check the comments and last photos and you’ll have more clues on where was that taken. Some locations are also incredibly easy to find it on your own, so don’t be lazy and do a little research before asking! :)
That’s not something really nice to say these days, but consuming social media is the best way to discover new places to travel and shoot. Follow as many travel photographers and feature accounts as you want (if you don’t know where to start, take a look at my “inspiration” highlight!) and also specific location accounts. For example, if you are traveling to Iceland or planning to, start following accounts and hashtags dedicated only to photos from Iceland - @guidetoceland, @everydayiceland, @wheniniceland, #mystopver, #icelandtravel - and also Icelandic photographers. They’ll eventually post places that will interest you and, when that happens, make sure to save on your list.
Check also specific locations from time to time (recent and top photos and the stories).
Social media is also great to connect with people, so invite them to travel and shoot together or just to have a coffee - I do this all the time and have met incredible local people which led me to amazing places and opportunities.
Speaking of lists, Google Maps is definitely the best place to keep your list organized. By creating a Google account, it allows you to save 1500 spots on your map. It’s simple, easy and super handy when it comes to planning. Saw a nice spot in Iceland? Brazil? Thailand? Save it, even if you’re not planning to visit it soon. You never know when the opportunity comes. This method works not only for touristic attractions but also for restaurants, hotels, viewpoints, etc. You can also use MAPS.ME for this, an offline map app that I use all the time and highly recommend.
Some other great features:
Collaborative maps are super handy when traveling with friends. It allows you both to share the marked spots, annotations, etc, on a separate map with a special link.
Points of interest: just move the map around to find nice spots that are marked with a camera icon.
Satellite and terrain views: They are super useful when shooting mountain areas so you can see their height, elevation, etc. For example, I've seen a few photos from this spot (left picture) before but never with the exact location. All I knew was that it was in Phang Nga, an area in which I was traveling to. After 10 minutes on satellite and terrain views, I found it! The curves of the river and the mountains matched perfectly, so I flew my drone from the nearest road and got the shot!
The most used tool for travel planning. If you can’t find it on Google, it doesn’t exist (almost!). Quick steps on how to find nice places: start with the basics/touristy then move to the lesser-known. Pretending that I’m planning a 3-week trip in Japan, that’s how I’d normally research:
where to visit in Japan
must-dos in Japan
how long in Japan
2/3/4-week itinerary japan
After this, you'll have a basic idea of an itinerary, probably contemplating mostly the touristic areas/attractions. Now it's time to search for different places and the secret here is to use some specific key-words:
hidden gems in Japan
off the beaten track Japan
hidden locations in Japan
how not to be a tourist in Japan
what do locals do in Japan
Instagrammable spots in Japan
photogenic places in Japan
photography in Japan
best places to photograph in Japan
After all this research you’ll have an amazing list of things to do and will be easier to plan your trip. Zoom out on your maps, see where the concentration of pins is higher and start planning! After that, it’s time to search more specific places - for example, replace “Japan” for Southern Japan, Japanese Alps (regions), Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka (cities), Shinjuku, Shibuya (neighborhoods), etc, to have more tips about where to stay, places to eat, attraction to visit, and day trips. The more specific you get, the best it’ll be! You can also Google “best waterfalls/beaches/national parks/foods in X”. Imagination is key when it comes to planning and the more you research, the more beautiful places you’ll find. Some of my favorite travel blogs are Salt in Our Hair, The Journey Era and The Sandy Feet - make sure to check if they have content for your destination.
The same Google Maps method works here, keep it open in and pin everything you find interesting.
Big bonus if you research also in the local language!
Whether on the internet or when already at the destination, what’s better than local knowledge? If you don’t feel confident about approaching random strangers, simply ask the waiter, the receptionist, the guy that sells ice cream. You already have a reason to have a conversation, so it’ll be easier to get local advice!
I used to buy a Lonely Planet guide to every single destination I’d travel to, but I’ve stopped recently for no specific reason. They do amazing guides with many recommendations on itineraries, places to visit, stay and eat. Also, they have a very useful section on travel tips regarding money, transportations, culture, laws, history, etc, which makes your trip more interesting.
This one is more dedicated to photographers then “normal” tourists. Satellite and 3D views give you way more flexibility to scout locations than the normal maps. It’s simple to use but very time consuming, so it’s necessary to be committed to using this powerful tool!
Both websites are dedicated to photographers and feature the exact location of the photos. Normally the locations found aren’t very hidden, yet they are other simple and powerful tools!
I hope you've found this guide interesting! There's no magic here. Just keep looking and dedicate some time to researching. It will change the way you travel!