In recent years, there’s been a big shift in the travel industry. Because of increased access to travel, lower flight costs, and globalization, people are traveling more than ever, and they’re traveling differently than they were in the past. While years ago travelers had to rely on travel agents, concierges, tours, and guidebooks to plan their trip to a new place, today access to the internet makes it easy for travelers to plan their own adventures.
More people than ever are traveling in search of an authentic experience, wanting to experience their destination through the eyes of a local instead of a tourist. They want to see the real culture of a place, meet people who live there, and head to places that locals know and love. If you’re interested in traveling more like a local on your next trip, you’re in the right place. We’ve rounded up five tips to finding the best local spots, meeting people, and following the right travel etiquette.
1. Avoid the Guided Tours
Whether you’re traveling to Boston, Massachusetts; Athens, Greece; or Reykjavík, Iceland, there’s likely to be a big bus tour that leaves right from your hotel. While these can help you get the lay of the land in a new place, they typically only show you tourist hot spots, leaving out the places that locals frequent and enjoy.
Instead, consider renting a car or, even better, utilizing public transportation, walking, or biking. It might require a little more legwork and research upfront, but you’ll get a glimpse of the city the way the people who live there actually see it. It also gives you a better chance of getting out of highly concentrated tourist areas and going to places the locals visit.
Skirting the bus tour is one thing, but don’t be afraid to ask questions of concierges or tour guides, or take a guided tour at a museum or monument. You still want to learn about the place you’re visiting and enjoy the culture—don’t miss out because you’re afraid to look like a tourist.
2. Make Local Friends
Part of the fun of traveling is meeting new and interesting people, but if you’re trying to travel like a local, you want to make sure you’re meeting the right people. Sticking to tours and excursions is a sure way to make new friends, but they’ll probably be other tourists like you. If you want to see the city through the eyes of a local, the best way is to make a local friend, maybe someone at a bar, exercise class, or through an app like City Socializer, and ask them what they like to do. This is often the most fun way to experience a place because you’re sure to learn about and experience things you wouldn’t have chosen yourself.
Even if you’re shy or don’t make a quick friendship at your destination, don’t be afraid to ask for a recommendation. Ask a bartender, someone jogging in the park, or an employee at a local store about a spot they’d recommend for dinner. Most people are happy to share recommendations and might love talking about something they know and sharing a good experience. Asking a person at each destination where you should head next can lead to an impromptu tour of the city.
3. Use Your Resources (and Go Off Book)
The internet is a great place to research spots that locals like to frequent. Whether through travel blogs, Yelp, or Instagram, you’re sure to round up some great ideas. One way to start is to find a restaurant or location that looks interesting to you and head to the Instagram location tag. This feature rounds up all the photos that have been tagged with that location, which can be a great way to find travel bloggers or locals who share restaurants, activities, and tips.
This will help you make a list of some must-visit spots, but don’t be afraid of spontaneity. Being willing to wander and explore without a plan can sometimes lead to the best finds, and it opens you up to enjoying your trip instead of living by a schedule.
4. Give It a Try
If you want to experience authenticity, you’ll probably have to get out of your comfort zone at some point. You could try a new cuisine that you’ve never had, go on a hike if you’re what you’d call an “inside” person, or try to order in French instead of saying “Parlez-vous anglais?” with defeat in your eyes. If you’re nervous, a small step is to try to avoid chain restaurants and things you can get in America. Instead of ordering a burger, order the local pasta dish. There’s no shame in being homesick and sticking by old faithful, but try to branch out whenever you can.
5. Blend In and Be Kind
We shouldn’t have to say it, but we have to say it. If you want to travel like a local, act like a local. This means no crazy stunts, no harming nature or other landmarks, and actually making an effort at the local language and customs. You’re not expected to be fluent or know everything ahead of time, but being courteous and learning what you can will go a long way toward winning locals over and being a kind and conscientious traveler.
This will work wonders for making your trip more sustainable as well as easier on the environment and the city you’re traveling to. Through your choices to travel more like a local, you can prioritize supporting local businesses and families, and you can choose to give money to companies that value the community. This will also make you more conscientious when visiting landmarks and tourist destinations. You’re likely to leave places better than you found them instead of viewing your destination as something for you to enjoy.
Travel can be a valuable and life-changing experience that broadens our horizons, but it can also lead to a consumer mindset that makes us want everything to be pleasing and easy for us as travelers. Being aware of this and kind in your decisions will help you act like a local and make the world a better place.
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