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How to Travel Like a Local
It’s like a mantra for travelers these days: do what the locals do.
That means you stay where the locals live, eat where locals eat, and go where locals go. You dress like the locals, learn the language and blend in with the crowd. Besides sneaking in a few of the main attractions of the city, you basically see the city from the perspective of a local.
In short, traveling like a local means ditching the travel guide, soaking up the undercurrents of a city and hitting up all the hidden spots in a city. Here are some of our tips on how to travel like a local:
Dress like a local
Forget that safari vest and khaki bermudas! Leave your tourist outfit at home. Don’t wear your camera like a permanent necklace, and instead take it out only when you want to take photos.
Do a bit of research on what the locals wear. If the local culture is more modest than the one you come from, do your due diligence and be sure to keep your shoulders and knees covered. If bright colors aren’t popular, adopt a more subdued wardrobe for the trip.
Just use your common sense to blend in and most importantly be respectful.
Eat like a local
Spending all your time in the restaurant next to your hotel might be easy and convenient, but you might miss the real food central of the city.
If the city you’re visiting has street food, be sure to sample some and get to know the vendors while at it. See which stalls are the most popular with locals and go there as there must be a reason why they’re so popular. If you’re nervous about trying street food on your own, especially due to dietary restrictions or language barriers, sign up for a food tour — there are plenty to choose from on Foodie and Tours. A food tour is also a great way to get your bearings around the city.
Most importantly, notice what the locals do. What are the culinary customs? Following food habits can offer you a different peak into their culture. Some cultures have a heavy late lunch followed by a little siesta and a light dinner, while others prioritize breakfast and some have a three-course dinner with lighter meals throughout the day.
If you want to learn more about the local cuisine and connect with locals while at it, sign up on sites like Bonappetour to meet locals and share a meal at their home. Eatwith provides a similar setting, where you can join a local chef at his or her house to try a home-cooked meal.
Sleep like a local
In many cities, hotels and hostels are conveniently located near popular tourist sites, not in residential areas. This arrangement is perfect for a tourist, but not so great for someone who wants to master the skill of learning how to travel like a local.
If you really want to get into the districts where locals hang out, get out of the city centre and weave your way deep into the heartlands. There are many platforms these days that offer places to stay in residential areas – the most popular being Airbnb. The accommodation site offers many options ranging from private houses to a bedroom in a host’s home. Airbnb is the perfect solution for a traveler who wants to see how locals live and stay in a local’s home.
If you’re traveling on a budget and your sense of adventure is high, Couchsurfing can be a fun and interesting way to stay with locals. This platform allows guests to connect with a local host and sleep on his/her couch for free! The Couchsurfing arrangement tends to be friendlier and less businesslike as compared to Airbnb, and many hosts go above and beyond to show their guests around the city while sharing their culture. I’ve surfed several couches before and had just the best experience!
With both Airbnb and Couchsurfing, it is important to check that the host has good reviews and to trust your judgment. If you ever feel uncomfortable or unsafe it is better to leave.
Speak like a local
Travel like a local by learning a bit of the local language before arriving. Learning a few simple phrases including numbers, yes, no, thank you, and hello go a very long way. Even if you aren’t perfect with the language and make mistakes, most locals appreciate the effort and will warm up to you.
You can also go a step further by learning a basic level of the local language. Download an app or sign up for an online language course; better yet, study the local language at your destination for a month or two. Being able to speak to locals in their own language will allow you to have conversations that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.
Enjoy like a local
Leave the guidebook behind for a while; If you want to travel like a local, you need to mingle with locals and find out what activities they do and where they go during their free time. Join a Facebook group to find out any upcoming events, or sign up to Meetup and connect with locals that have similar interests as you.
If you struggle with language issues, you can always ask the concierge at the hotel (or your Airbnb or Couchsurfing host) for recommendations on what’s going on in the city.
Explore like a local
Exploring like a local doesn’t mean you need to skip the interesting sights altogether (because let’s be honest, some are really cool), but you can incorporate more of a local flavor by hiring a local guide.
Tours by Locals is an awesome platform that connects you to knowledgeable private guides all around the world, who will have many more suggestions beyond the basics. Even better, with a private guide you can ask all the questions you want to, learn about local culture and customs on a deeper level, and basically make an instant local friend!
When you visit a new destination, how do you travel like a local?