If you’re an avid traveler, you will know that there are countless ways of visiting any given place. However, many will tell you that blending in as one of the locals is the best way to really ‘experience’ where you are. That doesn’t mean that you’re doing anything wrong if you love being herded through city attractions by a flag holding volunteer. We all have been there. But if those guided tours and blatant tourist traps give you the goosebumps (not for good reasons), you might want to read on.
Before we continue, let’s set one thing straight. No matter how much you try to ‘blend in’ when you’re traveling, you’re always going to be a visitor. This means you should respect your role as well as the culture you’re visiting. Saying this, there are things you can do if you’re looking for a truly enriching local experience; and really travel like a local.
No Bus Tours
So, as you might have guessed, bus tours are out. Not only do you want to avoid these like the plague, it will also save you a few dollars. Travel companies charge ridiculous rates in exchange for the comfort of knowing someone else is sorting out all the details for you. Most, if not all, the people taking these tours are going to be, well, tourists. Not a very local way to travel really is it?
When you travel to new places, the best way to really understand your environment is to make friends with someone that lives there. It might be easier in certain countries, depending on where you are in the world. But if you go in with a friendly attitude, you will find that even in the most reserved country you will be able to strike up a conversation at a local bar.
Use Airbnb (or couch-surf) instead of Hotels
Since Airbnb has come onto the scene, the way we travel has changed significantly. Using this service means you can actually stay in people’s homes and get to know them and how they live. The places are often much cleaner than your average hostel and cheaper than a hotel. If you want to get to know the locals even more, you can try out couch-surfing, a free service where people open up their homes (and couches) to travelers.
Use Public Transportation
When you really want to feel the local vibe, jump on a bus. Not only can you people watch and learn more about the culture, it also gives you a great opportunity to strike up conversations with the people around you. If you are traveling in a place where you stick out, starting a conversation might be a little easier. Though, many seasoned travelers have recommended going in taxi rides, especially in the Far East, where you can spend $5 for a 45 minute ride practicing your Chinese.
Pick up The Local Phrases
One of the best ways to show you are working on being less touristy and more local is to actually speak in their language. Even if it’s the most basic phrase you can say, the appreciation you will receive is going to surprise you. Having a handy phrasebook with you can also get you out of tricky situations, helping simmer down an angry local.
Eat Like a Local
If you spend your time eating in Pizza Hut or the newest pasta place in the middle of India, you are not going to really ‘taste’ the culture. As different foods is one of the highlights of traveling, why waste your time in restaurants you can get at home?
These are just a few of the things you can do to really travel like a local. Most importantly (what many tourists forget to do), remember to smile – the locals are not out to get you.