like a local
like a local
Photo courtesy of Jessica Festa

There are a million reasons people travel and countless ways to explore this planet. Some people like to board a plane armed with a Lonely Planet travel guide and spend their vacations with an ambitious itinerary visiting all the top museums and photo spots in a city; however, travelers who don’t want to be “tourists” are seeking experiences that help them live like a local and immerse themselves in a new environment. While doing what the locals do might sound like great advice, when you’ve landed in a foreign city you may be left wondering, “now what?”

Fortunately, new apps and websites make it easier than ever before to authentically experience your destination. Even without technology, here are some simple tips for living like a local on your next trip.

like a local
Taking the local ferry in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Photo courtesy of Katie Foote.

1. Meet The Locals. The first step to living like a local on the road is meeting the residents around you — and no, the hotel receptionist doesn’t really count. To start these connections, try staying in a local home. AllTheRooms is a search engine that allows you to search homestays, couches, castles, local hotels and more, wherever you go. It’s a great opportunity to search a large inventory of local properties and homes in one database. Whether or not your host is present during your visit, try to get recommendations for their favorite places.

This is a great start, though your host doesn’t need to be your only resource. Take public transportation or take a cab and chat with your driver. The more time you spend off the well-beaten tourist drag the more likely you will be to connect with new people.  If you want to enlist the aid of technology, websites like Meetup can help.

like a local
Wandering the streets of Shanghai, China. Photo courtesy of Katie Foote.

2. Be Willing To Wander. While a bus tour might be the most efficient way to hit the tourist attractions, try exploring the city on foot to better absorb the sights, sounds and smells of your surroundings. Put down the guidebook, put the map away and get lost. Don’t race around with an ambitious itinerary; instead, follow your feet and the people around you. It’s amazing what kind of things you can stumble upon.

like a local
Cooking lessons and dinner in a Moroccan home thanks to couch surfing! Photo courtesy of Katie Foote.

3. Eat Where The Locals Eat. One of the best ways to connect with a new place is through your stomach. A sure fire way to get average, overpriced food is choosing the most obvious restaurant on the main tourist drag. Don’t do that. Instead, eat where the locals eat. Search local blogs instead of consulting your guidebook. Ask your host for recommendations, seek out local markets, try the street food and/or find the food trucks. Search the internet for cooking classes or opportunities to eat in local homes. Sites like BonAppetour, EatWith and Feastly can help with this.

like a local
Rocking climbing with locals near Pretoria, South Africa. Photo courtesy of Katie Foote.

4. Try Local Recreation. Vacations should be relaxing and rejuvenating. While getting spoiled at a spa has its place, see how the locals decompress from their work days. Borrow a bike and hit the trail. Jog through city parks. Maybe go to the beach or grab a fishing rod. Watch for flyers announcing local concerts, festivals and celebrations.

like a local
Helping dogs in the slums of Cape Town with Tin Can Town. Photo courtesy of Katie Foote.

5. Volunteer. If you have time and feel good about giving back, think about volunteering during your travels. Opportunities like Workaway and World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (aka WWOOFing) let you help out while facilitating a cultural exchange and, perhaps, discounted and/or free food and accommodation. You can contribute your skills to the local community or build new ones, through helping on a farm, with eco-building projects, with animals, with web design, with language exchange and more. Whatever project you choose, make sure to read our guide on Volunteering SMARTER.

Do you have tips to add on traveling like a local? Please share in the comments below! 

*This post was sponsored by AllTheRooms.com.

Recommended:

How To Book Flights Like An Eco-Traveler [Ethical Advice]

Better Than Fiction: True Travel Tales From Great Fiction Writers by Don George [Great Reads]

Pickpocket-Proof Garments [Travel Safety]

Katie Foote

Katie Foote may be a physicist by trade but she spent several years travelling the world as much as possible. After four years of semi-nomadic life, she spent a couple years in Auckland, New Zealand and recently moved to Vancouver, Canada. Despite living more traditionally, she has insight on how to travel the world on a graduate student budget (cheap!), explore off-the-beaten-path destinations and authentically experiencing new places by connecting to locals. When she's not doing physics or globe-trotting, she likes kickboxing, yoga and exploring her extraordinary new backyard of British Columbia.

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2 Comments

  1. These are really good tips! It’s a good idea to become familiar with your destinations in a way that isn’t just through tourism. Meeting natives and exploring local facilities, attractions, and shops can often give you a better insight into what that place really is like. Nicely said here! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Absolutely! Thanks for reading Morgan!

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