For many of us, traveling is about more than just seeing a new place. It’s all about the physical sensation of being there. Getting under its skin and figuring out what it’s like to live or grow up there. We broaden our horizons and open our minds to other ways of living when we try to move around a place like a local.
However, you must make a concerted effort to avoid crowds and explore a location as if you are not a tourist. There are things you should do before your trip as well as while you’re on the road, so plan ahead of time. After all, many people consider planning to be an exciting part of the adventure.
So, instead of rushing from one monument, museum, or park to the next, challenge yourself to leave your watch and schedule at home and read on.
1. Study the language
You don’t need to be fluent in the local language, but a few common phrases will help you get by. “Hello” and “thank you” are always welcome, and “toilet” is always useful. There are numerous free and paid apps available to assist with this, such as Babbel, Duolingo, and Memrise.
Not only will knowing the basics help you get around, but it will also make it much easier to strike up a conversation with locals. Most people appreciate the fact that a foreigner has made the effort. You might feel silly trying out new words or phrases, but the point of traveling is to get out of your comfort zone.
If you’re going to be staying somewhere for an extended period of time, you could also take a language vacation. Then you can put your newfound knowledge to use in shops and markets, immersing yourself in the local culture. Language holidays in France, Spain, Italy, and Germany are also available through ‘Not in the Guidebook.’
2. Host a stay with a local family
Homestays are yet another excellent option. Staying with a local family is a great way to meet people and learn about their culture. You’ll get to eat local cuisine and watch the most popular sitcoms in that country, and it’s a great way to practice your language skills. AirBnB, Couchsurfing.com, and Homestay.com frequently have hosts who are willing to meet their guests.
3. Avoid staying in hostels
Hostels are appealing if you’re on a tight budget, but aside from local staff, they tend to be crowded with other foreign visitors. They don’t give you many opportunities to learn about a place and its culture. Instead, arrange for independent or local lodging. They may be more expensive, but you will return home with far more anecdotes and memories than a typical hostel can provide. When looking for a place to live, look up the areas where people live on a daily basis and choose one of these local neighborhoods. Because they are likely to be located outside of the city center, this will also help to keep costs low.
4. Instead of taking a bus tour, hire a local guide
Local guides can show you how the locals live, eat, socialize, and what makes them unique. They’re always full of fascinating anecdotes and insights that large bus tours simply don’t have time for. Make a reservation with ‘Not in the Guidebook.’
They provide immersive, off-the-beaten-path trips with guides who know their destination inside and out and can show you how to avoid the crowds and see a side that many people miss. They can also provide helpful advice on how to stay safe and which areas to avoid.
5. Get completely lost
Rather than eating at a restaurant recommended by the guidebook, get lost in a place and see what you find.
Choose a restaurant that is not in a tourist area or close to a famous attraction. Look for restaurants that serve authentic local cuisine at a reasonable price, and then ask the bartenders and wait staff for recommendations. You’ll have a much more authentic experience and leave with a menu of dishes to prepare in your own kitchen.
6. Dine with a native
Social dining apps such as Bon Appertour let you book a meal-sharing experience hosted by a local. They may also provide you with useful recommendations for places to visit.
7. Take a free walking tour of the city
When you arrive in a new city or town, one of the best things to do is look up free walking tours. They’re an excellent way to get your bearings in a new location. They’ll frequently make stops at popular attractions or neighborhoods, allowing you to decide whether it’s worth returning to on another day.
The guides are always locals who grew up in the town or city, so they’re full of stories and insider information that you won’t find in any guidebook. They’re also a wealth of information about transportation, what you should pay for food and souvenirs, and the best, and worst, local restaurants.
Walking tours usually last two or three hours and can be booked a day or two in advance on their website. Although there is no fee, it is customary to tip your guide at the end.
8. Examine the markets and the streets
Local markets, not tourist markets, are the best places to see locals at their best. The yelling, bartering, and joking will teach you a lot about a culture while also teaching you some ‘colorful’ language.
Purchase locally grown foods whenever possible. Not only is this a more environmentally friendly way to eat, but you’ll also get to try the local version of familiar foods, such as a Coke that doesn’t taste like Coke.
Don’t be afraid of street food either. Queues of locals lining up for a street cart are a good indication that the food is popular, hygienic, and tasty.
9. Use public transportation
Using public transportation, whether by bike, scooter, rickshaw, or subway, is a great way to learn about a new culture. Even if you don’t understand the local language, you’ll notice familiar sights, such as people on the bus becoming irritated with the boy playing video games or the crying child. A local metro card is also an inexpensive way to get around a city, and it is less expensive than renting a car or taking a taxi.
10. Observe the world around you
Sip a coffee in a nearby café while people-watching. You may see folks on their way to the top spots to visit or eat. Try starting a discussion; you might learn something useful and make some new pals. If you have the opportunity, read the local newspapers to learn about what’s going on locally and nationally, as well as to get ideas for what activities to attend.
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