12 Secrets to Travelling Like a Local
Travel to me isn’t about the number of destinations or monuments I can strike off my list. It’s not for bragging rights or, ‘been there’ remarks. To me, travel is when I’m truly, completely, totally happiest.
I’m not sure I can even explain it. It’s something that my brain and soul craves. I get restless if I’ve been home for too long. My mind wanders, I suddenly feel unsatisfied with my career, and all I can think or talk about is exploring somewhere new.
I like to think it comes down to being human. It’s in our nature to keep moving – to keep exploring. Deep down, we’re so lucky to be these curious, conscious, aware beings. Because without that, we’d just be like any other animal. And the world would be saved – but that’s a whole other thing.
So when I travel, I try my darndest to travel like a local, even though I’m a tourist. I believe travelling like a local, or at least trying to, gives me an authentic experience of a destination. Yuck, I hate the word authentic, I feel like a dirty marketing exec – it’s so overused these days. But authenticity is what I’m searching for.
I want to experience a town for who it really is. I want to step outside of my little bubble, if only for a moment, and experience how someone, on the opposite side of the world, lives their life. Because if I don’t, I fear I’ll get consumed by my little bubble, and lose my curiosity and desire to keep exploring.
Why travel like a local?
You can't avoid that there’s a lot happening in the world at the moment. Although we’re more connected than ever before, we’re becoming more divided. Borders are being closed, countries are opting out of the EU, and some crazy-ass power-hungry assholes are brainwashing innocent people to do horrible things. Suddenly the world seems a whole lot scarier.
When we build connections with people we would’ve never met otherwise, we build empathy. When we explore a town, uncovering its soul and what makes it tick, we build tenderness. When we travel slowly, and with purpose, taking the time to discover the rhythm, we build compassion.
We need that to survive. We need that to rise above all the evil in the world and say, hey, it’s not ok to rip us apart.
I know travelling like a local won’t save the world. But it’ll at least leave an imprint on our souls (or whatever the hell you believe makes you, you), and we can pass that on and share our story of the world, with the world.
12 secrets to travelling like a local
Ditch the tour | Although tours usually sell the ‘locals’ experience, I can’t imagine how local travelling as a group of tourists can get. The less time you spend with other tourists, the more local your experience will become.
Travel slowly | The aim here isn’t to pack as much as you can into each day. It’s to start your day slow, maybe at a local cafe, where you can take a moment to watch locals as they make their way into the office. Spark a conversation with someone, like your barista or the local florist, and see where the day goes from there.
Be flexible | Sure, you can have a plan in place, there’s nothing wrong with that. But you know what, it’s totally ok if plans change. Be ok with that, and the city will guide you.
Get up early and commute like a local would | Get up early, go grab a takeaway coffee, and jump on public transport. Even if you’ve planned a visit to a tourist attraction, starting early and catching public transport, will give you some time to immerse yourself in the local hustle and bustle.
Ask questions | The best way to find local hotspots is by asking. Ask your barista as you’re waiting for your coffee, ask your waiter as they hand you your check, ask your bartender as they pour you your red. But be smart about it. Make sure you’re not asking when they’re super busy, because you probably won’t get much out of them. I've found the best way to get some local tips is by finding a specialty cafe, (one that roasts their own coffee beans), visiting when they're not too busy and sparking up a conversation with the barista and waiters. Since they work at a specialty coffee house, they're usually foodies with some hella good recommendations.
Stay in the ‘burbs | Sometimes you need the daily commute to get the locals experience. By basing yourself in the suburbs, instead of in the central business district, you’ll be able to create a slower paced, local travel experience for yourself.
Stay with locals | It’s actually easier than it sounds. AirBnB is a fantastic new way to stay with locals, in their home. Make sure you find a room in a locals home, instead of a place all to yourself. It’ll be cheaper that way too. More often than not, your host will be happy to share some local tips with you, and might even share a drink with you one night. If you’re on a budget and not too fussed about where you sleep, try Couchsurfing.
Ditch the map and guide book | First of all, they make you look like a total tourist. Second, they’ll keep you off the local track for sure. Once you ditch the map and travel guide, you’ll get the chance to get lost wandering the streets. You never know what you might stumble upon, or who you might meet. If you're worried you'll get completely lost, download the map with offline Google Maps.
Dress the part | Often I find myself being stopped by other tourists asking for directions. I think it comes down to dressing the part. Gone are the days when travelling meant wearing cargo pant khaki's that zip into shorts (remember those?). Dress like a local and you’ll find yourself living like a local.
Learn some of the local language and culture | It’s never a bad idea knowing a few words and customs. Make sure you’re well versed in ‘hello’, ‘thankyou’ and ‘please’. Researching the local customs will also help – like tipping etiquette, dress codes and manners.
Shop locally | Not only good for a local experience, but good to support the local economy too. Shopping locally is also a lot more fun. Make sure you visit the local markets, boutiques, restaurants and drink the local beer/wine.
Explore places, not attractions | Travelling locally is about changing your perspective of travel. It’s not about exploring attractions, but gaining a deeper understanding of a new culture, and learning from it. You don’t need guide books and maps, let the city guide you – you'll be surprised what you might find.
What does local travel mean to you? How do you like to get a locals experience?