Don’t be a tourist.
While tourism isn’t necessarily a bad thing, those who have little respect for local customs or simply see the sights without delving into the culture can be. Don’t be a tourist. Instead, be a traveler. Welcome the opportunity to experience a new culture and meet new people with open arms. Understand their traditions and respect their customs. And importantly, live there. Whether you are there for a day, a week, or a month, try to experience each destination not just from a foreigner’s perspective, but from a local’s. Having this attitude can lead to a rewarding and unexpected journey.
Some tips for feeling like a local anywhere you travel –
// Don’t sleep in the tourist areas.
While it may often be convenient to stay in a nice hotel located in the heart of the city, you won’t experience that local vibe that other neighborhoods may offer. Rather, explore new areas of town and stay in a local quarter. You’ll in turn find restaurants, shops, cafes, and more things to explore that won’t be full of and catered towards tourists. Airnnb is a great way to find comfortable places to stay in less central areas. Rent an apartment from a local to see exactly how a local lives, or even rent a room with a local for the opportunity to meet new people.
// Take public transportation.
Don’t take a cab everywhere you wish to go but cannot walk. It will quickly become expensive, and you’ll miss out on an important local experience. Opt rather to learn the local rail and bus lines to get around like a local!
// Shop at a local market and cook at home.
While dining out for a taste of local cuisine is an important part of experiencing a new place, making your own food can be an equally learning and fun experience! Check out local fresh markets and grocery stores for a taste of what food in a new country is like (you never know what you may find on the shelves), and if you have access to a kitchen at your AirBnb, try making some local dishes. Or even sign up for a local cooking class to try your hand at it!
// Ditch the tour guides.
Tour buses can be great if you want to see many things in a short span of time, but nothing screams tourist more than following around a guy with a megaphone and flag. Instead, opt to learn the city on your own. Even if you’re going to see iconic and ‘touristy’ landmarks, find your own way to get there. By not being on a tour’s schedule, you leave time to explore any wonders you may find along the way and interact with people. You see more of the city than you will from the window of a tour bus.
// Don’t be obnoxious.
There is a time and a place to let loose and have fun, and vacations can be the perfect escape for that. But do be respectful of local cultures and don’t be that obnoxious traveler who is too loud. Have courtesy for those around you. It’s common sense.
// Make an effort to learn the local language.
You don’t have to be fluent in the native tongue to travel and really appreciate a city, but locals will most certainly appreciate you making the effort to learn the language. Pick up a translator app or Duolingo before you go, even if it’s just to learn a few key basic phrases. Locals will appreciate your effort to greet them in their own language, and you’ll gain an understanding of a key component of culture.
// Travel during the low season.
To avoid being swarmed by crowds of other tourists, travel during the less-busy season. There will be fewer travelers, giving you more space to see the city, and you won’t be swept up in the association.
// Meet people.
Push yourself outside your comfort zone and introduce yourself – not only to meet other travelers, but to befriend some locals! My family befriended a restaurant owner in Rome while traveling – and the following year he sent us his famous lasagna recipe to make for our Christmas dinner. You never know who you’ll meet, and having locals to show you around the city’s hidden treasures will make your trip all the more memorable.
// Leave time to explore on your own.
Itineraries can help travelers stick to a schedule, but don’t plan out every moment of your trip. Rather, leave some time to simply explore. Wander the streets of a neighborhood without a particular destination in mind, but instead watch the people, listen to the city, and see what you find along the way. Stop and sit at a local cafe or pub for a while and read a book. You’ll learn the heart beat of the city if you simply wander off the beaten path.