How to travel like a local
By now the concept of “traveling like a local” and “authentic” travel experiences are quite trendy, borderline cliché. Today’s traveler is more likely to snub their nose at double decker bus tours and forego long lines to visit “must see” attractions in favor of metaphorically wandering the streets of their destination like…well, like a local.
What exactly does it mean to travel like a local though and how does one…do it? In this post we’re going to take a crack at answering these questions.
What does traveling like a local mean.
Not sure Webster has defined this one so we’ll put forth our subjective definition – traveling like a local means acting on a genuine desire to share the lived experiences of the residents of the destination you’re visiting. Obviously “lived experience” could vary quite widely among said residents. For example, in most places 83-year-old grandmas and 13-year-old girls are probably living very different lives. Still, so long as you’re seeking out experiences that mirror life for the people hosting you, whoever they may be, you should be on the right track.
What does this look like in practice? We broke down a few areas of life where you could synch up with the local experience.
It’s easy enough to grab a taxi or, for longer hauls, a tourist transportation service to get from point A to B on your travels. While it will likely be slower, try getting from A to B like the people living there would. This might mean a subway, train, minibus, or any number of creative alternatives to walking (pro tip - ask your host or hotel manager to write down instructions/directions in the local language so you can communicate with ticket vendors, bus drivers, etc). While safety (including health safety) can certainly be a consideration, you’ll be surprised how insightful of a window public transport can be into local life. More than that, it’s an incredible opportunity for organic interactions with locals (not that you can’t chat up your cab driver) and for you to ask them for their favorite places to eat, which brings us to…
Would you rather eat “the most Italian” pizza or eat pizza where most Italians eat? Because the two might not necessarily lead you to the same spot and either could leave you unsatisfied with the experience. The former might have us witnessing an artificial spectacle of “traditional” cooking on the main tourist drag and the latter could potentially lead us to McDonalds. Our suggestion? Ask a local where they eat. Obvious enough but we find the phrasing is important because asking for a “good place” to eat can often lead to recommendations based on what they think “good” means to you, not them. Hopefully they don’t recommend McDonalds. Although…it is actually kind of fun to see how menus can vary across McDonalds in different countries. Bulgogi Burger in Korea anyone?
Our final recommendation centers around time. Not necessarily in adapting to the different conceptions of time found across cultures (although that’s great too). But more simply, just spending more time in one place. Too often, travel can turn into hopping from one Instagrammable spot to the next, leaving little time for that whole sharing the lived experiences of your hosts thing. By building in longer stays and looser itineraries you’ll find more occasion for the serendipity that allows us to connect with the people around us. To stay longer at a café and strike up a conversation with the local next to you. To ask the local baker on your second visit to their shop about how they make their goodies. Besides all that, extended travel in fewer locations is a whole lot better for the planet (less train-ing, plane-ing, and automobile-ing).
Resources for traveling like a local
One final tip, if you’re traveling in Africa or Asia we highly recommend booking an activity or stay through I Like Local. The platform matches conscious travelers with locals offering a variety of unique experiences - from making yak cheese in India to staying in a monastery in Cambodia. Their whole mission is to not only provide travelers with truly authentic and memorable trips but to ensure locals actually benefit from the tourism economy (currently only $5 out of every $100 spent traveling reaches local communities). This is not a sponsored post, we truly love them and their mission, check them out.