There are so many ways to approach traveling, and it all depends on what you are looking to get out of your experience. You can focus on food and drink, adventure, family experience, major attractions, or seeking out the local perspective. One of the most rewarding parts of traveling is discovering and learning about cultural differences, the best way to do that is experience the culture first hand. In order to do this, it’s important to seek out the places that provide these authentic experiences, the places the locals visit! Having a local experience not only makes you seem like an expert when you go home and tell your friends but also provides a new and exciting experience, missed by the general public.
Sometimes it can be hard to find these places as a tourist because the best places are usually the best kept secrets! Luckily there are a few simple things you can do to discover an authentic experience while exploring a new place. Try these tips on your next trip for a ‘do as the locals do’ experience, because when in Rome, right?
1. Do your research
When visiting a new country or culture the best thing you can do is be aware of local festivals and events occurring. If you have the flexibility, plan your travel dates around these events. These are not only an amazing spectacle of years old tradition and culture but generally big fun parties! Who would want to miss out on that?!
Make sure to research local customs as well. If you don’t have a way to consult a local travel host or expert make sure to ask hotel staff or consult a travel book. It’s always terrible to offend someone with the best of intentions! For example, tipping in the US is a quick way to make sure you receive quality service but is considered to be rude in Japan, especially in restaurants.
Follow the local crowd. There will always be places that lure in tourists with authentic food signs but once inside you realize it’s a bunch of gringos. When looking for restaurants in particular, we have found that following the local crowd promises the most authentic, and usually the most delicious, of meals! A great way to discover these hidden gems is to ask the people around where their favorite places to eat are. Your hotel or hostel can help with this, the Bodega around the corner, and even people working attractions you visit. Ask any locals you come in contact with and you’ll be sure to develop a great list of places to visit.
3. Stay in an area where locals live
Here is the goal: If family was coming to visit, where would they stay? Probably somewhere close by with a home-y atmosphere. Staying in places where locals actually live will promise you an experience surrounded by people who actually live in the country you’re visiting. This generally means you will be farther from the biggest attractions a location has to offer. If that’s something that bothers you, think about dividing your trip and staying half in the city center/more tourist area and half in a local hub.
4. Find a local host or consultant
The best way to get a local experience is having someone there to answer your questions in the moment. There are several ways to do this. The easiest is to take a partial guided tour with a local host on call to assist you throughout your stay. Walking tours are also great ways to pick someone’s brain about the local scene. Do this on your first or second day to maximize the rest of your stay.
Another great way to learn about a local culture is through having a meal. There is something special about breaking bread that helps remove barriers and brings a new level of understanding and respect to any relationship. If you can, try to have a meal with a local, preferably in their home. This will promise authentic food but also a look inside the intimate lifestyle of your host culture. A great way to do that is through the website eatwithme.com. This website pairs guests with local chefs to have a gourmet meal in their home. There are locations all over the world, you can even become a host if you enjoy cooking!
Hopefully this list provides a good sense of how to find the local vibe and discover the best insider secrets while traveling!