When you’re headed to an unfamiliar city, and your goal is to avoid the touristy neighborhoods and see how the locals live, how can you get the authentic flavor of a place fast? There are things you need to do in advance of your travels, as well as when you’re on the ground, so get prepared. After all, many find planning an exciting part of the adventure.
So if you normally rush from one monument, museum and park to the next, why not challenge yourself to leave your watch and schedule behind. Here’s how to expereince a city like a local!
Before you go
1. Learn the language
You don’t need to be fluent in the local language but a few everyday words go a long way. “Hello” and “thank you” are always helpful, and “toilet” can definitely be useful. There are many free and paid apps that can help with this, such as Babbel, Duolingo, or Memrise.
Having some basics will not only help you in getting around, it will also make it much easier to break the ice with locals. Most people love knowing a foreigner has made the effort. You might feel silly trying out new words or phrases, but travelling is all about leaving your comfort zone.
2. Fly into a regional airport
Start your trip as you mean to go on by landing in a city that’s not the capital.
Airports in smaller cities are often less stressful and cheaper to fly into, whilst giving you the chance to explore some places you may not have thought about visiting. Consider flying out of a different city to expand your route.
3. Avoid hostels
Hostels are very appealing if you’re on a budget but, apart from local staff, they tend to be full of other foreign travellers. They don’t give you many chances to experience a place and its culture. Instead, organise independent or local accommodation. They may be more expensive but you’ll go home with lots more anecdotes and memories than a run-of-the-mill hostel can offer. When searching for accommodation, look up the areas where people live day-to-day and opt for one of these local neighbourhoods. This will also help to keep costs down as they are likely to be outside of the city centre.
During your trip
4.Take a free walking tour
One of the best things to do when you arrive in a new city or town is look up free walking tours. They’re a great way to get your bearings in a new place. They’ll often make stops at popular attractions or neighbourhoods, allowing you to decide if they’re worth going back to another day.
The guides are always locals who often grew up in the town or city so they’re full of stories and local gossip that you won’t find in any guidebook. They’re also a found of knowledge about transport, what you should be paying for food and souvenirs and they’ll be happy to let you know the best, and worst, local restaurants.
Walking tours usually last two or three hours and you usually only need to book via their website a day or two in advance. There’s no charge, but it’s customary to tip your guide at the end.
5. Get really lost
Rather than eating at a place recommended by a local guide, ditch it and get lost in a place and see what you stumble upon.
Choose a restaurant away from touristy areas or near famous attractions. Look for places offering authentic local food that doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket, then ask for some tips from bar and waiting staff. You’ll have a much more local experience and go home with a list of dishes to create in your kitchen.
5. Scour the markets and the streets
Local markets, not those aimed at tourists, are the best place to really see locals at their best. The shouting, bartering and joking will tell you a lot about a nationality, not to mention teaching you some ‘colourful’ language.
Try to buy local foods that are grown in the country. Not only is this a more eco-friendly way to eat but you’ll get to experience the local version of familiar foods, or a Coke that doesn’t taste like Coke.
Don’t shy away from street food either. If you see queues of locals lining up for a street cart it’s a good sign that the food is popular, hygienic and tasty.
6. Use public transport
Be it bike, scooter, rickshaw, or subway, using public transport is a great window into a new culture. Even if you don’t understand the local language, you will see familiar sights, like people on the bus getting annoyed with the boy playing video games, or the crying child. A local metro card is also a good way to get around a city and cheaper than renting a car or taking a taxi.
What do you do when you travel to have a local experience? Share your tips with us on Instagram
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