Written in collaboration with Mel Wong
Travel can enrich the body, mind and soul, but you can make the experience all the more authentic if you take a slightly different approach. Instead of travelling like a clueless tourist, taking some time out before you jet off to do things like learning key phrases in the local language and brushing up on local cultural norms can actually make the difference between a good holiday and an excellent one.
Travelling like a local automatically makes you feel at home internationally, even if you’re visiting a country you’ve never been to before, but it’s also a way to promote conscious tourism. After all, even the most picturesque and touristic village is still somebody’s home, and it shows global kinship to do your best to fit in with life there.
With all that in mind, here are a few things that you can do to ensure that you travel like a local and enjoy a truly authentic experience in your destination.
Stay with locals
Hotels are comfortable and convenient and used to be easier to arrange. In the digital era, however, it’s just as easy to find a room to rent in an apartment in Mumbai as it is to book that bland room in a chain hotel. Staying with locals can really open a country up to you – thank you Airbnb and Couchsurfing.com!
Most hosts are friendly and will be happy to tell you about the local hotspots, where the best views of the city you’re visiting can be found, and the most interesting things to see and do. There’s a personal touch that comes from staying in someone’s apartment that is lacking when you stay in hotel accommodation; plus any money you’re spending won’t be feeding a big fat corporation – it’ll be going into a real person’s pocket.
Understand local customs and traditions before you go
No matter where you travel to, you’re bound to find plenty of quirky local customs and traditions in your destination. Everywhere from France to South Korea has its own unusual superstitions that tourists can often be none the wiser about. Did you know, for example, that in Greece if a waiter spills your coffee it’s a sign of good fortune? Or that it’ll send out bad vibes if you directly hand hot sauce to your dinner companions in Trinidad? If you want to avoid making an unfortunate faux pas on your travels it pays to swot up beforehand!
Ditch the travel guide and give tourist zones a wide berth
If you follow our first suggestion you should be able to get some good insider knowledge about the best places to visit and activities to try in your travel destination, but as a reminder, let go of any planning and go with the flow.
Travel guides can be very useful, especially if it’s your first time visiting a destination, but try to only use it as a reference book and not a must-do/see list. Tourist attractions are undeniably a spectacle, but if you only see the obvious things you’ll miss out on so much more. Try not to have any expectations, just show up and be spontaneous. After all, nothing beats an adventure in a new country or city.
Eat and travel like a local
Another great thing about staying in local accommodation over a hotel is that, more often than not, you’ll have access to kitchen facilities and maybe even a super-enthusiastic host who’ll be more than happy to teach you how to make delicious local meals and delicacies. Even if you’re cooking alone, you can still be brave and try your hand at making a local dish or two.
Eating like a local means eating whatever food is in season at the time of your visit, as well as those local dishes. If you’re in Iceland, chow down on smoked lamb and skyr. Happen to be in Hungary? Then homemade goulash and kurtoskalacs should be on the menu. Travelling is a time to experience new things, especially when it comes to your taste buds.
Crucially, you can play your part in reducing your carbon footprint by travelling around your destination like a local. Watch how the people who live in the city get around; if there are regular metros and electric trams then jump onboard them instead of the tourist buses. If you’re in a bike-friendly city then rent a bike for the duration of your stay; not only will you save on taxi fares but you’ll get some exhilarating exercise too. Walk as much as you can – walking is a great way to immediately get to know a new place, and if you do have to take a taxi make sure you only use local companies.