Snapping away our adventures of slurping gelato next to the Colosseum and drinking wine underneath the Eiffel Tower – while both wonderful – doesn’t quite do complete justice in experiencing a destination anymore. Now we’re all about getting off the tourist track, digging beneath the surface and blending in.
We want to travel like locals. Why? At the heart of it, to gain an authentic connection with a place and its people through two things: truly observing and participating. Here’s how.
Dig deep for local events from lesser known sources
Official tourism websites usually share large cultural festivals (hello chockablocked calendars of India and Spain) but local events pages like San Francisco’s sf-local and popular blogs like Singapore’s Ladyironchef are where you’ll stumble across the odd pop-up art display, opera in the park or yoga in a hidden alleyway. On the ground, look out for noticeboards in cafes, bars and the likes as they’re a goldmine of community events.
Find apps the locals are crazy about
Food and lifestyle apps like Yelp is huge in America with many countries having their own equivalent giving you the inside scope on where locals are eating and hanging. Heading to Europe? BlaBlaCar with over 35 million members is a rideshare app where you can hop into an empty seat of a registered driver heading in the same direction as you in return for shared petrol costs.
Remain connected and don’t stress hunting for cafes with WiFi
There’s no doubt while travelling we need access to calling local businesses and link up with new local friends, and have WiFi connectivity for, well, basically everything. Get around town like a local by always having an active local sim card. Want to be extra prepared? As a traveller often on the move jumping between countries, FindMyPlan is a lifesaver in delivering the sim cards you need before you go. Check to see if your destination is included to save yourself the hassle once you land.
Explore neighbourhoods outside central districts
Just like how Sydney isn’t Circular Quay and New York isn’t Times Square, I fell in love with Tokyo when I hopped onto a metro that took me outside bustling Shinjuku. Getting off at quaint humble folk towns like Nakameguro with its cherry-blossom lined canal dotted with authentic eateries without English menus and inspirational booktown Jimbocho. Absorb your surroundings in these less travelled routes to broaden your perspective on the city.
Stay in a local’s home located somewhere you’d love to live
To fully taste local living, shared home rental site Airbnb is a winner. Take it one step further: instead of staying near tourist attractions, opt for a location you’re interested in calling ‘home’ so you can really live and breathe the area. Everyone rushes to the French Quarter in New Orleans but it was much more fulfilling for me to stay in a candy coloured shotgun house in the neighbouring artful Bywater district where I spent most of my time bike-riding past local business gems.
Make it a habit to always ask a local you meet, “where’s your favourite x?”
Chatting to a diverse range of locals and quickly discovering their favourite thing to do in their city or their “local secret” almost always lead you in the right direction. That’s how I found out about an open-air jazz party in LA that wasn’t in the guidebooks, or on another occasion found myself sitting uncomfortably (at first) in a Sicilian small town bakehouse being stared down by old Italian men. But downing perhaps the world’s greatest cannoli. Worth it.
Look the part, act the part
Let’s face it – no matter how diligently we bow in Japan and cover ourselves in exotic fabrics in India, an actual local can sense our tourist vibes from miles away. However, the most important thing about this point is for us to respect new cultures and make an effort to do as they do, which helps us understand their way of life. Perhaps they’ve got something to learn from us too. After all, isn’t travelling also about a cross-cultural exchange?
At least for a day (or as long as you possibly can), travel almost empty handed and just get wonderfully lost
Put. The. Camera. Down. Capture mental images and gather emotional memories. Holding a large DSLR can also feel intimidating to locals in third-world countries. Pick an area to explore, ditch the map and just be three things: curious, open and flexible. Herein lies serendipitous discoveries.
The more time you have to explore one area, the better
The ultimate way to travel like a local? Instead of embarking on micro-scheduled days of scooting between attractions, travel slow. The slowest you can as there’s so much more you’ll pick up on unique everyday living. Think visiting grocery stores (they actually tell you a lot about a place) or reading the local paper to suss out social conversations. And catching public transport to who-knows-where-but-who-cares to feel the pace of the city.
Ready, set, participate.
Are you travelling anytime soon? Now you’ve got the tips, organise your local sim before you leave with FindMyPlan. Make sure you can share the view, contact home and stay connected abroad, hassle free.
Image source: Spot A Home, Marke World, BBC, Styles of Homes With Pictures, Japanese Search, Tales of Ardour.