At every major monument, attraction, and landmark across the country you’ll find hordes of tourists congregating with their cameras readied in one hand and their guide maps in the other. While there’s nothing wrong with relishing in your identity as a temporary sightseer, most travelers want an authentic experience when visiting some place new. So if you want to avoid tourists traps and explore with the confidence of a native, check out these tips for traveling like a local!
Skip the Guided Tours
While hiring a guide can be a great source of historical information about the area you’re visiting, guided tours take all the spontaneity and excitement out of exploring somewhere new. Packaged excursions and bus tours map everything out for you, so you don’t have the freedom of stopping at places that appeal to your interest or changing plans at the drop of a hat. Instead, you’ll only see what your prescriptive itinerary calls for.
Do Your Research
Read up on your destination in advance and do your best to learn the local customs before arriving. To avoid drawing unwanted attention or offending others, you’ll want to have some basic information about where you’re headed and the local etiquette of that region. Learn some of the native phrases and get a general understanding of the culture. This tip applies more to international travel, although it can still be helpful to do some research beforehand regardless of how close to home you plan to go.
Make Friends With Residents
It can be easy to stay within your own bubble, especially if you’re traveling in a group or with other companions. Be warned that your comfort zone is the death of adventure, and if you really want to travel like a local, you’re going to have to venture outside of it. Strike up conversations with strangers, don’t be afraid to ask your taxi driver questions, and invite suggestions from the townspeople. They will be your greatest source of knowledge for finding local hotspots that surely won’t be in your guidebook.
Book Unique Accommodations
To get an authentic experience, beware of hotels. Logically, most hotels will be situated right in the heart of high-tourist concentrations. Instead, stay in areas that are inhabited by locals. Some helpful resources for finding these overnight accommodations include couch surfing offers, Airbnb rentals, or community hostels. Being close to the area’s inhabitants provides more opportunities for learning useful, pertinent information that only a local would know.
Eat What the Locals Eat
It can be oh-so easy to stick with what is familiar to you, especially when it comes to what you consume. Even if you’re a picky eater, try new foods and stop into places you’ve never dined at before. Go to eateries that the locals suggest, and above all, avoid franchises! McDonalds will still be there when you get home, so don’t even think about stopping in for a Big Mac while you’re in the midst of your travels. Eat at dives, order up specialty items that are unique to the area, and seek out those diamonds in the rough. You’ll never find new favorites if you never try new things!
Venture Off the Beaten Path
If you’re visiting New York, go ahead and see the Statue of Liberty and take a walk through Central Park. But don’t overload your schedule with all the mainstream, universally-known attractions. Venture beyond the landmarks and plan a journey that appeals to you. If a colossal copper lady just doesn’t peak your interest, don’t feel compelled to make the trek just because it’s what’s expected. When you explore beyond the tourists traps, you’re more likely to stumble upon something great and unexpected. Don’t be afraid to tuck away your map and get lost for a while.
Other Tips For Your Travels
- Observe with your eyes and put your camera down
- Take public transportation whenever possible
- Consider volunteering - WWOOFing or Workaway
- Plan your visit during the off-season
Hopefully with these tips you can now travel as a tourist while still being in the same state-of-mind as the locals. Do you have any other tips to add? Leave them in the comments!