You don’t really get to experience a new place (and sometimes culture) if you get sucked into tourist traps for the entirety of the trip. Of course, a visit to the Eiffel Tower while in Paris is a must, but the top tourist destinations should be the sprinkles on a vacation—not the entire meal. Fortunately, it’s easy to figure out local hot spots thanks to travel bloggers and a myriad of content uploaded in real-time. However, there’s still a risk of “native ads” making what seems to be unbiased content actually purchased.
The first step in traveling like a local? Get a car. It gives you immeasurable freedom. You’re not stuck abiding by public transportation schedules or worried about spending money on a taxi or Uber. This can be overwhelming in some cases, like the first time an American drives in England. However, in most cases (perhaps not Mumbai!), if you can drive in America, you can drive wherever your vacation takes you.
Here are a few more ways to travel like a local on your next getaway:
- Find connections in your destination. There’s a good chance you know someone who knows someone living in your destination city. If you can connect with someone, they can give you a local impression on what you really have to see and do. They might also have insight that isn’t advertised clearly on top tourist sites. For example, Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland, Oregon notoriously has long lines in the downtown location, but that’s not always the case in the eastside shop. Plus, at 4 am they give out literal buckets of doughnuts for just $10.
- Rent a home and skip the hotel. Hotels can be convenient, but they’re often overpriced in the most popular locations or you are located miles from where you want to be. An option like Airbnb can save you money and let you feel more immersed in the scene. After all, you’re going to be living a lot more like a local when staying in one of their homes.
- Don’t pack your itinerary every day, and wander instead. Simply wandering or taking a drive with no clear destination will open up a world of surprises to you. In some of the most popular destinations, it can be tempting to pack every day with an itinerary of “must-see” attractions but that will take out the element of surprise. Schedule at least one full free day where you permit yourself to explore simply.
- Ask locals as you see them. Maybe the barista has a recommendation for a restaurant, or perhaps the gas station attendant can give you a tip on a local hiking trail. Locals who aren’t designated tour guides are apt to be more inclined to be honest and not have a hidden agenda.
- Travel during the offseason. Alaska in December or a tropical location during monsoon season means there will be less tourists and less tourist attractions. This is the time when it’s only the locals, and if you’re going to a popular destination, it will feel like a much more authentic experience. Plus, you’ll save money on everything from airfare to lodging.
- Check out the independent local papers. Local indie papers will give you insight into new restaurants, up to the minute events, and other ideas of things to do. You can check these out online in advance in many cases, but a weekly paper is going to have data in real-time. Seek one out in the morning as you check out a non-chain coffee shop and you might be surprised by some of the recommendations you never read about online.
- Ask on social media. The larger the following you have, the higher the chance you know someone who has a connection to where you’re visiting—it might be a good friend who grew up there or otherwise has a close connection. That’s what social media is for, and if you have a large following, you might get a surge of input. People like to be helpful, and they like to share their favorite spots with others.
Whether you’re traveling for business or fun, there are almost always opportunities to get to know a new city. However, flexibility and freedom are paramount, which is why it always starts with having the right car. Daily rental prices can be much more affordable than what you might spend on daily taxis, and you’ll be able to go farther into the outskirts of the city without paying more.