What does it mean to travel like a local?
I don’t know about you, but when I travel to somewhere new it’s because I’m looking for something completely different; a break from my day to day existence, a real adventure. Why would you make the effort to go somewhere different and want it to be just like home?
The whole point is to try new food and wine, discover new scenery and immerse yourself in a different culture. I want to soak up the atmosphere so that I have an impression which last longer than the photos, not tick sights off a list and go for fish and chips. Otherwise I feel I’m missing a huge opportunity.
I love arriving in a new country. I love the nerves that come from being completely out of your comfort zone and so ready to explore. I remember flying over Sicily for the first time and realising how mountainous and green it was. I’ll never forget arriving in Phenom Penn and being amazed at the sheer amount of traffic, the thousands of scooters mounting the pavement to get ahead.
Taking a bite out of a new country takes a bit of prep. To find the places off the beaten track and avoid the crowds, to find the local’s hangouts rather than eating in the main square. If this isn’t your forte or you don’t have the time, you’ve come to the right place. Get in touch and I can help you travel like a local on your next adventure.
In the meantime, here are my top tips for travelling like a local and getting the most of your trip.
1 – Meet the locals
Don’t be shy! Start a conversation. Ask for directions or a restaurant recommendation. It doesn’t matter if you can’t speak the lingo – the resulting embarrassing exchange of international sign language still counts.
You’ll generally find people are really pleased with your interest in their country and thrilled to hear you are enjoying it. They’ll offer advice and, in the case of Castellano al Mare, above, some tasty samples of local delights.
The rewards are huge, in learning more about the country and the people and top tips of where the locals go, but also in one off experiences – we’ve been invited to enjoy someone’s beautiful pool up in the hills of Paros, taken home for dinner with a family in Sri Lanka and had fresh coconuts harvested from up a tree for our delectation in Indonesia – none of which other tourists experienced and all from just starting a chat. We’ve also made great friends who we’ve kept in touch with for years.
2 – Ditch the guidebook
The guidebooks all give you the usual sights, so you’ll be on the same trail as everyone else. Plus, whilst you’ve got your nose stuck in the book, you’re missing everything! Instead, see no. 1 above. Ask the locals for their favourite restaurants, bars, walks and parks and go exploring. The locals have the inside track so you’ll find the best the city has to offer – without the crowds. Straying off the tourist trail is so much more rewarding.
On our recent trip to Belize the guidebooks recommended the Maya ruins at Tikal, just across the border in Guatemala. Other visitors were flocking there so they could say they’d been to another country, and I’m sure it is AMAZING. But, talking to our fellow guests on their return they all mentioned the crowed coach park, the huge crowds and being bustled around too hastily to really take it all in.
We opted instead for Caracol, the Maya ruin in Belize. Not easy to reach as the roads are poor and it’s a long track from anywhere, but we had the place to ourselves and could wander freely, linger over the amazing monuments, sit and take in the atmosphere and imagine the sheer scale of what’s still hidden in the jungle. We could even take photos with not another soul in them!
So, better to make your own guidebook before you go on your hols, filled with ideas you’ve researched and complimented by the recommendations you pick up on your journey. Prep, people!
3. Learn just a little of the lingo
TC and I always try to learn a few key phrases (TC’s can ask for a litre of house wine in a myriad of languages!) so you are at least seen to be making an effort, most people will appreciate the thought. Hello, please, thank you, where’s the toilet will all stand you in good stead and are often a conversation starter.
This is also linked to respect, following the local mores. You’ll get along a lot better with the locals if you cover up in a conservative country, ask before taking pictures and behave appropriately at national monuments.
4. Give the food a go
Food is the very heart and soul of a country. So, if you want to immerse yourself you’ve got to get stuck in. We’ll generally try anything, the more weird and wonderful the better the story to tell back home! (It helps that TC is a human dustbin so if I don’t like the ant curry, he’ll finish it)
You’ll generally find the traditional food is better than their attempt at ‘foreign’ food. Leave the hotel bar and visit the street market. You can do burgers when you get back home. Head where the locals are eating, it’s bound to be good. We’ve been known to follow locals surreptitiously and found some hidden gems that way.
5. Go with the flow
The best experiences are often those spontaneous moments which happen purely by chance, when you’ve opened yourself up to going with the flow, stepped away from the guidebook, ditched the schedule. So, put yourself out there and have a great holiday!