Traveling like a local and not so much like a tourist is always a goal of mine when visiting a new location, whether that be a new city down the interstate or a new country across the Atlantic. When I'm in a new place, I constantly wonder what life might be like living there (because who knows, maybe I will be!). Cultures differ greatly from region to region, and the only way to fully understand the way another lives is to do it yourself.
When I tell people about my desire to live like a local when I travel, I often get asked how I go about it. I admit that it's a little bit more work to go this route than a traditional tourist route, but the end result is so much more rewarding.
One | Rent a house, apartment, or flat instead of a hotel
This is such a fun way to live like a local and Airbnb makes it so much easier than it used to be to rent a place short-term. If you're unfamiliar with Airbnb, it's a company that partners with residents in an area who want to rent their homes to patrons (like myself!) who are traveling in the area. It's so easy to book through their website and there are options for all budgets. You have the option to rent a private room, a shared apartment, an entire house - it is what you make it! Super customizable and convenient.
Our most recent Airbnb was in New Orleans, but we've done them all over, from tiny villages on the Isle of Skye in Scotland to Nashville, Tennessee. By renting in your destination, you get a taste of how the locals live, what their homes look like, and what a typical neighborhood feels like in your new city. The key is to read the reviews thoroughly; if a place doesn't have reviews, I don't book it. I've only ever had excellent experiences with Airbnb so I highly recommend their services!
Two | Learn a bit of the local language
Learning a few simple phrases can go such a long way! During my summer in Barcelona, where a ton of people speak English, simply attempting to speak Spanish garnered us a ton of respect. Luckily, at that time our Spanish was at the top of its game (sadly not so much now) and we could hold simple conversations which the locals loved! Many of the people we talked to were trying to up their English game, too, so we could return the favor. This was one of the best ways we ended up learning Spanish - outside of the classroom in real life situations. This is really beneficial when you're in an area that doesn't speak as much of your language. In rural Mexico, few of the people I encountered spoke English, so knowing a few phrases, such as how to ask for a location, for the restroom, hello, goodbye, please, & thank you, is really important.
Three | Interact with locals
Don't be afraid to make new friends! When we visited Scotland, we loved having morning conversations about politics, travel, culture, and so much more with our Airbnb hosts on the Isle of Skye (shoutout to Anne & Don!). They were so kind and easygoing - I would have loved to have more time to spend with them. There was also another Scottish couple staying in the Skye Airbnb on holiday that we really enjoyed having breakfast with. It was nice to see how they viewed Americans (especially as it was during the presidential campaign in 2016), our culture, and their own culture from their point of view. And they loved talking with us, too, believe it or not!
Four | Research local favorites
While it can be fun to stick with touristy activities, give something a little different a go! Eat at hole-in-the-wall restaurants, hike the local trail that goes the long way around, or shop off the main roads. You'll encounter wayyy more locals this way and you'll get a true taste of the region. More often than not, a touristy area resembles a beefed up version of the area and you'll see the culture through a clouded, rainbow lens. But venturing from these areas and into the true local hangouts, you'll get a better idea of life in the place you're exploring.
Five| Use transportation as is normal in the region
Saving the best for last! This is one of my favorite ways to immerse myself into a culture. Transportation may seem straightforward to some, but in extremely differing cultures from my own, transportation can be an exciting change. When I was living in Spain for a summer, transport via train was the way to go. Europeans walk everywhere, and where they can get by their feet, they access with a train. Literally everything in Barcelona and the bordering regions was accessible by train, and we quickly learned the routes like pros. It became our routine to show up at the stop precisely thirty seconds before arrival, cram onto the car, and hold on as it bustled down the tracks.
In other cultures, boats may be the norm. In others, you may get around by motorbike. We rented a car in Scotland and drove on the opposite side of the road for eight days - an adventure in itself! Do a little bit of research to figure out the local transportation and book it in advance, if necessary.
Do you like traveling like a local? What are your favorite ways to get into the local scene?
Hi, I'm Madeline
Blogger, teacher, writer, traveler, reader. Welcome to Mad's Muses!
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