Ever found yourself watching a travel show where the hosts are living a truly local travel experience that you never seem to have on your holiday? They’re sitting down to a fabulous meal prepared by a local family, or exploring the city with a local guide who shows them the hidden gems you’d never find in your travel guidebook.
We may give ourselves excuses to be a tourist. Sticking to the usual touristy landmarks and sights may mean safety in numbers. Or telling yourself that you don’t want to get lost by going too far from the city centre. But that also defeats the purpose of travelling – to see the country as it is.
Travelling is about breaking free of our comfort zones and becoming immersed in a local culture different than our own. So if you are thinking of staying away from bus tours, avoiding tourist traps and not going to the familiar global fast food outlet for your next holiday, here’s how:
1. Ditch the group tour
Most people decide to go on a travel group tour because they feel it is much more convenient. You will not have to rent a car to take you places, figure out the maps or plan an itinerary. But anyone who has been on one will know how it feels to be rushed and snapping picture of landmarks instead of taking time to enjoy the scene. Bus tour can be nice if you’re terrified and lazy, but not if you’re looking to really get to know a place and the people who live there.
2. Show respect
Learn the customs and cultures of the place you’re travelling to before you go. Nothing ostracises you in a foreign country more than performing an offending gesture. This can mean wearing sleeveless tops in a religious country or touching someone as a supposedly friendly gesture. You should also keep in mind that economic status varies around the world. Don’t stare if someone’s situation seems bad by your standards.
3. Learn a few local words
While no one expects to pick up a new language each time they go overseas, learning a few key words can help you in more ways than you think. One phrase that would definitely come in handy is at least being able to say, “Excuse me, I don’t speak _____. Do you speak English?” Other than that, words that mean “thank you”, “Hello” and “how much” will also help you appear friendly, making locals more open to helping you when you need it.
4. Stay Locally
Think staying in backpackers make you more “local” compared to staying in a 5-star hotel? You might have thought wrong. Backpackers are great if you are looking to bond with other foreigners, but that does not make you closer to being a local in any way. The best way to get acquainted with local life is if you can look for a homestay or use a site like Couchsurfing where locals are happy to host you. If not, staying in an Airbnb could be the closest solution.
5. Try the local food
Poisonous puffer fish, wriggling octopus tentacles and blood pudding. They may not be something you’ve ever encountered before, and you might not even want to touch them. While some local foods can seem very strange to you, remember that durian isn’t everyone’s favourite fruit as well. Local dishes may look intimidating, but experiencing local food is not doubt one of the best way to integrate.
While you are definitely not forced to try everything, do make an effort to eat at local restaurants, markets and ask the locals where they eat. Not only will it be cheaper, it also gives you a glimpse into local life. And no, trying the local Macdonald’s menu doesn’t quite count.
6. Make a local friend
While going on a vacation with your best friends or family is always great, it will not bring you anywhere near to a more authentic experience if you don’t speak to someone local. It can be simple as making a conversation with someone sharing the dinner table, at the bar or being friendly with the local driver. Making a local friend often gives you more insight into how one lives in another country, and can no doubt bring you some real gems when it comes to where the locals go.
7. Visit the local markets
When you only have a few days to spend in a country, chances are you’ll be dining out most of the time. Instead of heading to the restaurants, why not try eating out or buying some produce from the local markets? Exploring the local markets also mean you get to see exotic produce that you might not see in your own country, or perhaps find them at half the price. It may be tempting to avoid the familiarity and convenience of the convenience store, but being able to walk into a local market in a country where you don’t speak the language and buy something can be a pretty amazing experience.
8. Be willing to wander
Instead of staying in the safety of the crowd, be willing to take a detour, walk a different route to the cafe nearby or simply “get lost” a little. Of course, it doesn’t mean putting yourself in danger by wandering through a dark alley in the wee hours. Always be aware of your surroundings but don’t be afraid to walk off the path when you feel like it. Who knows what you might discover?
Travelling like a local can be a little intimidating at the start, but if your goal is to see the country as it is, that’s probably the only way to do it. Of course, always remember to stay safe and assured by having a comprehensive travel insurance. Not being able to speak the local language when you need urgent help can tarnish the holiday experience. Find out more about how our travel insurance can help you in times of need!