“The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he came to see.”- Gilbert K. Chesterton
Let’s be honest, being a tourist kind of sucks. Walking around in circles for hours and not being able to read an A2 map from the tourist office? Getting food poisoning from dodgy restaurants? Cuing up for hours for underwhelming tourist attractions? Imagine if you could travel from place to place and not feel like a tourist every time you stepped in to an unknown city… If somehow, instead of spending hours on Google, every piece of local knowledge- the language, a map, the best attractions to visit, where to eat, places to avoid- could be instantly downloaded in to your brain. Unfortunately, technology isn’t quite up to the whole ‘insert a microchip into the brain’ thing. However, I do have a few tips that may help you feel a little more like a local when you are treading on unknown ground. So here you have it, my top tips on how to travel like a local!
Familiarize yourself with your destination before arriving
There is nothing worst then rocking up to a new country or city and not having any clue about the culture, language, cuisine or history. If you don’t have a grasp on these basic things, it is easy to travel to a place on surface level without ever understanding what it is really all about. Getting informed before you arrive will really help you see a place through new eyes- suddenly it becomes a lot more than “just another travel destination”. There are plenty of ways to find out valuable information about a place before visiting . Whilst it is always useful to start with the basics, like reading up on the Internet and searching through travel guide, you could also branch out and get a little more in-depth information. Try reading a book or watching a movie set in the city/ country you are going is a great way to get a sense of the destination. Plus, it will get you super excited for your upcoming travel! You’ll feel like a local in no time.
What better way to travel like a local then to go and hang out with locals? You can read travel guides and trip advisor till the cows come home, but nothing is going to beat the raw, unadulterated, unbiased advice of those who know the area like the back of their hand. Of course, when you are new to a city, meeting locals seems like a scary thing to do. In reality, it’s easier than you think!
First and foremost, chat to the owner/ receptionist/ staff at the place you are staying. This will be your first point of call when you arrive, so if you make an effort, you can score some insider information about the area you are staying in.
Secondly, chat to the people you encounter on your explorations. Sure, not everyone has the confidence to waltz up to someone on the street and strike up a conversation, but you might find asking questions of shopkeepers, waiters, even taxi drivers will prove very useful. Ask about the best places to see, where to eat, how to travel around and any local tips.
By talking to one of the staff at a hostel in Barcelona, she suggested a cool place to go for a picnic that was a little off the beaten path. We ended up climbing up and having the most incredible picnic up on an old army Bunker up the top of a hill with panoramic views over the city! So striking up conversations and getting to know locals can definitely pay off.
Don’t confine yourself to the city
It’s all too tempting to stick to what’s at your doorstep when you are in a new city. Sure, there is probably a whole heap of cool stuff just waiting to be explored, but believe it or not, there is probably even more to see and do when you step out of the comfort zone of the city and start exploring the surrounding area. Don’t be afraid to hop on a train, bus or ferry and venture further afield! Take a day trip or even spend the night in somewhere outside of the big, busy city. Suddenly your tourist confines have expanded to local territory!
Some of my favourite places I visited in Europe have been little sleepy villages outside of the big cities. When I was visiting Lisbon with some friends, we caught an hour long train from the city out to a little sea-side town called Cascais. It turned out to be one of best days we had in Portugal and was a hidden gem truly worth discovering (check out more photos here)! Sometimes it’s worth taking the road less travelled…
Get connected with others travelers
The absolute beauty of the Internet today is the endless sharing of information! There are so many people out there (including myself!) that have travelled around the world and who want to share their experiences, tips and advice simply for the purpose of benefiting and helping you with your own travels. With an influx of travel blogs and resources that anyone has access to, you can find a whole lot of unbiased, real advice from travellers of all different ages, ethnicity and classes who have travelled to all different places around the world. A lot of the travel bloggers are also really happy to connect with their readers and answer any specific questions you may have, so make use of this. I love receiving questions from my readers… If you are going to a destination and want to find out the best coffee shops or parks to visit, just ask! Here are just a small handful of my favorite travel bloggers to browse over for inspiration & advice:
- World of Wanderlust
- Endlessly Exploring
- A Globe Well Travelled
- Department of Wandering
- The Pin the Map Project
On that note, if you have any destination-specific questions or you need more advice about how to travel like a local, I would love to hear from you. Shoot me an email at hello@polkadotpassport or connect with me via facebook! Happy travels friends! Nicola x