It’s fair to say that everyone would love to travel the world. I mean who doesn’t, right? With the increasing amount of travelers every year, I’m pretty sure most of you have gone through that moment when you thought of just flipping the table and pursue the dream to travel instead.
However, traveling encompasses so many different experiences. It can be a vacation from 6 months straight of working, your birthday trip, a week away in a high-end resort, a gap year, a volunteer abroad placement or whatnot.
Traveling like local sounds sufficiently basic yet can be difficult to execute. Although there are no set formulas for this, there are certainly some extremely legit ways to stray from the usual and worn out touristy stuff and guarantee an all the more satisfying and meaningful travel experience.
1. Forget the guided tours and throw that guidebook
Such things are for passive tourists and vacationers. They certainly help you ensure a smooth trip, from eating at top-rated restaurants to perhaps getting to some hidden gems. But the best way to get closer to the roots of the place is to roll like a local.
To live like a local is to capture the essence of the place. It’s like uncovering layers of one’s skin and going through its bloodstream.
Part of the experience is learning, through observation and participation, about the people who live there. It can be daunting, challenging, incensing, and sometimes even frightening, but I guarantee it will leave you with so many epic memories that you’ll always have something more interesting stories to share.
Stroll. Pop into a cafe and chat with the barista or person next to you about nearby sightseeing. If you can’t speak the language, take a chance by walking along with a few locals into the market. Most of the time, it’s better to not have a plan. Travelers who decide to set off on a journey by joining a tourist group will actually miss out on the really important and exciting things. Trust me on that. You’re already on a foreign land, don’t make yourself feel like one.
I promise it will be much better than what you actually planned to do.
Naturally, you’ll want to leave some room for spontaneity as well, because the best moments happen when you least expect.
2. Stay with a local/Airbnb/Couchsurf
I was never a fan of hotel living — thank God for that. I certainly don’t think it gives you an authentic experience at all.
Whenever I travel to a place, the first thing I do is contact a friend. This is definitely one of the best things about traveling – you travel and end up gaining friends from every part of the world. How awesome is that, hey?
That way, you can surround yourself with locals as they go about their daily lives and ideally encounter some of it yourself. If you get a great host, they’re more likely to give you recommendations, show you around and bring you to some awesome places you can’t surely find on the internet. Staying in a hotel and only visiting the main attractions aren’t going to give you much insight.
3. Food is culture (+ eat with locals)
I sometimes treat travel like a man. And you know when they say “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”? I say this goes with travel as well. Needless to say, one of the best ways to learn one’s culture is through its food. By doing so, you get to understand the importance and history of their local cuisine. Your comfort food will always be there, but there’s nothing more relishing than the local delicacy. What’s more, you’d realize that local food hunts and all that eating on the street don’t really mean death nor food poisoning at all.
Other options include dining in cheap/local restaurants and going to local food markets. Not only will you get to pay less, but you will get to truly taste unique and particular flavors as well. If you’re serendipitous, you might even able to find recipes prepared by local households that you can make on your own when you get home.
4. Use public transport where possible (or hitchhike)
Nothing beats traveling around when it doesn’t hurt the pocket.
Not only will it cost you less, but it will give you a more authentic traveling experience. When taking a public transport, you can just randomly ask your seatmate about a good lunch spot nearby or just merely listen and observe people.
I always take this chance to watch people. In this way, I gain more insights on how they communicate and interact with each other, how they behave in public areas, how they greet strangers or whatnot. It doesn’t take much and a fresh perspective is guaranteed.
Make your travel a magnificent experience at a fraction of a cost.
5. Speak the language
I know it’s easier said than done but at least know the basic words of the local language. Not only will it help you in communicating with the people but when you show some interest in their language, people tend to drop their guard and make friends with you easily as well. Although it may not work every time, your interest in understanding the language will at least bring a smile to a face.
6. Just do it and always say yes to adventures!
If there’s a certain place or a thing that you’ve always been wanting to do/go, then just go for it. One thing that really stands out from adventure travel is the fact that it really is remarkable. There’s nothing like embarking on an adventure doing things you’ve never done before — shedding your familiar skin for a while,pushing yourself to the edge of your comfort zone, drinking out under the sun, soaking in sweat just to catch the perfect sunrise and sunset… the list goes on and adventure, really, never stops.
Blame it on the endorphins! Adventure is the ultimate high!
Just think about it. How are you able to face up some of your biggest fears? Hell, just drop that one word “Yes” and you can definitely pluck up the courage to do just about anything! It’s one heck of a confidence booster. More so, it raises your tolerance for uncertainty and surely gives you memories that stay at the forefront of your mind for reminiscing.
Travel seems to make you forget everything once in a while. So enjoy the journey and just have fun. After all, you owe it to yourself to be happy. You’ve come this far. You deserve it. You never get to experience the same feeling twice. Life’s too short anyway. We never know what tomorrow brings us. So take in every experience like it’s your last!
As Mark Twain once wrote, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
7. Go off the beaten path (+ get lost)
Before I head on to a new journey, I always do a research on off-the-beaten paths. Call me a hipster or whatever, but it truly is one of the best means to feed your curious mind and soul. This applies very well to those who seek for adventures and unique experiences.
Just think about it – if you plan to spend your entire trip going to same places where thousands of other travelers have been, what new experiences are you bringing with you once you leave that place? You’ll just end up sharing the same ones with many others.
Traveling off-the-beaten-path can sound intimidating but I think you aren’t a real deal traveler unless you have traveled off the beaten path. This is probably the holy grail of travel. And I don’t mean extremely isolated destinations. Even smaller towns or strange neighborhoods can be considered off-the-beaten-path. Going the extra mile will surely add a more local experience, which can’t be offered anywhere else.
Getting lost, on another hand, can be the best travel memory you can have.
Yes, it sounds scary, but you’ll probably end up feeling grateful. It’s amazing what kind of things you can stumble upon and a great way to get a real feel for the atmosphere of a place.
Take a walk, choose a direction, see things at a slower pace, and wander off the main street. Plus, it’s totally FREE! Of course, research safety beforehand and don’t just go whenever you feel like. Safety should always be your top priority. What’s good? You could discover an old coffee shop, a better local market than what’s shown on Lonely Planet, or simply an intriguing place you’ve never heard of and didn’t know about.
Don’t be afraid to get lost. There’s a certain amount of magic in exploring the unknown on your own. It will lead you deeper into their way of life, which you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.
8. Dress (but not to impress)
In many countries, clothing is more conservative. Remember, as a guest, it is important to show respect to the culture, so research beforehand what is appropriate. Pack light and spare space for some local items of clothing.
Of course, there will be some places when you will be required to wear a specific clothing. However, keep in mind to get an understanding of why locals dress the way they do before you do it. You can’t just dress up like a local and not truly understand the meaning behind.
9. Events and festivals
Attending cultural events and festivals is absolutely a major rule for capturing the essence of a place. It actually makes you feel like you’re a member of the community.
In order to truly understand a nation, you need to get to know their ways – how they celebrate and party, what causes a holiday, etc. Pay additional attention to events that are in need of volunteers, happenings organized by the city and possible festivals where you can go party (and by party, I mean having fun with real locals).
10. Meet locals and make friends
Need I say more?
Talking to locals can go along to a friendship, a tip, and even free lessons. Travel is indeed one of the best educations anyone could have — it teaches you things that no textbook ever could. So while you’re away, take the chance to learn something new, whether it’s about their culture or just a plain advice, by meeting locals and making friends with them. Speaking to them is an excellent way to have a more enriched experience.
Be open to making friends with fellow travelers as well. Either way, you’re bound to make some memorable discoveries, experiences worth sharing, new friends to keep in touch with and maybe even some epic stories you can share a laugh with your friends back home.
11. Support local
Many countries, especially the developing ones, rely on tourism for their economic survival. So, it would just be more than fulfilling to book tours with local guides, eat at small restaurants, stay at an independently owned hotels, shop at the street markets or whatnot. This will not only help the local economy but also create a more authentic experience.
When you opt to live like a local, you are taking great strides in supporting the local economy which brings you towards sustainable and responsible tourism.
12. Travel Solo
I don’t know how more can I highlight this one. For sure, you’ve already come across hundreds of articles outlining why traveling solo is something you have to do before you die.
Let’s just put it this way… By traveling solo, you can do whatever you want, it makes the whole trip so much easier when there aren’t other opinions of what to do, you are bound to meet new people and make friends, and, above all, you get that feeling of empowerment from relying solely on yourself while on the road.
As someone who has traveled both alone and in groups numerous times, I prefer traveling alone more as it is more conducive to cultural adventures and you’re forced to really get out there. I guarantee you, you will return home feeling refreshed with a better version of yourself.
13. Get a job or volunteer
A sure-fire way to dive into local culture is to actually be a part of society. By getting a job or volunteering, you become an instant part of the community. And just like how the locals roll it, you will get to experience how an average person go about their day to day life and learn more about local and community issues. Not only will it put you in a local mindset but it can also put you in touch with useful connections. Working alongside people coming from different countries will definitely expand your network of global connections.
I strongly believe in the power of volunteering and joining local projects abroad. Not only it is empowering but it’s also more like traveling in an extraordinary way while working on real, skills-based projects that make a demonstrable impact. But remember… it’s not all a big photo opp. With the rise of social media stardom, more people are seeking out travel experiences because of the do-it-for-the-gram mentality. If this came to your head, then you should reconsider volunteering abroad.
ALWAYS EXAMINE YOUR MOTIVES AND DO IT AFTER YOUR OWN HEART.
14. Travel with a purpose
Why do you travel? Why do you explore?
This is probably the most oversaturated question for that matter. If you asked me 8 years ago, I would’ve totally given you an answer like… “Because I want to and it’s on my bucket list”.
From what started as a simple desire to travel has actually become a desire to show off this fact to folks back home. We get this urge to visit a place just because it’s in and the photos look insane on social media. We get the #FOMO (fear of missing out). We may not realize it but, unconsciously, we are doing it. Perhaps I’m being cynical, perhaps not, but I see this a lot everywhere I go — people are traveling for merely aesthetic reasons. In fact, all these marketing ads we see every day play the biggest role in influencing the generation’s travel decisions, mostly relying on social media influencers.
I am not gonna lie. I used to have this thought of traveling just because #FOMO and it sure would make a good Instagram post. But now I always make sure I examine what my motives are before I head into a new experience. Sure, our reasons vary and I am not judging anyone for that.
It’s just… I noticed how one noteworthy pillar of travel is not receiving its merited attention: social responsibility
Essentially, this alludes to our awareness of the impact we have as travelers on this planet. It demands intentionality. But this isn’t limited to volunteering and teaching English only. Creating or promoting a sustainable or positive change for a community is what social responsibility is all about too – whether you’re supporting local businesses, throwing out and making sure you put it in the right bin, changing bad travel habits, or staying in with locals – our obligation as travelers begins with mindfulness and is trailed by action.
At the age of 18, I was chosen to represent my home country and attend the 6th World Youth Congress. Right then and there, I was mainly focused on putting myself on the shoes of policymakers, taking part in discussions on the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development Rio+20 solutions for a sustainable future – nothing more, nothing less.
What really gave me a huge impact was when we took part in 50+ action projects in different parts of the city, getting some hands-on experience of doing community improvement projects in the Favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Never before had I realized how much power you can have once you’re given the opportunity to get out there and expose yourself to a different side of the world – a world you know nothing of, a world you did not grow up to.
I met so many amazing world changers – development activists, media professionals, educators, artists, entrepreneurs, environmentalists, even athletes. Each and every one of them, featuring different complexities and values in life, discussed the experiences they had, shared projects they are working on back in their own communities, the ideas and methodologies they use to build bridges rather than barriers, and so much more. It was truly enriching having the opportunity to converse with like-minded people. And I couldn’t help but examine how I can give back to this world as well – on what terms and how in my own little ways can I achieve this. From then on, I continuously aim to add meaning to my travels. Be it traveling responsibly, staying in a local home, learning local cultures, joining local projects, or just simply interacting with the locals.
Having traveled enough, it made me realize how you can make use of it as a tool to improve and contribute important changes to this world. What’s more, I learned how diversity and different cultures play in the power of change. I mean, how amazing it is to be able to demonstrate learned skills and values back to your home and meaningfully talk about the whole experience with family and friends?
Now, I’m here addressing, continuously exploring the unknown, aiming to grow whilst striving for a positive impact. And if I have to use these words that consistently run through my head as a medium to share and inspire, then I’m going all in. There are now 1 billion tourists traveling each year and that number will only get higher in the years to come. In the event that we as a whole travel in the same perspective and in a responsible way, we could all influence astounding things to happen.
Examine your motives. Travel does well to you. Give back. Always think about what you can do to have a more fulfilling travel experience.
Ask yourself a few questions when planning a trip:
- Why do I want to travel?
- What outcome do I expect from taking this trip?
- Will there be other people benefiting from this trip as well?
It’s here. As clear as white. Travel makes a big impact, so why not make it a positive one? Remember, you are part of the whole human race and it’s a million times better to travel when you aim for something bigger than the blissful experience that it gives you.
Travel is a privilege and I am truly grateful.
When it comes to traveling in general, how to experience the place is up to you. The list I made above includes just a few of what I experienced myself that truly eased my personal growth and changed my perspective on life.
Do you have some tips too? I’d love to hear from you!