Visiting a new city is fun, but spending time experiencing a place like a local is sometimes the very part of a trip that elevates it from a place you've seen to a place you've been. If you're looking to gain a deeper, richer experience next time you travel, here are 5 ways to get a more authentic experience.
1. Talk to Locals
It sounds easy, but many people travel and never have a true conversation with a local citizen, because sometimes it's just easier to converse with your tripmates or other tourists. In fact, a 2016 Momondo Survey found that only 26% of U.S. travelers seek out locals for advice or tips while traveling. However, getting comfortable attempting conversations with locals can be one of the most rewarding travel skills.
If you find yourself nervous to strike up conversation, start by asking a waiter at the café what their favorite local spot is while ordering your coffee. Many locals are happy to be sought for advice, and will likely give you great tips. Keep talking - to the person at the front desk of your hotel or hostel, to your taxi or rideshare driver, to locals who are spending time at the cafes/bars/restaurants you are at.
Knowing a few key words or phrases in the local language will give you a confidence boost to strike up conversations, so practice the basics before leaving or while on the plane. Even if many citizens speak English, showing that you're at least attempting the local language will go a long way in making friends. If you want to go beyond a few phrases, signing up for a language exchange is a great way to learn while having fun and being culturally immersed.
2. Act Like a Local
Understanding how people live in a place is much more difficult when you are constrained to touristy areas. Try seeking out hotels in local neighborhoods, where you'll not only stay closer to locals, but also be around restaurants, shops, and cafés that locals go to, instead of ones catering their messages to tourists. Better yet, shop at a local grocery store - there's nothing more fun and fascinating than seeing what choices locals have when making dinner or grabbing a midnight snack.
Check out the public transportation options to experience how city dwellers are traveling, and try a local budget for a day - there's a saying that to live like a local, you must spend like a local. In doing so, you'll automatically find yourself at local parks, events, and restaurants, and you'll have more chances to strike up conversations as well. Lastly, depending on your destination goals, head to a town or countryside instead of a big city, where you're sure to witness more authentic lifestyles.
3. Seek Out Local Experiences
Find über-local events by checking out posters or fliers in cafés, looking at the listings in city magazines or arts bulletins, or checking out nearby university events. By attending events that interest you, you're likely to meet locals with similar interests, and get a feel for the pulse of that area. Other great sources include checking ahead of time for meetups in the cities you'll be traveling to, or on Facebook local groups (i.e. "Seattle Fun Events" or "Franco American Events in Paris").
4. Leave Space for Spontaneity
Although it's easy to want to do everything possible in the limited amount of time you have while traveling, leaving at least some of your itinerary open for spontaneous opportunities is always a great way to discover something unique about a place. Spend an afternoon meandering a neighborhood you're curious about, or take your language partner up on their offer to grab drinks and explore the nightlife.
5. Live/Work Abroad
If you have the time and opportunity, the best way to put yourself in a local mindset is to truly immerse yourself in the culture by living and working abroad. No matter how many times you visit a place on vacation, working, taking care of a home, and having daily errands will surely give you a new perspective on your favorite locale and what it's like to call that place home. Setting up a bank account, frequent trips to the post office and nearby market, having a go-to coffee shop -- these are all things that make you appreciate a place in a deeper and more understanding way.
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