I once heard someone say to be a little more like a tourist at home, and a local on the road.
When you think about it, that really makes sense. How many of us have never visited the iconic place our city or state is known for? I’m looking at you, New Yorkers who’ve never ventured to the top of the Empire State Building! It’s easy to take what’s at our fingertips for granted.
That said, when we travel, we often dismiss the ‘everyday’ stuff for a place’s most notable attractions. If you’re in Rome, of course you should explore the coliseum! But why not also hit up the local market? It’s really the best way to experience life as a local. Here are some easy ways to do exactly that.
Visit a local grocery store or market.
Sure, it may be one of the most mundane aspects of your life back home, but on vacation, a trip to the grocery store is an experience! I adore checking out the local snacks like candy, chips and drinks. If something looks intriguing, buy it! Who knows, it could be a new favorite.
Don’t speak the local language? Think of a trip to the grocery store as a crash course in local lingo. By the time you’ve wandered all the aisles, you’ll know the words for cheese, beer and wine. Really, what else is there to know?
If you’re at a more traditional grocery store, check out the imported foods aisle, just for fun. They’re probably stocked with Stove Top stuffing and Kraft Mac n Cheese. Hey, just about any food is exotic somewhere!
Attend a religious service.
Whether it’s for a religion you practice or one that’s completely new to you, immersing yourself in a religious gathering will certainly make for a memorable experience. Even if the service isn’t in your language, simply paying attention to the rituals, the sounds and the even the smells (hello, frankincense!) can be quite moving.
Stating the obvious here, but if you’re unfamiliar with the customs, do your research ahead of time to ensure you wear the appropriate attire and understand the customs.
Take a yoga or exercise class.
Exercise is so important for travelers. It helps with jet lag, relieves stress and helps work out the kinks after a long flight. One of my favorite activities for travelers is yoga. From big cities to small towns, nearly anywhere offers yoga of some kind. You can usually borrow or rent a mat and towel. Forget workout shoes? Who cares! You don’t need ’em! And a bonus: this site can help you find a class near you.
Of course signing up for any sort of physical activity will immediately plug you into a social scene. Love biking? Sign up for a spinning class. Racquetball enthusiast? Book a court. Missing the endorphins from your morning jog? Find a local running club. It not only a great way to move your body, but it’s a great way to meet people, learn a little about the local vibe and get recommendations on things to do!
Does it count as a cultural immersion if you’re indulging in spa or grooming treatment? Heck yes! Get a blowout in New York City. Opt for an ocean side massage in Thailand (or one of those crazy fish pedicures!). If you’re really brave, you can do a sidewalk haircut or straight razor shave in Cambodia. And if you’re really, really brave, why not hit up a German sauna? Be warned, they’re often co-ed and swimsuits are often verboten, but the culture is so different than the US when it comes to nudity, it might not feel as weird as you’d expect. Or maybe it will.
Take an art or cooking class.
Meet people and hone a new skill by signing up for a class. Learn how to make rustic Italian cuisine in Tuscany, or curry paste from scratch in Bangkok. Take a painting class in the scenic Greek isle of Paros, or a pottery workshop in Asheville, NC.
Go to the movies.
A trip to a movie theater may seem like a waste of precious travel time, but it can be quite an interesting cultural experience (not to mention, an excellent way to build in some rest and relaxation). For example, in India, everyone stands for the national anthem before the movie begins. And don’t be surprised when halfway through the show, the movie stops for intermission, where everyone takes a bathroom break, reloads on snacks and stretches their legs. I wish movie intermissions were a thing in the states!
Partake in the local transportation.
Hopping on a bus, train or a rickshaw gives you a much different experience than simply taking the cab your hotel hails for you. Plus, it provides an opportunity to find more residential neighborhoods off the beaten tourist paths. Bring a card with your hotel’s information along for the ride. Getting lost can actually be an exciting experience… until the sun starts to set and you have no idea where you are.
What are some of your favorite ways to live like a local when you travel?