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Livin la vida Local

The best experiences of my travels have never been had while in a museum, waiting in line to get to the top of the Eiffel tower or spending an exorbitant amount of money on lunch for an outdoor table on a popular piazza. I’ve always loved to head out of tourist centers to where the people of that city actually live-to enjoy their cafes, shops and art studios. Traveling this way is not only more personal and gratifying but its naturally inexpensive as well.

Here are my tips on how I travel as local:

Dress the part: Don’t wear hiking pants if you’re not going on a hike.  As a general rule I like to look nice, put together and steer away from items like t-shirts and running shoes.   It’s good to have a general sense of what the locals wear.  Especially if you’re traveling to more conservative countries like Thailand, where even in the intense heat locals wear long sleeve shirts and pants.

Where to stay. If I’m staying in a city I like to choose small hotels that are in neighborhoods as opposed to chains in the center of it all.  Feeling like I live there automatically puts me in local mode.  But why even stay in a hotel?  You can now easily reserve a room in someone’s home or their entire apartment.  I love the website Airbnb for that very reason and visit the site just to daydream about where I would stay.  While I haven’t tried it personally I would definitely use this service in the uber expensive cities like Paris, London and Rome.

Check out the neighborhoods.  Neighborhoods of cities are like little villages, each one with their own personality.   I’m always interested in learning where that new up and coming neighborhood is — the one where artists of all medians can afford to live and set up their studio.

Ask and you shall receive:

Housekeeping: if I detect an accent I always ask them where they are from and then follow up with: “where do you go to eat your country’s food?   You’ll find there are microcosms of ethnic villages that the travel guides don’t even know about.  The food will be excellent and CHEAP!

Nighttime security man always knows the best place for a great breakfast.  If you’re out late at a restaurant or bar and spot one, ask for his or her advice.  A good breakfast will be the most inexpensive way to fill up for less, grab a light lunch and then splurge on dinner.

Really the whole key is to not be shy! Ask people of all types.  I recently rented a car in Asheville, NC and the Hertz man gave me his favorite trail hike with waterfall and place to eat along the way.  I took him up on it and it was fantastic!

Do you like to fit in with the locals when you travel?  Share your tips in the comments below.


This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. I love to fit in with the locals and have finally gotten my husband and daughter on board with this, too! I always try to find a festival – an Octoberfest, Greek festival, local product festival, whatever – and we have had the most fun finding great food, wonderful crafts, local music and people-watching. We invariably end up chatting with locals who make perfect recommendations for next stops.

  2. Last year on a trip to the UK the Customs & Immigration Officer asked us the standard question of where we were going. When we told him he said we should be sure to visit Whitstable on the Isle of Thanet because they have the best seafood. We took his advice and had a sensational meal including cockels and winkles!

  3. We get into the local scene thru home exchange. We can also lengthen our stay to really have the time to explore. We’ve done Switzerland and Germany, along with 2 months in Vermont. Such a great way to get into the culture of a foreign country.

  4. We were fortunate enough to stumble across an off-the-beaten path restaurant in Venice. No English was spoken, and the rest of the restaurant was a large family celebrating a christening. They invited us to join us and I even got to hold the angelic little baby. A similar thing happened in Seville when we were lost on the meandering narrow streets. We were hungry and restaurants were closing for the afternoon. A man took pity on us and asked us to join his family for lunch. What a wonderful experience. Now that I write this, I realize I have had these encounters everywhere I go. These are the best memories.

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