1. Learn a few key phrases
When you travel to a destination where English is not the first language, having a few key phrases in your back pocket can be a good way to feel more connected to the people around you. Whether you buy a phrasebook or use an app, make a point of learning some basics such as greetings, thank you, an apology (sorry or excuse me), some numbers, and directions. Most locals appreciate the effort and will respond positively.
2. Be flexible
Travel is about going with the flow. Rigid plans mean you might miss out on seeing or experiencing something unique. Having a set itinerary is fine and can help you maximize your time, but don’t discount serendipity. Sometimes it pays to create space in your travel schedule for unexpected surprises.
3. Rent an apartment or couch surf
One of the best ways to really feel like a local is to trade a hotel room for an apartment or a spot on a local’s couch. Choose a neighborhood that’s slightly outside the main tourist area for a more authentic experience and hit up your host for tips on what to see and do and where to eat.
4. Explore neighborhoods vs. attractions
Some of the best travel experiences can be had by simply wandering through a neighborhood, stopping at random shops, eating at whichever cafés, food stalls, or restaurants intrigue you. Specific attractions have their place, but focusing solely on the destination can make you miss out on what else is nearby.
5. Browse markets and grocery stores
Seeing what the staples are in any given destination can offer a lot of insight into the local culture. Make a point of seeking out markets and wandering into grocery stores. If you have cooking facilities at your apartment or hostel, buy a few things and try your hand at a local dish. Bonus tip: If you have time and it makes sense for where you are, take a cooking class to get even more of an insider’s perspective on local cuisine.
6. Eat local
This might seem obvious but it bears repeating. If you want to feel, act, and look like a local you’re going to want to eat like one. Do some advance research about what dishes your destination is known for and the best local spots to get them. Alternatively, frequent any spots where you see locals lining up for food.
7. Ask for tips at hostels (even if you’re not staying at one)
The people who work in hostels often have great advice on where to get the best food, local bars to check out, and off-the-beaten-path things to do. Even if you’re not staying at a hostel, poke your head in to see if you can glean some useful tips.
8. Think in terms of experiences, not must-see lists
For every city you go to there will be countless best-of lists filled with the top things to see and do. Checking these off your list will ensure you do experience some of what a destination is known for, but it can also limit you. Allow yourself the time and space to make discoveries of your own, outside of someone else’s top 10 list.
9. Be observant
Slow down and look around. What are locals doing? Where are they eating, drinking and shopping? The more observant you are, the better you’ll get at sussing out experiences that are more local than tourist-oriented.
10. Come out from behind your camera or smartphone
We all want that perfect Instagram shot and the Facebook photos to prove we’re off having the best time (when our friends are all stuck at home). But you can miss so much by being trapped behind a gadget. Put your phone down and your camera away to really get the most out of where you are.
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