I’m probably not tell you anything you don’t already know when I tell you that local travel is having a moment right now. It seems like every app, destination and traveler is encouraging travelers to “go local.” But how can you really travel like a local in a destination you’ve never been to? Well as a former expat and frequent traveler, I’m here to tell you. Below you’ll find a few of my tips for how to go local while traveling.
Learn Key Phrases of the Local Language Before Arriving
If you really want to get in with locals in a foreign destination, then this is imperative. You don’t need to take a foreign language class, but just some simple phrases can go a long way. Even if you stumble over your words or can’t hold a conversation with locals in their native language, at least attempting shows that you’re making a concerted effort. Not to mention it’ll help you get around better.
Hire a Local Translator
I did this once, for a day, when I visited Okinawa, Japan, and it’s one of the best travel decisions I’ve made. This was beneficial for a number of reasons. Of course I was able to get around better having a local translator with me, but I was also able to much better pick up on local phrases and customs that were unique to Okinawa. What’s more is that the translator doubled as a local guide. Obviously there are only certain destinations and times that would warrant a translator, but if you’re in a completely new destination and short on time, this can be a valuable way to immerse yourself.
Download Relevant General Travel and Local Niche Apps
Similarly, there are a number of apps that can help you acclimate to a destination. This includes general travel apps, such as currency or language apps like XE Currency or TripLingo, which will come in handy on the go as you’re traveling in a new destination. However, look into more local types of apps, including travel guide apps developed by locals or other apps that connect you with locals, such as EatWith which allows you to eat in the home of a local chef.
Go to a Locals’ Bar to Get the Lay of the Land
This is the first thing I always do when getting to a new destination. I don’t first go to a bustling tourist bar or restaurant, but rather go to a local dive or bar where locals have congregated to get a first-hand take on the destination from the people who live there. I find that bartenders are often the best source of knowledge about a destination. Not to mention they’ll point you to the best local places to eat and drink.
What better way to meet locals and learn about a local culture than by volunteering with locals around a common goal. Bonus points that you’re giving back while doing so. This can be as simple as volunteering with a local organization for a day or doing something more long-term, such as WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), where daily local meals and accommodations are offered in exchange for work on a farm. GoAbroad.com is a great resource for finding opportunities to study, intern and volunteer abroad.
Take a Guided Tour From a Local
Say what you will about guided tours but they often offer context to a destination that you simply can never get by traveling independently. While there are major tour guide companies that offer general guided tours of destinations, some of the most immersive guided tours are those given by longtime locals themselves. Some of the best guided tours I’ve gone on have been free walking tours that are advertised at local accommodations.
Rent an Apartment
The evolution of the sharing economy has changed the way people travel. And that couldn’t be any truer than with accommodations, where you can rent out a room or even an entire home. With Airbnb or HomeAway, for example, you can rent out an entire two-bedroom home for the cost of a standard hotel room. Additionally, it doesn’t get much more local than shopping at the local grocery store so you can cook dinner in a local’s home.
Read Fiction and Non-Fiction Books Featuring the Destination
While many people may read guidebooks when preparing to travel to a new destination, I like reading novels and non-fiction books, such as biographies. For example, before traveling to South Africa for the first time, I read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk To Freedom. South Africa has since become one of my favorite destinations. I think reading books like that provide historical context and insight to the traditions and customs of a destination that guidebooks and magazines don’t always offer.