Okay, so maybe you’re the tourist who embraces the fanny pack life and you couldn’t care less if you stick out like a sore thumb. Well, this article is not for you. Travelers hoping to blend seamlessly into your surroundings to get the most “local” traveling experience, listen up. We’ve got some tips for you.
We asked experienced travelers for their tips on finding the best local hangouts, how they immerse themselves in the local culture, and what they do to fit in everywhere they go. Below, we’ll explore some of the best ideas for how to fit in and find the best places.
Strike Up a Conversation
When you want to find the best places to eat, go dancing, or get the best bargains, don’t turn to travel guides or wander into the closest restaurant to the tourist site you’re checking out. Instead, to find out the best places where locals hang out, head to the source. Ask people who live in the city where they like to go. If you use cabs or ridesharing, chat with your driver. Talk to people at shops or cafes.
Make a point to talk to as many new people as you can in your first day and you’ll receive more unexpected – and probably awesome – tips than you could possibly hunt down on travel sites. You never know where the gems can be found. For example, one traveler discovered a great local restaurant in Maui by talking to people in the food court at Costco. Gotta trust that source, amiright?
And instead of asking, “Where should I go?,” ask “Where do you go?” They might be more inclined to share their favorites if they know you’re not looking for them to list off the tourist go-to’s. And if they’re open to sharing, ask them what they recommend to eat or drink so you can order like a local, too.
Use Mobile Apps
If you’re an introvert or there’s a language barrier, don’t fret. You can still find great non-touristy sites using a variety of websites and mobile apps designed to help you meet people and find stuff to do in new cities. Some of our faves:
- Spotted By Locals is an app that provides curated ideas submitted by local residents in a given city. It’s a great way to pick a city’s collective brain.
- Meetup.com is a listing of meetings and other groups all around the world for people who share common interests. Meet fellow beer enthusiasts, writers, yoga enthusiasts, or hikers just by signing up for an event while you’re in town. Best of all, the majority of meetups are free or low-cost.
- Time Out is another app that lists social events, community classes, art shows, and similar activities.
- Momondo’s app offers insight into fun things to do in a variety of foreign destinations.
- Check out Thrillist, Eater, or similar lists of local hotspots. Take it a step further and chat up the bartender. They’ll always know the cool places to hang out.
- Rather than book your stay in a hotel, try AirBnB, hostels, or couchsurfing, and consider ridesharing carpool options like Uber Pool or Lyft Line rather than taxis.
- If you’re a runner or just want to go on a long walk, try RunGo. It offers a selection of different routes you can take that will allow you to complete your workout and see the local sites at the same time.
Treat Them Right
Rude travelers always lose out. When you travel, be sure to remain polite and express gratitude along the way. A bit of kindness can open many doors for you, and help you feel like you belong.
Here are some ideas experienced travelers use to make their trips less stressful and ensure the locals remember them fondly rather than with annoyance.
- Greet and smile at any staff you encounter at the hotel, even when you don’t need their assistance.
- Attempt to use the local language. Learn how to say please and thank you, as well as common phrases you might need for a taxi, in a hotel, or at a restaurant. The small effort will frequently pay off in the form of better service.
- Be generous with tips. While you might think to tip the valet parking attendant or the person who carries your luggage to your room, don’t forget about the check-in staff, concierge, room service, and housekeepers. With a little generosity, you might get a room upgrade or a free drink or snack. Oyster.com offers some guidelines.
- Bring a big bag of candy on your flight and share them with your flight crew as a thank you for their hard work.
While you’re not trying to bribe anyone, showing that you notice someone’s effort is a great way to encourage service staff to put extra effort into ensuring your comfort and safety.
Look the Part
We’re sure you have a picture of the quintessential tourist in your mind. There’s probably a bulky camera on a neck strap, perhaps a bright-colored t-shirt (so you don’t lose each other in the crowds, of course), and perhaps the ol’ socks-with-sandals footwear that today and every day makes zero sense to us. How to avoid this?
- We’re not one to stifle style, but if you want to blend If you’re not sure what local styles might be, you really can’t go wrong with simple slacks or skirts, polo or button-down shirts, simple blouses, unprinted t-shirts, leather shoes or sandals, and decorative scarves. Check out this article from The Savvy Backpacker for additional ideas.
- Avoid t-shirts and hoodies that advertise products.
- Don’t wear flashy clothing or jewelry and leave the baseball cap at home. Instead, consider scarves, straw or woolen hats, or other items more in line with what locals would wear.
- Consider your footwear. People in many non-American countries wear simple but well-made shoes. Certain trendy sneakers, flip-flops, and certain other styles of shoes will pinpoint you as an American.
- Leave the map at home. Don’t wander around and get lost, but check your Google Map instead. (Just don’t forget your charger – and adapter if necessary!)
- Don’t bring everything you own with you. A clear mark of a tourist is a giant, bulky bag with everything they’ll never need in it. Bring the essentials and keep it simple.
Bonus tip: Don’t forget your rental car’s “style.” Thieves expect tourists to carry expensive items in their cars. Ask the rental company to remove any stickers or magnets that indicate the vehicle is a rental.
With our tips, you might still think of yourself as a tourist when you travel, but you’ll navigate your way through your travel destination like you’ve lived there all your life. Be safe, be cool, be local. Happy travels!