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Traveling like a local often leads to more authentic and memorable travel experiences. But how do you travel like a local and what does it really mean? 

Whenever I go to a new country or destination, I seek to interact with the locals in various ways. It’s a great way of experiences the culture and get to know more about the traditions.

The locals often have the best recommendations and can guide you to hidden gems that are easy to miss if you don’t live there. Additionally, you get the possibility of making friends worldwide and that’s pretty amazing. 

Learn a few phrases in the local language

First of all, when you travel to a foreign country where they speak a different language than English or your own, I recommend that you learn a few useful phrases and words.

While English is spoken in most countries these days, it’s a thoughtful gesture to learn some basic ways of communicating in their language which also shows respect and curiosity.

Just a simple hello or good morning can go a long way and even better if you learn how to say thank you.

thank you in other languages

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Book a homestay experience

Instead of a hotel, book a homestay experience where you’ll stay in a local’s home. It’s an alternative type of accommodation where you get to interact with the locals on a daily basis and make friends. 

Every homestay experience is different, but oftentimes, the host family enjoys interacting with tourists as well. It’s a cultural exchange where the guest can choose how much they want to interact or not.

Most homestays will also prepare traditional dinners that are homecooked, which is an experience that you won’t get at hotels. I have made homestays in several destinations, but my favorite place was in Toscana where we stayed in a house in the countryside. 

We explored Toscana during the day and when we got back to the house in the evening, we had dinner together and chatted about the differences and similarities between Italy and Sweden. 

homestay in toscana

Meet the locals

Even if you don’t book a homestay experience, there are plenty of ways to meet the locals. For example, before you travel to a destination, you can join Facebook groups and post that you would love to have a local show you around town.

There are also websites where you can get in touch with locals that are happy to meet tourists. And other websites where you can book guided tours and activities led by someone living at the destination. 

Many of them are very knowledgeable but they also have an additional interest in meeting new people from all over the world. Oftentimes, you’ll end up having drinks or dinner together with the locals after the tour. 

Websites where you can get in touch with locals and book activities

Bau Thao

Use public transportation to get around

If you want to travel like a local, you should also get around the destinations as the locals do. They don’t take taxis when they need to go somewhere, they’ll use public transportation to get there. 

Thailand is a great example where you can get a local experience by taking a ride in one of the many songthaews. These minibusses travel by certain routes and are a cheap and fun way to explore the cities in Thailand.

songthaew chiang rai

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Walk around the places you visit

Walking is an even better way of experiencing the places you travel to. It’s not always feasible depending on the size of the city you visit, but in most places, you can at least explore some neighborhoods on foot. 

By doing so, you’ll walk by places that you’ll otherwise miss when taking taxis or public transportation. It’s also when walking around that you can find those hidden gems at random.

Furthermore, when walking around, you’ll experience the smell and atmosphere of the places you visit. 

Walk and travel like a local

Photo: Catarina Belova/Shutterstock

Book Airbnb Experiences

This is a relatively new feature by Airbnb, which allows you to book experiences with local hosts. It’s quite similar to the other websites already mentioned, but considering the size of Airbnb as a platform, it’s available worldwide. 

Airbnb is also a great way of finding accommodation in areas where the locals are living. If you don’t want to make a homestay when traveling, you could rent an apartment in a local neighborhood. 

One of my favorite Airbnb experiences that I’ve made was in Kyoto in Japan, where Christine and I took a class in Matcha Tea Ceremony. It was a lot of fun and we learned a lot as well as got us some new Japanese friends. 

Local Airbnb Experiences

Avoid tourist traps

Tourist traps can be found in every popular destination with lots of tourists, some are worse than others, and some tourist traps are too good to be avoided. One such tourist trap is the famous Robot Restaurant in Japan which shouldn’t be missed when visiting Tokyo. 

A tourist trap is basically something that is geared 100% toward tourists to make money. Oftentimes, it will be of low-quality and overprices. An example could be restaurants that are located along the tourist strip, these are often low-quality, have bad service but still higher prices than local restaurants just because of the location. 

Other tourist traps could be getting ripped off by taxi drivers or simply paying for a service that is advertised to tourists although it’s not really necessary. Tourist traps could also include attractions that are overrated and not as advertised. 

The best way to avoid these is to read other travelers’ experiences before you go. You can read travel blogs or various travel forums that often share things to know before you travel to a certain destination. 

What does it mean to travel like a local?

Traveling like a local is a concept where travelers seek to explore destinations beyond the tourist route. It’s a way of travel that allows you to interact with the locals and learn more about the culture.

This style of travel has gained popularity in recent years were more travelers are looking for that authentic experience rather than the typical itinerary. Personally, I love to travel like a local since I get to see destinations from another perspective. 

It doesn’t mean that you have to skip the most popular attractions when you travel, because they are oftentimes famous for a good reason. However, if you want to travel like a local, you’ll need to get off-the-beaten-path and go where the locals go as well. 

locals in cuba

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10 Simple tips to travel like a local

  • Learn basic phrases and words before your trip
  • Join Facebook groups and ask the locals
  • Meetup with local residents
  • Book activities hosted by locals
  • Walk or use public transportation instead of a taxi
  • Visit local neighborhoods and restaurants
  • Don’t be afraid to interact with the locals
  • Bring an open mind and say yes to new things
  • Go on day trips to lesser-known towns and cities
  • Get a haircut. The hairdresser is not shy to talk and is almost guaranteed to have a lot of tips about his/her city.
traveling like a local

Photo: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock


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