No one likes feeling like a foreigner, so here’s how to fit in, no matter where your adventures take you.
Airbnb or Couchsurf
Want to know how a true local lives? Walk a mile in their shoes, or, spend the night on their couch.
Couchsurfing or, for those past their futon days, Airbnb, are brilliant ways to get under the skin of a city. Not only will you trade tourist-filled hostels and hotels for suburbs and locals, but you also swap tacky suites or backpacker dorms for the homes of genuine residents, full of character and culture. Even better, if you couch surf or rent a single room on Airbnb you can tap your host for all their favourite spots.
Ride like a resident
Ah, public transport. Something that is tediously tiresome in your own city, yet somehow charming and thrilling when it’s foreign.
Though it’s tempting to reach for your phone and call a cab or order an Uber to get from A to B, if you want to get into the rhythm of local life, look around at how the masses get around and jump on board.
If everyone is cycling, rent a bike or if the trams are packed, throw yourself into the throng. Instead of jumping on a tour bus, take the actual bus and experience the city right alongside its people and often for a quarter of the price.
Ask what’s good
There is no doubt that travelling in the digital age has its perks. At the touch of a button, you can read hundreds if not thousands of tips, tricks and reviews from those who have travelled to every inch of the earth. And while Airbnb travel guides, Trip Advisor reviews, online blogs and Instagram locations are a great way to research and prepare, nothing will compare to a real-time recommendation.
So, pluck up the confidence, put down your screen and ask the hotel concierge, cafe barista, shop clerk or stranger on the street what’s good on the menu, in the city or on the weekends.
Get your bearings
If you want to weave through the city like you’ve been walking the streets for years then this tip is for you. Because you can ditch the bum-bag and leave the phrasebook at home, but nothing stands out more than someone staring at maps on their phone as they erratically zig-zag across a street.
Being lost isn’t just frustrating to you personally but also to the people you’ll undoubtedly bump into as they try to manoeuvre around you. So before you head out for the day, use Google Maps’ handy offline feature to download a map of the city and do all your route-figuring before you set off onto the streets. You’ll take in more of the city too.
Map the tourist traps
Call me cynical but every city, town and village will have a tourist trap; a spot that, while occasionally incredible, is extortionately overpriced, worn out and avoided by any of the local public. Though some tourist traps are worth the cringe, the queues and the cost (think Eiffel Tower, San Francisco Bridge or the Sky Tower), the key is knowing before you go.
Have a dig online, ask a local and decide beforehand whether certain spots live up to the supposed hype. If they do, then visit early in the morning and on a weekday to avoid the masses, as well as packing your own food to avoid tourist-hiked prices.
Learn the phrases
If there was just one just one piece of advice for travellers, it would be this; learn the local language. Or at least a handful of phrases.
It may seem bothersome and embarrassing to fumble your way through your elementary French, Spanish or Czech words but a little really does go a long way. While nailing pronunciation is a surefire way to travel like a local, even an attempted “how much”, or “thank you” in the dialect will get you a smile, favour and sometimes a discount.
Actually, do as the locals do
Finally, in order to truly experience any place as a local, you’ve got to trade in that cushy comfort zone, take a risk and be willing to throw yourself into the new.
Whether it’s embracing the local cuisine instead of finding a Western restaurant, wearing different clothing to respect the culture, attending a religious ceremony or squeezing yourself into a public bus, wholeheartedly embrace the initial discomfort and find the beauty in truly living as the locals do.