Avid travelers like us don’t just want to get to a place and hit the most crowded places to head to the next one (and repeat the same process over and over again). Am I right?
If you recognise yourself in this paragraph, let me show you how to live the local experience anywhere you travel to and become one with the place you’re visiting.
Do Not Travel During Peak Seasons
It makes total sense now, but when you’re about to book your plane ticket, you suddenly start to fear that you’re going to be completely alone at your destination. Well, that’s not true. At all. Being surrounded by a thousand travelers may not allow you to enjoy the spirit of the city or town, you’re heading to. If you have the right amount of space to breathe and appreciate what’s around you, the experience will be much more authentic.
The trend of slow traveling is becoming very popular. You just need to TAKE THE TIME. This is, hands down, the best way to become an actual local and discover every little secret of a town or city. Slow traveling is about spending a good amount of time in just one place to get to know how people live in a daily basis. But you can also adapt it to how long your trip is. Who says that you need to hit a hundred places when traveling? You don’t! Just relax and take the time to explore your destination!
Leave Your Travel Guide at Home
These kinds of books are what EVERYBODY grabs before traveling, so you all will be going to the same places. Having locals all around you at your destination makes it the easiest to find out what the best places are. The ones that are hidden that no one else knows. The ones that keep hundreds of secrets behind their walls. Immersing in a new culture means daring to discover those new places, maybe hand in hand with an insider who’s willing to guide you around. Just give it a go.
Sleep Away From Touristy Centres
Finding your accommodation far away from the backpacker epicentres is a big opportunity for you to skip that craziness and explore the day-to-day life, which is always the most interesting part, especially if you’re visiting a place that has a totally different culture than yours. If you really want to make this right, stay with a local family. Take a bike and just get lost. Plus, in more isolated areas you are way less likely to get pick-pocketed (or similar).
Go for Carpooling & Local Transportation
Which are two more sustainable means of transportation than cabs or planes. I know, carpooling is also about cars, but you are sharing costs and not polluting as much. Finding new people to travel with is a wonderful way to meet other travelers (locals or not), who can quickly become friends or adventure buddies. Sharing these kinds of experiences with like-minded people always enrich your soul and allows you to go deeper when knowing a new culture.
Talk, Talk, Talk
Interacting with local people is the best thing you can do to travel authentically. Meeting and talking to new people can be scary (I know, I’ve also been there!), but it’s so rewarding at the end of the day, that you’re going to forget the initial awkwardness really easily. People are naturally kind and you never know if they’re going to become your next party buddies for the rest of your trip. Or they can simply help you create an independent customised travel guide, which will be much more enjoyable than hitting the most crowded spots.
Try all the food you can (even if it’s alive!)
Street markets and stalls are the way to go here. I mean… Fried tarantulas, fish eyeballs, moving larvae, shrimp brains? I know it’s intimidating, but it’s totally worth trying. What’s the worst that can happen? If you don’t like it, just drink a sip of water and problem solved. Food is, in most countries such, an important part of their culture. Many traditions, myths and stories can be told through typical dishes and skipping this part is actually a big waste of your trip.
Hit the Local Markets
What is more local than markets? Pretty much anything. A nice way of showing respect for the new culture is blending in with the environment by wearing traditional items, which usually are affordable and locally made at markets. You’ll also get to spot so many villagers, who will kindly give you some advice on the best ways to combine your own style with the country’s culture. And not even only for fashion, food is usually spectacular and very fresh - you will be able to cook on your own and save some cash!
Learn the Local Language
At least a few phrases. It really makes a difference and makes you feel way more comfortable when wandering any destination. Of course in bigger cities, you can find someone who speaks English, but if you end up visiting some rural or more lost areas, things are not going to be that easy. If you want to connect with locals, you can get a sign book to point out what you want to say, but already knowing some local expressions is a win-win for both of you.
Wander Around With a Local Guide
They’re the best source of information if you want to become one with the people who are welcoming you. Local guides know the best places to head to if you want to party, eat, learn a bit of culture or just relax next to the river. You name it. Plus, they always support sustainable practices that give a boost to their local economy. Sustainability is their thing, and it should be yours too if local and authentic experiences are right up your alley!
Support an NGO
Visiting and supporting an NGO from the community is also a great way to undertand some of the issues they're going through, as well as their needs, capacities and struggles. When traveling, you're not only getting to know beautiful places, but also you're being offered the opportunity to make the world a bit more fair by getting involved in local projects to help those in need. We do have the power to make things change. It's up to our decisions and values.
- Sustainable Tourism in Vietnam: 8 Ways To Be a Responsible Traveler
- Off the Beaten Path Peru: 8 Stunning Places
- How to be a sustainable tourist in Paris?
I’m sure you, curious travelers, have some tips and personal experiences around this subject. If you’re about to do some kind of immersive trip, I recommend you follow these points covered here. You don’t know how rewarding it is to travel locally (and sustainably!) until you try it for the first time. It’s an addiction, you won’t ever stop!
Main photo by Braden Barwich