Getting a Real Experience of Local Life When You Travel

Some people are happy to buy a holiday package, stay in a large, branded hotel that they recognize, and spend their trip visiting famous tourist attractions, largely spending time with and around other tourists and people from their home country. While there’s nothing wrong with this, it is still a valid way to see more of the world, but it’s not what everyone wants. 

Some of us would rather avoid all the tourist traps. We’d rather stay away from package breaks and big hotels, and we can’t imagine anything worse than spending our break with people that speak our language. We want to see more of our destinations than what the local tourist board wants us to see. We want to explore, to spend time learning about history and culture, learning the language, eating local delicacies, and generally learning more about our destination. We want to see how the locals live, not how tourists vacation. We want a more authentic experience, even if it’s a lot less glam. Here are some of the things that you can do to get that real experience of local life. 

Avoid Tourist Hotspots

Standing in line

Chances are the locals don’t spend hours lining up to get into the hottest tourist sites near their home. (That does not spark joy!) They might visit these attractions occasionally, but they are more likely to do it off-season, and they certainly won’t spend every weekend there. If there are big attractions that you really want to see, do it. But,  book tickets online and visit at quieter times (or off-season) so that you don’t waste valuable holiday time waiting around. 

Eat All the Food!

Photo credit: That Food Cray

Eat in Family Run Restaurants

Where do local people eat? The big restaurants often cater to a tourist-friendly version of local food, sometimes a milder or toned-down version that will appeal to the masses. This isn’t how you’ll want to eat if you want a genuine experience. Find smaller, family-run eateries, and ask for recommendations. 

Indulge in Street Food

Street food is very popular with tourists and locals alike. And it’s still more likely to be authentic than a chain restaurant. Street food can be a great way to try different flavors and ingredients and will be different in every town you visit. I ate tons of street food while living in San Francisco (you can find some of them in my San Francisco Guide) and I always check out the street eats when I am in New York!

Learn to Cook

Another great option when it comes to eating authentically is learning to cook, particularly in a class. Stay in self-catering accommodation with basic kitchen equipment, shop in local markets, and try to create some local delicacies for yourself. You’ll undoubtedly learn a lot more about food if you are cooking it, instead of just eating it. 

Hang out & Explore

Check out the locals

Find Out How the Locals Spend Their Free Time

Just bear in mind that the locals might sometimes do precisely the same as the tourists! Don’t just assume that their lives are totally different. The local population might love a trip to the Borgata to play blackjack. But, that’s probably not all that they do. The best way to find out how local people spend their free time is by asking them or visiting regional community centers, libraries, and other areas of interest and looking at bulletin boards and displays.

Spend Time Wandering Around

When we explore on foot, we notice more. We’re not rushing around from place to place. We’re taking things in. Spend some time just wandering around the area. Say hi to people, pay attention to the world around you, and what other people are doing. Stay safe and sensible, but don’t be afraid to veer away from main streets and tourist zones.

Make Some Friends

Learning a language before your trip will allow you to make friends and get to know the locals more easily. Even with limited language skills, you might find that you can communicate effectively if you make the first move. Real people are often the best way to learn more about real life. 

Take an Interest in Culture

Ask questions about culture and history. Take an active interest, instead of just picking up a guidebook. Ask people about their lives and their beliefs and visit places that are important to them. 

Learn About Local Customs

If you want an authentic experience, it’s important that you learn about local customs, which aren’t the same all over the world. Learn about the customs and traditions of anywhere you visit, and you’ll fit in more easily. 

Keep an Open Mind

Try not to make any prejudgements. Go into your break with an open mind, as local life might be very different from your expectations.

Have Your Own Adventure

Don’t think wanting to see the real lives of the local population means that you can’t also visit tourist hotspots. Have your own adventure, without worrying about what anyone else thinks, or has done before you. 

How about you? Do you have tips for experiencing a place as a local? Do share!

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  1. I so agree with you, on my trips I like finding out about locals’ life. Apart from the tips you listed, I do couchsurfing which gives an instant local friend, a great source of local opinion on culture and on social matters. I particularly like wandering in residential neighborhoods, as these areas show the real face of the city. Thanks for all the tips!

  2. I agree with all your points & would also add to use public transport. I think it’s the best way to see people & understand their culture when you watch & hear them interact.