We've entered into a new age of travel: People want true immersion in local culture versus observing it from the lap of luxury. Gone are the days of the one-size-fits all tour packages, cheesy tourist traps, or typical sightseeing spots. Here to stay is traveling like a local. Discovering how the people really live—where they eat, what they do, where they go—is almost guaranteed to offer a richer travel experience. Whether you’re visiting a large metropolis, charming mountain town, or new country for the first time, you can blend in (or at least try to). Here are our tips to help you travel like a local, no matter where you’re headed on your next trip.
Ditch the Tour Packages
Who really wants to shuffle on and off a stuffy bus all day? While tour packages and bus tours have a place in travel, it’s usually not among the more adventurous set, who want to experience their destination in person rather than through a rear window. Yes, it will require more planning and legwork, but your trip will be far more memorable. Get a book (yes, an actual book) and dig into the place you're headed. Then do some google searches and see what sorts of blogs or articles turn up. You'll have a whole list of places to see. Check out wikipedia and get some history under your belt. You just became your own tour guide - and the best past is that no one will hurry you along when you're soaking it all in.
Tap Into Local Knowledge
Before you hit the road, check out Instagram feeds and blogs of in-the-know locals who live where you’re heading (checking out relative hashtags is a good place to start). Chefs, outdoor lovers, travel writers, and cocktail enthusiasts, just to name a few, are the kind of folks who love to dish on what makes their town great. Once you're in town, don't be afraid to talk to the locals. Baristas, bar tenders, staff at outdoor shops and hotel concierges are generally happy to offer up local tips. These folks work at establishments that are the true town-centers, so they attract people with a lot of local pride. They'll send you straight to the good stuff: the authentic burrito joint, the hippest basement bar, the most secret swimming hole - if it's off the beaten path, they'll know where to go. And if you just cant wait until you're traveling, websites like RootsRated.com compile intel from in-the-know locals on where to find the best hiking, biking, paddling and post-adventure pints in cities across the country.
Take the Backroads
Interstates are great for getting to your destination in a hurry. But tiny, two-lane country roads offer an adventure within themselves and let you experience an aspect of local culture you just can’t get blasting down the highway at 70 mph. Chat with the farmer while you pick up some local honey or jams at the roadside stand. Stop at an old-school diner for a milkshake and mingle with the locals at the counter. Taking the road less traveled almost always means a chance to interact with local folks.
Listen to Local Radio
While you’re on a road trip, take a break from your playlist and tune in to the local airwaves. It’s a cultural lesson to discover the different types of music depending on where you are. In Nevada, for instance, old-timey country seems to dominate local stations, so much so that you’ll probably have a few ballads memorized by the end of your journey. Bonus: When you roll into town, you'll have inspiration for what to sing at the local karaoke bar.
Consider Staying in a Hostel or House Rental
Don’t brush off hostels as hubs solely for the backpacker set: In recent years, many hostels, especially those in big cities, have spruced up their digs, offering private rooms, more sophisticated lobbies, and even concierge services. Hostels typically offer more local flavor than chain hotels: Check out the posters and fliers that showcase local events happening around town. You'll also probably meet some fellow travelers to hit the town with. And there’s a reason that home rentals like Airbnb and VRBO.com have exploded as of late: you can’t beat staying in a local’s home to feel like, well, a local.
Visit a Local Supermarket
For a true microcosm of your destination, head straight to a neighborhood market (not a national chain). Not only can you stock up on staples like fruit, snacks and drinks, you’ll get a real taste for local culture by seeing what they eat. Oh, and local delicacies—whether it’s fried grasshoppers in the Yucatan or fiery hot sauce in Thailand—make authentic and affordable souvenirs.
Don’t Be Afraid to Get Lost
Have a general roadmap of a plan, but know that it's not totally necessary to have a step-by-step itinerary mapped out. This isn't summer camp after all, and it's important when you're traveling to leave a little room for serendipity to really dig into what makes a place tick. Linger in a coffeeshop, or take the longer route on that hike. Have a little faith in flexibility. More often than not things tend to work out, and you'll have a helluva story to tell!
Originally written by RootsRated for Toad&Co. Featured image provided by Basheer Tome